The international fish market demand and technological advances are among the main drivers that have damaged marine ecosystems. This situation has resulted in the vulnerability of Small-scale fishing (SSF) communities, who depend on these same ecosystems for various functions and services, including cultural services, the supply of fish for income and food, etc. However, fishers are managing to navigate through some of the twists and turns offered by the market and a range of technologies in a perpetual search for ways to ensure a transition to guarantee viability of SSF, including its cultural dimensions. This thematic webinar by Aliou Sall recorded on 26 April 2024 aimed to share insights into the initiatives by small-scale fishers from a socio-anthropological angle drawing on examples from Senegalese fishing communities.

Aliou Sall holds a PhD in social anthropology from a Swiss University and is V2V co-investigator in Senegal doing field research and consultancies. He is the Executive Director of the Senegalese NGO CREDETIP and also Vice President of Mundus maris asbl. Over more than 25 years he worked with trade unions and social movements of fishers in Senegal and other countries in West Africa such as Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Benin, Togo and Ghana.

Aliou started out by underlining that experiences of vulnerability were nothing new for small-scale fisheries, but were rather intrinsically related to their marginalisation in sector policies focused more on industrial models and largely ignoring the cultural dimension and sense of identity of the fishers. This correlated with often high risks to life and materials as well as uncertainties concerning income. Conversely, the strong drive to maintain the basis of their livelihood, income and culture could lead to adopting bad practices, such as widespread use of prohibited monofilament or other harmful techniques, in the face of shrinking resources and other adversities.


Because of the largely informal nature of small-scale fisheries in Senegal, quantitative data are to be used with care. Rough and tumble numbers give an order of magnitude according to the last figures of the National Agency for Statistics and Demography, 2015:

- about 57,000 persons, mostly men, in havesting - almost 50% on a permanent basis.
- about 17,000 persons, mostly women, in processing - about 80% on a permanent basis.
- about 17,000 persons, both men and women, in marketing - about 56% on a permanent basis.

The fishers in major landing sites have adopted characteristic main technologies as a function of the resources they harvest and whether the produce is destined to domestic, regional or international markets. These markets, particularly international markets for high value species, are powerful drivers for the technologies and strategies adopted.

Aliou traced the shifting seascape between vulnerability and viability mediated through markets and technology forcefully denying that it had been a one-way street. In the 1970s rural youth drifted into the fisheries as a pathway for economic and social advancement. In later decades with increasing horse power engings, bigger nets requiring more muscle power to operate there was significant demand for more laborers. The subsidised rush into higher labour and capital outlay to remain competitive eventually led to overcapacity with the typical effects increasing vulnerability.

In the late 1990s the stocks of valuable demersal species collapsed reducing foreign exchange earnings. The government then signed international agreements for small pelagics, not without concerns about corruption and lack of transparency and law enforcement.

Additional drivers increasing vulnerability were geopolitical in nature with the rise of China, the massive deployment of Chinese and Korean fishmeal factories competing for raw material for human consumption and visible signs of climate change as documented in a large international symposium in June 2002.

The indicators show decreasing catch per unit of effort and absolute incomes together with increasing trip duration and stress that was also reflected in higher transaction costs and more conflicts among fishers. Indicators also showed impacts on the eating habits of the population at large through a decrease in quantity and quality of fish. Sardinella, or Yaboye in Wolof, the once cheap but nutritious herring-like fish for everybody either fresh, cured or smoked, became increasingly scarce in daily diets.

In this ever moving scenario, artisanal fishers were looking for new pathways for viability. Several trials involved collaboration with industrial foreign fleets, be it the Portuguese or Korean motherships taking Senegalese pirogues for a month to Gabon and elsewhere for line fishing of valuable demersals, or Nyominka fishers working on tuna trawlers for six months at a time. A range of clever ways emerged in order to secure a good income from fishing, no matter what, accumulate enough capital to get a boat constructed and be able to buy an engine and net or renovate an existing pirogue. The international market for sea cucumbers, not traditionally consumed in Senegal, became a recent new source of income, to cite just one more example.

Fishers are not strongly inclined to forming trade-unions or other forms of organisation to defend their interests collectively in these shifting fortunes and market conditions. The speaker believed that fishers should collaborate more with farmers' unions if they wanted to strengthen their hand in the competition for natural, social and economic resources. In any event, it was advisable not to interprete these outlined developments exclusively with a preset mindset, but be open to local ways for reasoning, organising social relationships and approaching crises and opportunities.

View the full zoom conference including the Q&A session on YouTube here.