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Senegalese Fisheries : Much at Stake

Chandrika SHARMA

01 / 1998

Michael Belliveau, the executive secretary of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union (MFU), Canada, was in Senegal, when the fisheries agreement between Senegal and the MFU was being negotiated. He recounts his experiences.

In the Woluf language, `yaboye’ means the sardinelle and mackerel caught in plenty by the coastal fishers of Senegal. Yaboye is the people’s food, bought and sold daily on the beaches of the fishing villages of this West African nation. It is a resource that supports thousands of fishing pirogues, not to mention a cast of thousands of handlers, brokers, buyers, sellers and processors.

So why would the Government of Senegal place yaboye on the table of negotiations with the Europeans over a new fisheries agreement? Why would they sign an agreement against the wishes of CNPS (Collectiv National des Pecheurs du Senegal), the organisation representing the men and women fishworkers of Senegal?

Why would the Senegalese authorities allow 22 European industrial seiners to come to Senegalese waters every year to take 25 million kg of this fish for sale and consumption in Europe? Why would the authorities agree to such large allocations, when they know that enforcement is well nigh impossible?

With its extensive network of members and supporters, CNPS should build up a campaign and form alliances with other progressive forces. The eventual result may be success on the yaboye issue.

In my opinion, however, it will not be a one-dimensional fight. Although the fact of Europeans grabbing food from Africans is scandalous, the authorities, politicians and experts will downplay the issue. The quantities of fish caught will be minimised in the European Parliament, while the trade-offs will be trumpeted.

Foreign fishing in Senegalese waters is long-term issue for CNPS, one of the many that it, as a fishers’ organisation, has to deal with. The growth and organisational strength of CNPS is much more important than any other issue, including the European fishing agreements that target small pelagics. For now, though, it is vital that CNPS builds up the yaboye issue to also gain support amongst its members and the fishing communities.

It is easy for an outsider to romanticise the struggles of someone else, but fishworkers’ supporters can not afford such indulgence. All our organisations are vulnerable in the extreme.

Ideals and solidarity can inspire members, but the question of the daily bread and butter is always on their minds. We suffer the contradictions of all primary producer organisations. We have staff and volunteers who work in conditions of insecurity, sometimes with little pay and facing conflicting demands on time and emotions. Burnout is widely prevalent, delusion never far-off.

To borrow a saying from the world of sport, "You have to stay within yourself." This is true for the CNPSs and MFUs of this world. Our strength and value come from remaining independent and broadbased, all the while recognising that any single issue has the potential to sap our strengths and our complexities.

In Senegal, we were received in common cause, as fellow warriors of inshore fishers, acknowledged friends, speaking in the same tongue about the problems of the fishery. All of us know that the common foe is not just `out there’. It exists in so many developments and phenomena that exist around us. It exists in the cost of fuel doubled by the devaluation of the Senegal franc, and in the incessant need to pay off the mortgage on the pirogue. It also exists in the glut of fish that can not be handled by the local infrastructure. The enemy exists in the credit union that plays favourites and blacklists the family with the wrong name, a union that is

controlled by the local politician for political gain and economic reward. The enemy is also the foreign trawler that rams into the pirogue in the dark of night, within the exclusive six-mile limit.

Palabras claves

pesca, organización de pescadores, gestión de recursos naturales

, Senegal


The Senegalese fishery is one of the world’s most productive, landing a quarter of a billion tonnes of fish a year, but it strains under impossible burdens. It has to support a population driven from the land by desertification, and excluded from the workforce by the international division of labour. It has to support thousands of fishermen and women as well as shore-based workers. Allowing access to inshore fishery resources to distant-water fleets will compromise the livelihoods of these coastal fishing communities. It will reduce the availability of fish in local markets and affect local food security. Fishery agreements that actually have a negative impact on local people and resources, even if they are projected to bring in precious foreign exchange, need to be questioned.


Artículos y dossiers

BELLIVEAU, Michael, The enemy is not just `out there' in. Samudra Report, 1997/07, 18

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