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

The Environment Concern Group Gunjur has been collecting evidence of environmental pollution. In 2017, environmental groups contacted the local authority to complain that trucks being turned away from the factory were dumping fish, with rotting carcasses littering the road, beaches and bush.

They also documented that manual workers paid to collect the fish when they are landed and take them to the factory were complaining of skin and eye irritations — and local children were reported to be suffering from coughs and chest infections.

After waste was dumped in a local lagoon, turning the water red — and with dead birds and crabs found at the site — the National Environment Agency filed a lawsuit against Golden Lead, but in July 2017, the case was settled out of court.

Gambian microbiologist Ahmed Manjang, who works as a senior researcher at the King Fahad Medical Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, makes regular visits home to help local advocates in Gunjur.

Manjang quoted the Gambian trade minister at the time as having said that prosecuting the factory could deter potential foreign investment in the area.

Dissatisfied with the agreement that the company had made as part of the settlement, the community filed a lawsuit on Aug. 17, 2017, but there has only been one hearing of the case, which remains adjourned.

Meanwhile, anecdotal reports of dead marine life have been increasing.

“We have seen a spike in the number of dead turtles washed up on our beaches and dead dolphins spotted floating at sea,” Manjang said.

On Nov. 21, a baby whale was found dead on the beach outside the factory.

“Scientifically, we cannot link the deaths of marine life to the factory, but these are unusual phenomenon and we think the pollution is to blame,” Manjang said.

The effects on tourism have also been devastating, he said.

“We had quite a bit of investment in ecotourism around Kartong, but people do not want to stay there because of the foul smell,” Manjang said. “These businesses are involved in the lawsuit.”

Despite a temporary ban placed on the local Nassim fishmeal company, operations have resumed, in the face of strong opposition from those working in the tourism industry.

The opposition includes local restaurant owners who say that customers have been leaving before finishing their meals when the factory is operating, due to the stench.

The government is protecting the factories, Manjang said.

“It fears that if we start prosecuting the Chinese, they will withdraw investment from the country. They already pump a lot of money into local cultural events in the community,” he said.

“The factories are killing the women’s processing business and they cannot afford school fees for their children,” he added. “We are not here to ruin opportunities. We need to educate people and fight against what in the long-term will affect everybody.”

The JXYG factory in Kartong, which employs 35 people, denied operating in a way that disadvantaged those in the local fishing community and causing pollution in the area.

The company said that it had a new plant to treat the waste and that there had been no complaints since the plant was reopened after a temporary, four-month closure.

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