Mr Faneyawa Soumah is a fisherman. At over 70 years old, he is a little atypical in that his age does not at all stop him from being omnipresent all day long on the platform of the Boulbinet port in Guinea in order to settle various types of conflicts between port users, but also between them and the fisheries administration. He is commonly called Dean for his age, but also for his great skill to settle conflicts where the administration would have difficulties given the social and political character of the artisanal fishery.

On the sidelines of the 9th Forum of the Regional Partnership for the Conservation of Coastal and Marine Areas in West Africa (PRCM) held from 23 to 27 October 2017, Mundus maris interviewed him about the different roles of the oceans, their current state of health and the actions to be considered to reverse the trend.

MM: Good morning Dean Soumah, would you please introduce yourself?

Dean Soumah: My name is Faneyawa Soumah. I am the national coordinator of artisanal fisheries landing sites in Guinea. But as you can see, my headquarters is here in Boulbinet.

MM: What connects you to the ocean? Why are you so actively involved?

Mr. Faneyawa Soumah at Boulbinet, ConakryDean Soumah: Our link with the sea (thus with the ocean) is first of all cultural in nature. Those who are unfamiliar with the relationship between seafarers and the sea only see an economic relationship. It is true that we are earning income from the bounty of the sea or, if you will, from the oceans that give us fish and shellfish that we sell to meet our needs. For example, many fishermen and women you see around us dress, feed, send their children to school thanks to this generosity of the oceans. Oh yes, that's true, but the cultural dimension is constants there as well. Our connection with the sea is deep. When you arrived on the platform, you went to my office and were told that I was on the dock to fix a problem. This is a walk that I take every day to dissuade fishermen from using the harmful monofilament gear. You see all around that they continue. But, because I am committed, even if I had to go on alone, I will do that until my last breath.

And why such a commitment you ask me? This is simply for reasons related to what I had explained earlier. How can we appreciate this generosity of the oceans and then abuse them, without doing anything in the face of the threats we have today? It's easy to talk, but I do not want to stop there. We must act, even if our action is only a small drop of water in the ocean. If everyone brought his or her own drop, we might be able to make an ocean. For me, not to commit ourselves, that are all those who use this generosity of the oceans, and to start with us, the fishermen, is simply to commit "collective suicide".

MM: Would you list for us what you consider the three greatest threats to the ocean? and explain why these?

Dean Soumah: They are of three kinds. First, there is the disorder that is due - for people of my age who have experienced something else - to some sort of deregulation in our country, in Africa and even at the global level. This deregulation is dictated by the absence of morality. I have the impression that there is no morality anymore. And when there is no morality and only the big and fast money matters, the future does not make sense. And from that perspective, there is no case for conscience: we loot, we pollute regardless of social, cultural or environmental costs. Secondly, there is the impression that the administrations used to have more power to sanction the various companies that use the oceans, either to fish, to exploit the minerals at sea or to transport hydrocarbons. The oceans have become trash cans for these companies and it is more worrying for us in Africa (compared to rich countries) where the weakness of our states does not allow to follow up and apply sanctions against these companies which are at the same time polluters and looters.

Finally, to talk about ourselves, the fishing communities, there is a fatalism among many of us. This situation is aggravated by the fact that the administrations and the NGOs have failed to invest at the level of the communities, the ports, that is to say, where the problem lies. Little or nothing has been done in a priority area such as ​​environmental education with appropriate tools that encourage communities to act after becoming aware of future challenges. It's good to think "regional, global" but everything must start from our places, where we live and work. Otherwise, all these efforts are likely to be in vain and the deterioration of the state of health of the oceans is happening at a rapid pace and does not wait for us (until when we understand).

MM: What do you consider as priority actions to counteract these threats?

Dean Soumah: The priority is, even before thinking about specific actions, to make people aware of the fact that any action must be anchored in the community because the problem must be understood by the people in the community. But everything is of concern to us as part of the responsibilities incumbent upon us living in Guinea and in the sub-region. From this vantage point, we must also dare to change our approach. That is to say, instead of only calling big meetings which are expensive without (always) producing real impacts, it is necessary to couple these with local initiatives on environmental education. More specifically, there is a need for NGOs and other internationally engaged actors to assist fishing communities in acquiring some basic knowledge of (i) the functioning of the oceans (ii) their relationships with other terrestrial phenomena and the factors that throw these functions out of kilter; (iii) the ecology of the species that we use most in Guinea and which are threatened, etc. These are things we would like to master with illustrations and explanations. A workshop of this kind at this landing site could make the ink run because it's what we need but no one thinks about it.

Now at the level of regulation, it is time to apply the measures, That's the only solution to fight against the bad practices that endanger the health of the oceans. Where measures are not yet in place, it is necessary to put in place relevant laws as a matter of urgency. The poor practices requiring regulation concern (i) IUU fishing for both artisanal and industrial fisheries (ii) ocean pollution by the mining industry and the transport of hydrocarbons.

MM: What could be the role for local action? for international or even global measures? How should the different levels interact?

Dean Soumah: As I have already said, it is at the local level that we need to consider initiatives that concretely focus on training and raising the awareness of communities by providing them with easy-to-understand teaching tools. These tools must help them understand the functioning and importance of oceans as ecosystems as well as the factors driving their degradation and by what process. I want to tell you that we are ready to start the idea with you in Guinea if you can help us find ways to do a three-day workshop here.

Now at the sub-regional or global levels, States must fight their corner in the various supra-national institutions (the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), the African Union (AU)) to address international threats. Subregional NGOs also have a role at the international level in working better on ways how to reach communities. Otherwise their action remains little known to the public.

MM: What is your greatest wish for the ocean?

Dean Soumah: First of all, the people (particularly the fishing communities) need to understand that this generosity of the ocean on which we depend until now can no longer be guaranteed with our practices. These communities understand that "recovering what is destroyed is not guaranteed because it is easier to destroy than to build." For this we must do everything we can to help them understand the problem using visualising media. We do not need so many talks. Finally, I wish for strict laws to be finally produced and enforced to punish those who degrade the health of the oceans regardless of the type of activity leading to the degradation.

Interview by Aliou Sall for Mundus maris.