Gary Engelberg (Director of ACI) contacted the man that supplies him with his fish, Amadiou Diallo, to take me around a couple of fishing villages in Dakar, Senegal. Gary gets his fish (thiouf, shrimp, etc.) from Amadiou about once a month and freezes it so that he will have the supplies he needs for preparing dishes (i.e. yassa poisson, chebujen). Amadiou is originally from St. Louis, where his mother, as well as younger brother and sister live. He has a wife and two kids (three and five years old) that live with him in Dakar.
Amadiou was extremely gracious for taking the time out of his busy day to take me to two fishing villages in Dakar. In Dakar there are a handful of fishing villages, which include: Ngor, Ouakam, Soumbédioune, Yara/Hann, and Yoff. Amadiou works at the Yara fishing village, located on the eastern coast of the Dakar peninsula. He is no longer a fisherman himself, but he mostly sells fish instead to locals. He explained to me that he has been in the fishing industry since 1986.
My journey started at about 11:30AM today. We took a taxi (1500 CFA) from SICAP Baobab to the Yara fishing village. In the village, Amadiou showed me the factories that make the ice, so that the fish will stay fresh; the market area where his friends and he sell fish; the beaches that women and children buy fish that are coming directly off the pirogues; and the gros bateaux that are from European countries like Switzerland, France, Spain, or n’import ou. Amadiou said “il y a toujours un mélange des pays qui font la pêche au Sénégal, il y a des Chinois, des Français, des Américains, et bien sur des Sénégalais.”
My initial observations of the fishing village were how large it was and how much it did not smell of fish. When I was in St. Louis (the first time that I came to Senegal), I visited a fishing port and there was a very bad fish smell. Also, at this fishing village, every part of the fishing stage seemed to be present—from pirogue to fishing vendors. I saw men descending from pirogues selling fishing directly to women, whom would then resell the fish to others, as well as men taking Styrofoam boxes filled with fish to freezer trucks that would be taking fish into the heart of Senegal. There were small children gathering small fish that were falling out of fisherman’s hands and boxes; these small children were trying to sell these fish too. Amadiou told me that “des pêcheurs a fait la pêche depuis six heures du matin jusqu’au onze heure, et après le déjeuner, il y a des pêcheurs qui retournent à la mer pour faire la pêche encore jusqu’au le coucher du soleil.” Amadiou wakes up at 6AM every morning to get to the fishing village.
At the Yara fishing village all of the fisherman use pirogues. Most of the pirogues are smaller and go on daily fishing trips into the Atlantic Ocean; however, there are larger pirogues that will go on one to two week fishing trips, as well. Amadiou explained to me that on the smaller pirogues, there are usually 4-5 men that will use nets to catch smaller fish. he explained tha the most effective way to catch a lot of fish is with nets, though the fish are very small. I asked him if fisherman throw back any fish that are too small, and he respond by saying “il n’y a pas de type de pêche qui est plus petit à vendre. On vend tous les types de poisons et on utilise tous des tailles.” This is a huge difference from fishing practices back in the states, but it gets at the idea that in Senegal nothing will go to waste if it can make some money. The idea of making money to live was a very important insight that continually came up during this day visit. On the larger pirogues, there are as many as 20 men that will use nets, but also fishing rods to catch very large fish. Amadiou explained to me that “on doit faire doucement la pêche avec la canne à pêche, doucement, doucement, parce que si tu fait comme ça (making a jerking motion with his hands), le filet va casser.” He explained to me that the most effective way to fish is with a fishing rod because you can get the biggest fish and the biggest fish mean “tu va gagner plus d’argent.” I asked Amadiou how much a big fish would cost and he said that it depends on the type of fish and the size. He said the larger the fish, the more money that you will get. He also explained that the gros bateaux from other countries catch the biggest fish, but that it does not affect them too much. He said that as long as they can catch the amount of fish that is necessary to make enough money then everything is okay.
I asked Amadiou about the international fishing presence in Senegal, and he told me that there are a lot of international companies, but it is not a problem as long as they have a permit. Once they have a permit they are free to fish “comme ils veulent, sans problèmes.” He also said that they have limits on the amount that they can fish, but he had no idea about what the limits were set at. He alluded to the idea that international fisherman can fish as much as they want; however, they do not fish seven days a week, 365 days a year like the Senegalese. He said that foreign boats come and fish for one to two months and leave. Amadiou said that in Senegal there are times when fishing is the best; he said that in the winter months, like December and January, the fish come to the top parts of the water making it easier for fisherman to catch larger fishing stocks. In the warmer months, the water is too warm, so the fish go deeper in the water. However, in the end, he said “c’est la chance avec la pêche; il y a des jours quand j’ai plein des pêches et d’autres quand je n’ai pas des pêches…c’est la chance.” He made no reference to the fact that fisherman were over-fishing or that people were having trouble getting fish because there were lower levels of fish in the ocean. He simply believed that some days were just better than others for no particular reasons.
While I was at the Yara fishing village, I had the opportunity to speak with one of Amadiou’s friend (another fisherman). During our brief discussion, we spoke about the international community and the effects that other countries have on the Senegalese fishing industry. He spoke about previous incidents with China and the Soviet Union and how they would overexploit fish, but, he said that what the Chinese and Soviets used to do no longer exists. He told me how the Chinese and the Soviets would bring their large industrial boats into Senegalese coastal waters and leave them their for the entire year. He said that they would use large fishing nets and check on them every so often. He said that while the Chinese and Soviets were in the coastal waters that “ce n’est pas bon pour des Sénégalais et des pêcheurs.” He mentioned that the current trend is that Senegalese fisherman will bring fish from their pirogues to the large boats every so often. The fish is then taken directly to Europe after being chilled.
Furthermore, at the Yara fishing village, I had the opportunity to observe the way that fisherman sell the fish to the local women and the trucks that bring the fish into the interior portions of Senegal. Amadiou said that there is no fixed price for fish in Senegal, and that fisherman usually make about 20000 CFA a day by selling their fish. He said that fisherman split what they make from selling the fish. He also said that women and others who sell fish away from the coast make a decent amount of money as well. But, again, he stated that there is no exact amount because everything in Senegal is negotiated. Some large fish will sell for 50000 CFA or more.
After my visit to the Yara fishing village, we went took a taxi (2000 CFA) to the Ouakam fishing village. This fishing village is a lot smaller than Yara and is limited to smaller pirogues that go out and fish for a couple of hours and then return. This fishing village is located in a small alcove nestled between cliffs and La Mosquée de la Divinité. At this village there was not as much commotion and it appeared to be a lot more low-key. In the distance, there were no large industrial fishing boats and there were no vendors or women selling/buying fish. I had the opportunity to watch fisherman bring in their boats, as well as younger boys make the nets that are used for fishing. Amadiou told me that in this fishing village, they just use nets and fish for smaller fish. Since there are no large pirogues, the fisherman cannot go on weeklong fishing trips. However, it was interesting to go to this village because I saw a fisherman that was using a spear to fish. Amadiou told me that “c’est homme là-bas, il fait la pêche dans une manière la plus dangereuses.” He said that many men who choose to fish that way get their ankles bitten by fish. He also said at smaller fishing villages like this one, fisherman will not go out for two trips in one day like they do at the fishing village in Yara. Amadiou said that they go out in the morning or in the afternoon.
At this point in my day with Amadiou, I again tried to approach the idea of sustainable development in Senegal. It was interesting because “développement durable” meant nothing to Amadiou. I attempted to explain to him the idea of sustainable development and being conscience of the environment and future generations, but he simply responded, “ici, il n’y a pas des problèmes, au Sénégal, pas des problèmes.” I continued to explain to him that from an outsider looking in, that it appeared that fish were being over-fished in the region. I said that much of the world knows that the West African coast is one of the most plentiful fishing stocks in the world and that with all the fishing activity there could be problems in the future. He again said, “au Sénégal il n’y pas des problèmes.” He said that the sustainable development did not matter; he said “c’est la commerce, oui, c’est la commerce.” He said that everybody is in the commerce sector now because that is where all the money is. He even said that if you do really well in the commerce sector, maybe after working two to three years, you could be set for life. At this point, I had been with Amadiou for quite some time to understand that he, as well as every other fisherman, worked for the next day, not for five or ten years. He made it very clear that he worked to make money and never made any statements about not having fish in the future to eat or to fish.
Our conversation continued about how rich the West African coast was with fish. He told me that “Nous [des Sénégalais] sommes les meilleurs pêcheurs sur la cote, mais à la Mauritanie, il y a plusieurs de poisson. Plein de Sénégalais font le voyage à la Mauritanie à faire la pêche. C’est très bien là-bas.” From this point, I asked him about whether or not other countries besides Senegal fished off the coasts of Mauritania too. He said that yes there were, and began to speak more about the international presence in Dakar. He told me that “Nous faisons la pêche comme nous voulons, des pêcheurs internationaux comme ils veulent. Il y a une relation ici entre des Français et des Sénégalais, des Chinois et des Sénégalais, des Espagnols et des Sénégalais. Des Français aident des Sénégalais et des Sénégalais aident des Français. Il y a des Sénégalaises sur des gros bateaux de la France. Il y a des Sénégalais qui paient des Français pour assister à faire la pêche, mais bien sûr, il y a des pêcheurs français qui paient des pêcheurs sénégalais.”
I further probed this relationship with Amadiou and asked about whether there were any formal agreements that were made with these countries that established these interactions. He said that there were no formal agreements and that the only formal thing with fishing was getting a permit to fish. Though, Amadiou also stated that there are fishermen that fish for themselves. He said that it is all about being able to feed your family and “gagne d’argent.” He even pointed out three small children that were helping their father move a boat onto the shore of the Ouakam fishing village. He said that “la pêcherie commence comme ça et peu à peu ils devinent des pêcheurs.” This was striking to me because there was an intergenerational emphasis with fishing, but around the idea of being able to teach kids how to fish. There was no reference to if they would actually have fish to fish though.
After this trip with Amadiou to the fishing villages of Yara and Ouakam, I had a much better understanding of whom the Senegalese fishing population was and what the process of getting fish from the sea to a market or a dinner table was. However, the best insight from this experience was that “développement durable” might mean nothing to the Senegalese. Though I cannot generalize from one experience with on individual, I have a better idea as to what really matters in Senegal. There is an understanding that people must help future generations, but there is no consideration necessarily for the environment. In countries like Senegal, it appears that people work for the next day, not the next five years. If in five years there are no fish left in the coastal regions that are currently begin fished on, then the Senegalese will most likely move to another industry. As Amadiou said, “il n’y a pas des problèmes au Sénégal” and “tu dois gagner d’argent; c’est bien d’avoir l’argent.”