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West Africa 

By Divine Ntaryike Jr in Dakar

CameroonPostline.com
— Samuel Diouf is one of hundreds of Senegalese making a living through artisanal fishing.  The 20-year-old trades his daily catch at the Hann Bay fish market on the coasts of Dakar.  By African standards, his income is enviable.

“I earn about US$ 30 per day when the catch is good, and it is most of the time.  The money helps pay school fees for my sisters and also ensures medical care for my entire family of seven.  My mother is the manager and saves part of the money for the tough times,” the juvenile family breadwinner self-confidently disclosed.

However, the smiles could soon fade for Diouf and an estimated 600,000 Senegalese depending directly on fishing and fisheries-related industries for livelihood.  In recent years, the Worldwide Fund for Nature, WWF, has repeatedly warned of collapsing stocks in the six-member West Africa Marine Ecoregion stretching from Mauritania to Guinea.

In Senegal alone, industrial and artisanal fish catch has slumped from close to 490,000 tons per year two decades ago to 400,000 currently.  Experts blame overexploitation and a dramatic rise in habitat-destroying fishing techniques like the use of dynamite and twin-trawling by some artisanal as well as industrial fishers.

Researchers at the Centre for Oceanographic Research in Dakar say the situation is growing worse because the government has failed to enact its recommendations.  They also blame weak enforcement of regulations and the granting of licenses to foreign trawlers among factors aggravating the problem.

The centre has been monitoring the country’s fisheries resource quantity and quality, changes in biomass for various fish types and marine ecology variations since 1974.

“We generate periodical reports on changing trends which we serve the Ministry of Agriculture and related government institutions.  We are currently observing a rapid depletion of stocks for some species.  But the decision-makers keep dragging their feet.  There is a lack of political will to implement our recommendations.  These include a complete fishing ban on threatened species and an extension of biological repose to enable regeneration of stocks,” Anis Diallo, Data Manager at the Centre explained.

Experts say any such recommendations, even if enacted, will be easily flouted partly because the authorities are afraid to enforce regulations.  Fishing licenses granted foreign companies bring in money, and the sector constituted 13 percent of Senegalese exports and 1.7 percent of its GDP in 2009, according to the Ministry of Maritime Economy.

“The sector has wide-ranging socioeconomic connotations.  The government says it dreads upheavals from fishers if the bans are imposed and that’s why our recommendations are stuck in the drawers.  It also benefits despite the ongoing over fishing,” Dr Hamet Diadhiou, Chief of the Centre added.  Officials at the Senegalese Ministry of Agriculture have declined to comment on the allegations. 

Meanwhile, research findings indicate six deep-water large fish species (including Thiof, Feute, Corogne Khadre, Yaboimaureug, Cekeem and Youfouf) are steadily drifting towards extinction.  Harvested specimens show drops in weight and length.  “It implies that they are increasingly fished out of the water before they can reproduce.

The larger fish types take two and a half to three years to reproduce.  We have also found that smaller pelagic fishes are the only ones surviving the depletion along Senegal’s 448 kilometre coastline,” Diallo explained.

Pelagic fish dwell near the ocean surface. They include mackerels and sardines.  While they are more vulnerable to fishermen’s’ nets, they have a high reproduction frequency with intervals of about six months.  “Look around for yourself.  There are no large fish any more like carp and hake which cost more.  So you can see I am affected because I would have been earning more like my elder brother used to do when the larger fish were abundant many years ago,” Diouf said.

For him and most of the fishermen and vendors at the Hann Bay market, real trouble will begin when the pelagic fish types begin disappearing.  Senegal’s geographical location in Africa’s Sahel region renders it prone to droughts and pests which periodically wreck farmlands.  Experts warn fishing provides a vital alternative, which warrants the government to wake up sooner than later, and begin enforcing regulations to limit stocks exhaustion.

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