General News Wed, 17 Jul 2019

The fishmeal crises in West Africa heightening tension: The scramble for Gambia’s fish

It's 7:30 am on the morning of 9th December 2018 at the Sanyang beach, popularly called the smiling coast of Africa and a group of able-bodied young men are seen dismantling a pipeline that has been constructed into the sea from a fishmeal factory.

The purpose of the construction of the pipeline was to transmit liquid waste from the Nissim Fishmeal Factory into the sea. The Sanyang beach for decades has served as a great tourist site for foreign nationals who visit the Gambia.

The large and beautiful looking Sanyang beach boasts of several spot, restaurants and guest houses that houses tourists during their visits. It also serves as a source of income for tour guides, restaurants owners, bar and guest house operators as well as local wrestlers who are often seen wrestling to entertain tourists.

The construction and operation of the Fishmeal factory release deadly and toxic odour into the atmosphere and pollutes the sea, thereby making it difficult for tourists to stay and explore. This is the third time that the pipeline is being destroyed by the youth of Sanyang. The first attack on the pipeline 3 months ago led to some clashes between the management of the Chinese- Moroccan owned fishmeal factory by the youth of Sanyang and forced the police to intervene leading to the closure of the factory.

‘We can’t allow this factory to operate here. The smell it generate repels tourist. When they release their waste here nobody can stay .it is deadly and toxic. they are destroying our business and polluting the environment”, Salim, a small scale restaurant owner explained.

“We will do everything we can stop this factory from operation. We must save the sea and marine life; we must save the environment. we can’t allow foreigners to come into our country and enslave us”.

Report indicates that there are four heavy industrial fishmeal factories in The Gambia that were established to buy and process sea fish.

Why Gambians reject fishmeal

explains they were made to know that the fishmeal would process only species that were not depended on by household In Gambia. Contrarily, the mills are processing all types of species including the ones used by household in preparing food.

This has caused the price of such species which hitherto were chopper and affordable to rise. This comes alongside the pollution of the air and the sea liquid wastes from the mills and causes tourist to flee.

45year old Sheriff Bojang is a former leader of the BDC, a local development association whose tenure saw the arrival of the fishmeal factory. He is known to have negotiated for a deal on behalf of the community when moves were taken to establish the factory.

He was subsequently suspended from the association when the community began to fight for the closure of the factory when it was realized that his dealings were not transparent and dangerous to the environment and the people.

Sheriff was afterwards appointed as a coordinator and spokesperson for the fishmeal factory. He believes that the fishmeal factory is a good thing that has come to the community to provide employment for the youth and women.

“The factory provides jobs and income for the people working here. We train the youth and women with skills to take advantage of the employment opportunities we are offering. Our employees receive salaries at the end of the month to take care of their children and other family members. This is better than what the others are doing. So the young men here, instead of going to school, they have decided to follow old white women who come here for tourism. You see them smoking weed and sniffing narcotic drugs and carrying bags of tourists and having sex with them. Most of the women here practice prostitution. You see we want to change the narrative that is why we are bring such factories to the area to bring employment opportunities to the people living in the community”.

“Yes, I am also concerned about the environmental issues like the smell and the pollution of the sea water that is why we have established a waste processing plant within the factory as directed by the National Environmental Agency to deal with it. All the people opposing the operation of the factory approved it when we engaged them during the town hall meetings and compensation was duly paid to the community.

The fish factory at Sanyang has the capacity to process about 500 tons of fish every day. when supply outwits demand, the extra fish is rejected and thrown into the sea which ends up washing ashore adding to the excessive pollution. Fish meal factories in Gambia usually receive large stock of fish from fishermen and boats that sail all the way from Senegal due to the offer price which is thought to be higher than the price sold at the open market.

The highly arsenic water itself is very dangerous for both humans and the marine ecosystem. Gambians eat the fish that is living in this water and the arsenic acid will eventually end up in our food chain scientist warn. During high tides, these dangerous objects are fully submerged under sea water endangering the health and safety of fishers and regular visitors.

At the ministry of fisheries

The Director in Charge of Fisheries, Dr. Bamba Banja says the 3 fishmeal factories in Gambia cannot be closed down because they have spent millions of dollars to set up and providing employment to the people. Besides, they provide foreign exchange for the nation. “The issue is incessant complaints from the communities and I am telling you that the Fish meal factories are complying with the environmental standards.

“Initially, there was a problem with some of them meeting the environmental standards. We closed some of them down as a result. When these things happen NEA would have to increase monitoring and supervision. When this happens, you must guide these companies to fully comply with the environmental standards. Once they are addressing those issues, you don’t close them. We are not going to close these companies down, they have got the approvals what if they sue governments. The right thing was not to have given them approval in the beginning but now approval has already been given we have to support them to comply”.

“Gambia is not the only country that has got a fishmeal factory. You know, I was in Namibia in 1988 and the smell from the fishmeal was bad but the people told me it was the smell of money”.

“If you close the factory, you will see the same community people rising up to agitate for its opening to enable them work to earn their income”. “Gambia belongs to all of us. What is important is dialogue over issues not closure of factories. We also experience foreign vessels in our territorial waters flouting the fishing rules and regulations. Recently, we apprehended two major fishing vessels and detained them. The owners were made to pay 6,000 and 12,000 dollasis before they were released”.

“Our policies are in line with the national development plan. We drive government policies in the fisheries sector. Currently, the stock level of fish has declined compared to 10 years ago for some of the species. But for the sadinala and bongas we have a quantity of them. We also have monitoring data on all fishing activities. fisheries are legislated in terms of type of fisheries harvested at a period.

National Environmental Agency Gambia

Lamin BJ Sunateh and Mariam Dumbuya from the National Environmental Agency explain that the local government Act makes provision for BDC to serve a term and hand over to a newly elected team and that it is not true that the then BDC Connived with the NEA to manipulate the laws to build the fishmeal factories.

There is evidence that at the time the BDC chairman and the Alkali were part of the negotiations. The Fishmeal factories met all the requirements.

“Our approvals last for a year. We also extend the social component which are taken care of from the starting point. Initially, the fisheries department approved about 10 different plants. As on environment management agencies with concern about sustainable use of our natural resources we had to write to them advice that we don’t have Stock to feed all these fish meals .so, there was a massive revocation of all the licenses and permits from 10 to 3. Fishmeal if we had not been concerned about the impact on fish stock. We would not have taken those measures.

We are concerned about the fish stock. We ensured that the environmental and social bit was taken care of. Like I said our approval lost for one year and every year you are required to renew, during the renewal when we discover that there are social issues that need to be fixed, we will not hesitate to say hold on and fix them before renewal. But for now those were issues we are hearing from the community but we will try to be cooperative as possible things that relate to the environment that could impact on the public health of the people we will make sure it doesn’t happen that is why we are subjecting this poison and dead fish is dumped into one sea and water discharged to ensure that due process is followed. The communities can also resort to legal process to secure injection at the court instead of using a violent process that will lend them in trouble.

Source: kwabena Adu Koranteng