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Artisanal fishers in Hann, Senegal, joint World Ocean Day celebrations

You may think that World Ocean Day is a bread and butter event for artisanal fishers in Hann who owe their livelihoods to the ocean. They certainly pay respect in their own way, but World Ocean Day as agreed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2009 as an annual celebratory occasion, was so far not on their radar. For years, Mundus maris for its part has been an active promoter of reflections and activities in support of each year's UN motto for the day, always with a strong focus on young people as their futures depend so much on a healthy and productive ocean that keeps producing most of the oxygen we breathe, stabilising the climate, providing food and jobs. In 2014, we organised the first celebrations with young people of the soccer schools and their friends and relations.

It's been a long time coming. Bougane Bâ, Khardiatou Tambédou, Safy Diaw, Maguette Thiognane and Rama Bar are all women active in artisanal fisheries and elected members of the fisheries commission advising the municipal council on sector matters since the last elections. They took the initiative together with Aliou Sall, commission chair and vice president of Mundus maris to organise a big event in 2023 for World Ocean Day. The municipal council endorsed the proposal to convene a debate with invited representatives of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Fisheries. It was to focus on the damage inflicted to artisanal fisheries operators in Hann in the form of infrastructure for the Blue Economy and other harmful measures for artisanal fisheries. The grievances concern among others the eviction of the women fish marketers from their traditional working spaces into precarious and unsafe conditions. These issues were already mentioned in the report based on a survey of some 50 women last year. The complaints of the women about poor sanitary conditions affecting their health date back even longer without any remedial measures being taken. This time something should change for the better, true to this year's UN motto 'Planet Ocean: Tides are Changing'. The objective is to find a mutually acceptable compromise and peaceful coexistence between industrial and artisanal activities.

As a result of the volatile political and security situation in the country in the last few weeks, planning was hampered as people needed to cater foremost for personal safety. In these circumstances the meeting with the ministry representatives had to be postponed. Meanwhile the initiators formed a proper preparatory committee for World Ocean Day with other interested parties. Several themes were discussed. In the end, it was agreed to focus on an exchange on small pelagic fish, the mainstay of the entire value chain in Hann from fishing to processing and marketing, contributing to food security even beyond the town. For the strongest possible basis of the exchange, the initiators suggested to revert also to research on the matter. It was thus agreed to invite Mamadou Faye, fisheries biologist, former division head for artisanal fisheries at the Fisheries Department and former coastal surveillance chief, who combines professional competencies with knowledge of the local context as he is originally from Hann.

This gathering on 8 June 2023 attracted quite some attention with some 40 men and women active in the artisanal sector attending. About 10 women joined a bit later as they had to attend to landed fish before. From the mayor's office Mr. Matar Diaw, first deputy mayor, and Tamsir, the director of the mayor's cabinet, were in attendance in addition to Abdou Aziz Sy, in charge of issuing artisanal fishing licences in the Local Artisanal Fisheries Committee (CLPA), and others.

Mr Faye's presentation consisted of French slides, but the oral explanations were in Wolof to put the audience at ease. He elaborated on (i) the ecology of small pelagics including their migrations; (ii) the evolution of the stocks - here the main take home message is that the catch per unit of fishing effort is decreasing, a sign of (too) heavy fishing which tends also to deteriorate the economic results; (iii) the fishing overcapacity at the artisanal and industrial levels; (iv) the various laws and regulations the artisanal fisheries do not comply with and the impacts that has; (v) the lack of knowledge of industrial fishing effort; (vi) the issue of marine pollution and its impacts on society. In brief, he focused mostly on poor fisheries governance by highlighting shared responsibilities between state and private actors in the artisanal and industrial sectors.

During the ensuing discussion time, nobody challenged his statement about the co-responsibility of artisanal fishers, but participants taking the floor expressed serious doubts what if officially communicated about the industrial fleet. They also challenged socio-demographic data used in relation to their community as they did not coincide with their daily observations. Mr. Faye acknowledged that there may be difficulties and that there may be weaknesses in the data, but that he could only present officially published information. This brought home the need to improve the reliability and completeness of statistical datasets of the Fisheries Department and other institutions to avoid decisions being taken on a weak or even erroneous basis. That was a conclusion almost all participants agreed with.


Several questions were put to the expert, but which in reality challenge the authorities at the highest level of the State.

They wanted to know (i) what are the reasons for the State continuing to grant access for industrial fishing while the resources are already in a poor state, (ii) why the community is not informed in advance of certain infrastructures put in place by the central government and which resulting in an expropriation of fishermen and in particular women, illustrated by cases with ongoing projects in Hann, and (iii) why the fisheries administration delaying payments to the CLPAs from the royalties they were expecting as rebates from financial income from the sale of artisanal fishing licenses. This question touched on a current problem as it has been noted that fishermen are less and less inclined to buy the license and take to the sea without holding one.

Naturally, Mr. Faye had to insist that he could not speak on behalf of the government, even if he was aware of the issues raised and limited himself to what he could say as a scientific and technical expert. The moderator, Aliou Sall, helped him out by reminding the participants that the intended scope of this meeting was to get scientific inputs into the reflections in the locality and that another meeting was scheduled for 13 June with representatives of the ministries to address the grievances concerning governance under the title "The relationship between the blue economy and artisanal fisheries: conflicts and perspectives".

At the end of the exchange, as chair of the Fisheries Commission of the municipality, Aliou Sall thanked Mr. Faye for his informative presentation and the audience for their lively participation. He also acknowledged that the municipality had kindly made available a fully equipped room for the gathering and Mundus maris had invested a lot of time and energy during the complicated preparations. The usefulness of this exchange as recognised by the participants more than justified the effort.

He concluded by informing the audience that the artisanal fisheries academy which is beginning to make its way step by step in Senegal, will soon take more shape. He explained that the academy wants to be a space for the same type of fruitful dialogue that was needed more frequently. He explained that this academy will be animated in a way that anyone interested will feel empowered and an actor / actress recognised in their own right. The academy will be presented at the inauguration of the fishermen's house built as part of the partnership between the Commune de Hann Bel Air and Fos-Sur-Mer in the Bouches-du-Rhône department in southern France. This means that the artisanal fisheries academy will need to be supported by the municipality of Hann Bel Air, which could make it an educational tool for sharing knowledge, fostering dialogue and intermediation for the future of fishing and the communities that depend on it.