They are fighting for their rights, and so should we!

31st Jul 23 by Yves Reichling

Feedback travelled to Senegal to rendezvous with our partners and meet with communities impacted by the fishmeal and fish oil industry

In July, Feedback travelled to Senegal to rendezvous with its Notre Poisson coalition partners and visited Dakar, Joal Fadiout, Mbour and Popenguine to meet with the communities impacted by the fishmeal and fish oil industry. 

Much like what we are seeing in The Gambia, communities in Joal Fadiout, Mbour and Popenguine have been struggling with dwindling fish stocks and a breaking of the local economy around sea food. “When previously we bought a crate for 2000CFA 5 years ago, we now have deal with prices over 25000CFA” says the representative of the union of ‘economic interest groups’ in Senegal, women fish processors are still fighting for the legal recognition of their profession in Joal Fadiout. The source of the problem is three-fold: the impact of climate change, industrial (over)fishing and fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) factories. 

The hike in prices leaves small-scale entrepreneurs unable to compete with those with deeper pockets, notably the local fishmeal and fish oil factories. Many women processors – jobs are highly gender-bound in this sector, with men going out to sea as fishers and women processing and selling the catch – are thus deprived of their source of income. And the loss of livelihoods is not the only consequence: fish represents a crucial part of people’s, and especially children’s, diets. Without this important source of nutrients, many children have slipped into or are threatened by food insecurity and its consequences. 

With most fish stocks over- to fully exploited, the economies around them are breaking down. People are being forced to leave their profession, but alternatives are scarce. Loans have become unaffordable or non-existent, and customer preference shifts to cheaper options such as imported chicken and milk powder from the EU. Fishermen who now struggle to come home with a catch and make ends meet, turn to catching juvenile fish with nets with smaller meshes, an illegal fishing practice which risks depleting fish populations completely. Fishmeal and fish oil factories incentivise these practices by buying juveniles, which local fish markets refuse due to its illegality – yet the factories get away with it. ‘By doing this, they [the fishermen and -boys] are killing themselves’, says a fish processor in Popenguine, who is also an avid activist working with Greenpeace.  

Due to the scarcity of fish, processing sites are increasingly desolate. The number of women processor groups has decreased from over 50 to around 10 in 4 years’ time.

More and more people are being forced to emigrate to look for jobs and income elsewhere, leaving behind homes and families. When visiting Joal Fadiout’s fish processing site, we were told that the women and their families were waiting for news about family members who left to attempt a crossing to Europe but hadn’t heard anything for 11 days. ‘They want our fish, but they don’t seem to want us’, says a fisher representative.  

Communities are doing what they can, adopting new equipment and marketing strategies. In Mballing, a district in Mbour, women processors now sell dried, salted and smoked fish and molluscs which are processed in new drying racks and ovens and are investing in new packaging to make products more appealing on the market. People in Mbour are proud fisher people by tradition and would not abandon their source of income, and a vital part of their identity, without a fight. And fight they do, – in a true David vs. Goliath way – for their rights as artisanal fishers and processors, and their rights as human beings.  

New processing and marketing techniques help women rocessors make a living

And so do we. We fight alongside the artisanal fishing communities by advocating for an end to overfishing and the use of whole, nutritious fish in animal feed production -such as it is done in salmon farming- in West Africa and in Europe.. It is time to put a stop to such destructive practices in our food system and ensure that communities can live their lives in dignity. 

This work is made possible through the support of Oceans 5, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. 

What can you do next?
Want to hear more?

In March, Feedback hosted a webinar in the week of International Women's Day: Feed or Food - connecting communities impacted by the global fish farming industry. We brought together a multilingual panel of inspiring women from Senegal, The Gambia, Sweden and Scotland to share how they and their communities have been impacted by the global fish farming and aquaculture industries. We hope that this event highlighted the vital importance of coming together to share experiences and the need for taking bold, collective action.

Find the webinar here
Want to read more?

"Off the menu"! This report, taking the Scottish farmed salmon industry as an example, shows how farmed salmon fed on wild fish is an inefficient and environmentally poor way to produce micronutrients for human diets. The report explores how we could meet our micronutrient needs without depleting ocean resources.

Read the report