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Friday, December 3, 2021

Film highlights ‘disastrous’ effects of Chinese fishmeals in Gambia

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By Alagie Manneh

Stolen Fish, an award-winning documentary that explored the nexus between overfishing or Chinese-led fishmeal industries in The Gambia will be screened next week at the Accra Indie Film festival in Ghana.

Filmed and directed by Polish activist Gosia Juszczak, Stolen Fish is a threefold poetic documentary addressing the underreported environmental and economic factors of migration in The Gambia following the advent of fishmeal factories in the country mainly from China.

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In a press release, organisers said the fishmeal factories have invaded the country’s coast and are now threatening its ecosystem and food security.

“This groundbreaking documentary is the first one to tackle the underreported domino effect of overfishing in The Gambia and is a starting point of a wider debate, touching upon issues relevant to today’s reality such as migration, environment, food security and neocolonialism, and how they are all interconnected – told in a nutshell case of the tiny country of The Gambia,” the release stated.  

Organisers said the Ghana screening will be the first time the film will be available in African countries online, adding that it is Gambian activists hope that the film can be a tool for raising awareness on the “pressing issue” the fishmeal industry in West Africa, government complicity, overfishing and migration, all interrelated and presented in a case study of The Gambia.

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Speaking to The Standard, director Juszczak stated: “The fishmeal factories were established in The Gambia only in 2017 but have already had disastrous effects on the local economy, food security, tourism and social fabric. This is not only relevant to The Gambia, there are approximately 50 fishmeal factories in West Africa and is becoming a huge concern and an issue that needs a thorough social debate.”

She added on her motivation to produce the film: “I live in Spain, in an area where there are a lot of people who came from The Gambia and Senegal. So many of my neighbors have no idea why people migrate from The Gambia and what motivates them. When I found out about the fishing factories, it all got connected and I visited The Gambia. That’s when I realised how much damage the fishmeals have done and it has affected lives and livelihoods including the environment. We are surprised people have no resources now in their homeland and eventually they are forced to leave their own countries.”

While the film is not an African production, Juszczak said they worked with prominent Gambian activists, scientists and environmentalists like Ahmed Manjang, Momodou Semega Janneh and journalist Mustapha Manneh.

The film also featured ST Gambian Dream’s song – laying the context for the story told from within and in Mandinka language.

The movie follows one Abou, Mariama and Paul, three Gambians organisers said share intimate stories of daily struggle, anger, hope and longing for their loved ones.

Activist Momodou Semega Janneh, son of a former Banjul mayor BO Semega Janneh, told The Standard the documentary is significant especially for those without knowledge of the “environmental carnage” being done in the coastal communities since 2017.

“This is something that has to do with our food supply, and the food supply of our children’s children. Many Gambians rely on fish as their main source of protein. A lot of people who are used to watching films and videos would get to see the impact, the volume of fish that is being destroyed daily. Because to make one ton of fishmeal, they would have to use five tons of fish,” Mr Janneh said.

Chinese Embassy reacts

The Standard contacted the public affairs office at the Chinese Embassy in Banjul on the film. An official promised to send us a detail response in due course but made the following comments:

“The film gives the viewers the impression that the Chinese government is behind those fish-meal factories. The fish-meal companies are legal persons in the Gambia and shall have been under the administration of the Gambian government. Even though there are Chinese these companies. They are people working there, that doesn’t mean the Chinese government supports them. They are just private citizens.”

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