By Lamin JS Fatajo
This article is aimed to contribute to the ongoing concerns of Gambians about over exploitation of our national resources notably the fisheries resources. On the contrary, this is not in any way suggesting that we should not rise up to stop unlawful acts detrimental to our coastline communities and the nation as a whole nor is it in defence of any Chinese company purportedly responsible for destruction of the natural resources.
Rather it’s to present analysis of national data on fisheries and fish resources as well as synopsis of interviews conducted with some community members of Gunjur and Golden Lead Import & Export Company Ltd factory workers.
The Gambia artisanal sector creates employment for an estimated 200,000 Gambians, 70 % of which depends on the small pelagic species for livelihood. The small pelagic species for which data is available include Sardinella Aurita – Yaboy Maroc, Sardinella Maderensis-Yaboy Tass, Ethmalosa Fimbriata- Kobo comprising the sardinella species; Decapterus spp, Scomber japonicas and Trachurus trecae. The total production of this species was estimated at 45,294mt in 2016 with sardinella species accounting for 88%.
Fish by nature are migratory, small pelagic fish and other fish within the Gambian waters traverse from Moroccan waters in the north to Congolese waters in the south. Fish surveys have revealed that small pelagic resources are concentrated in the waters of the North coastal countries (Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal) in the Months of May, June and July and migrating to the south (The Gambia and Southern Senegal) in July, August and September) and further south in September and October. Therefore catches from Senegal is higher than that of The Gambia.
To what extend has the Gambian small pelagic fish resources been exploited?
The potential pelagic fish stock in the Gambian waters ranged from a low of 101,000 to a high of 510,000mt from 1992-2011, averaging about 191,000. Catches/supply of small pelagic on the other hand; ranged from 3,240mt to 45,294mt from 1981 to 2016 with an averaged production 19, 000mt indicating an unexploited potential of about 172,000mt.
Therefore licensing of fish processing factory to that stimulate demand for small pelagic species is an option to maximize the benefits of our fish resources for poverty alleviation and fisheries sector development. Per capita fish consumption is estimated at 25kg per person alone coastal areas and 9kg for inland communities averaging 17kg per capita per person nationally giving rise to a domestic demand for fish at 32,432mt (72% of supply)in 2016.
This scenario is changed with registration of Golden Lead Import and Export Company to process Sardinella species with an annual average demand of about 108,000mt from 2015 onwards, pushing the total demand (domestic and industrial) for small pelagic fish close the carrying capacity of 191,000mt per annum.
This clearly shows that Golden Lead has to outsource some 88% of their processing demand from the sub region to operate at optimal level. The new Gambia and HE President Adama Barrow government should do all within its powers to increase domestic supply to be self-sufficient. I believe this is the untapped potential of the fisheries sector that the new government under the leadership President Barrow planned to exploit in the coming years as highlighted in several of his speeches.
From the above exposition, it is rational and strategic to allow fish processing factory to stimulate demand whiles for fish in our case it happens to be Golden Lead Company and Chinese. This is the best option and aligned with ANR policy and GAIP for we cannot afford to increase supply first and think of what to do with over supply; that situation would have been worse than the present appalling environmental situation along the our coastlines being reported in the social media and much more difficult to control.
What caused the present seemingly national security threat?
A review of the claims in the social media seems to suggest that it is Golden Lead Company that is registered to fish in our waters and dumping the excess all over Gunjur and Kartong area. It should be noted that the company is yet to be engaged in any fishing activity and as the data shows they are in fact depending more (88% of supply) on the sub-region for their supply than the Gambia and put to rest the over exploitation of our fish resources to rest. Secondly,
as can be gleaned from the pictures of trucks either dumping or loaded with fish no rational business will register to fish in Gambian waters, but land in Senegal, hire trucks to transport the fish to Gunjur when you can go straight to your factor and reduce cost.
The company has been operating since 2015 with minimal dumping with minimal environmental pollution. The escalated environmental pollution causing people to be sick in recently is reportedly caused by increase in the number of registered fishing boat targeting to supply the factory due to a ban on Senegalese fishing boats supplying fish processing factories in Mauritania over the years.
Others attribute the situation to overnight fishing whereby fish caught earlier get rotten before landing. Considering that fish is being brought by sea and land tons and tons got rotten and unacceptable to the factory. Then question becomes who own this rotten fish being dumped? Is it the people who brought the fish and have no further use of it dump or the factory for failing to purchase all the fish brought and therefore should close business?
My take is that it’s a collective responsibility of the all stakeholders particularly the beach management committee, the community and to some extent the factory for being present and the government for allowing the factory. The beach management committee is responsible of coordinating and registering boats to land on their beach for a fee.
The community for allowing illegal dumping in their community knowing that the government designated dumping site is situated in Brikama and seeing a truck dumping at a wrong site and the only thing you can think of is to take a picture for social media complaint.
What is difficult to control are those dumping in the sea and being washed on the beach. Mitigation measures suggested include: 1) grouping the boats and introducing turns to reduce supply 2) Ban overnight fishing as in Senegal 3) boarder police to stop all vehicles carrying fresh fish from entering the country 4) the navy to monitoring illegal dumping in the sea.
To conclude, the Chinese company establishment in the community of Gunjur has benefited the community in terms of direct employment of youths at the factory. The issue of how much they are being paid can better be addressed at policy level by legislation minimum wage law rather than targeting only the Chinese employers based on their reported character elsewhere. A far more additional employment is created for those offloading the fish, earning for this group ranged from D1, 000.00 to D4, 000.00 per day compare this with the government integrated pay scale.
Also the presence of the factory has increased the earns for the beach management committee as they collect D3.00 from each boat landed as well as petty vendors earning their livelihood from the beach not possible before the establishment of the factory.
Most importantly for the country to increase employment in the fisheries sector both processing and fresh fish exports have to increase talk less of improving the nutritional status of the citizens. The social media claims though outrageous, have raised important research topics for UTG student and environmental economist to show the extent of economic losses due to environmental degradation compared against gains as long has death is yet to be reported.
However, with available information on the cause of the situation have no doubt that the situation can be corrected without resorting to closure of the factory has the country needs this type of heavy investment which compete less with what can be left entirely for the citizens called FDI take a walk along Jimpex Road and Kairaba Avenue.