Sun, Mar 24, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Chinese fishmeal plants leave Gambian fishers all at sea

Scientists and campaigners warn that factories in coastal villages are wreaking environmental and economic havoc

By Hannah Summers  /  The Guardian

Community members in May last year reported to the Gambian Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources that the ecotourism industry in Kartong was under threat due to the discharge of toxic waste. The JXYG factory, which denies dumping waste in Kartong, was asked to cease operations by the Gambian National Environment Agency, but local sources have said that it was given the green light to continue production following an out-of-court settlement.

Factory owners have promised to bring employment to the Gambia, but because the processing of fish for fishmeal is a simple operation — fish is boiled and minced before being dried — the average plant does not employ more than 30 people.

“It’s very difficult to get any information from the factories about how much fish they are using or fishmeal they produce,” Gambia Artisanal Fisheries Development Agency head and marine biologist Dawda Saine said. “They are not providing any data.”

Speaking anonymously, one employee at the factory in Kartong said that the plant processes a maximum of 500 tonnes of fresh fish per day.

“My job is to powder the remaining fish that can’t be processed by the machine,” he added.

He has worked at the factory since it first opened in 2017 and earns about 3,000 Gambian dalasi (US$60) a month, but has never had a contract.

There are seven Chinese workers doing skilled jobs at the factory, while the local workers are employed as security guards and fish transporters, he said.

Experts have said that the production of fishmeal is not only weakening food security in northwest Africa, but is contributing to the existing pressures of overfishing in the region.

New research shows stocks of round sardinella, a fish that migrates along the Atlantic coast between the Gambia and Morocco, have plummeted due to overfishing.

“The main cause of this increased effort is the development of a fishmeal industry in the region,” said Ad Corten, a marine biologist who set up the Food and Agricultural Organisation working group on small pelagic fish in northwest Africa.

Sometimes, landings are so big that even the fishmeal plants cannot take them, and as a result, considerable quantities of fish might be dumped at sea, or on land.

Footage uploaded to YouTube shows Gambian fishers from the town of Tanji protesting against the discarding of round sardinella refused by one of the Chinese factories.

Locals reported that Senegalese fishers had been trying to land a catch at a Gambian fishmeal plant, but the load was rejected. Instead, the fruits of their labor were left to rot. Sometimes, they are discarded at sea, but on this occasion they were sent to the factory by lorry and, after being rejected, were abandoned in the bush.

“We are seeing dead fish thrown back into the sea causing massive environmental pollution,” Gunjur Youth Movement advocate and local small business owner Sulayman Bojang said.

“The beaches that were once beloved by tourists are covered in reeking fish carcasses. The toxic water reaches local farming and harvests go to waste. We want to stop exploitation at the hands of the fishmeal plants, but with the Gambia being one of the poorest countries in the world, we stand no chance against the Chinese corporations,” he said.

Those who speak out against the Chinese factories have said that they risk harassment and intimidation by that authorities, and Bojang is among a number of protesters who have been arrested.

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