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6. The perception of local actors, women and men

In terms of the impacts generated by the globalisation of the markets, the most concordant opinions gathered from the men and women met can be summarised in these points:

  1. First, they denounce the threats posed for the marine ecosystem by Chinese and Korean practices that target exclusively croakers (more specifically) and tonguesole. According to the informants, if no effective measures are taken as a matter of urgency, they expect the stocks of croakers tol collapse from overfishing in the medium or even the short term, because already an important part of the visible landings are constituted by juveniles (small sizes). In addition, the value of the catches sometimes scarcely covers the costs of the fishing trips getting longer and longer. Longer trips force to buy more of the expensive ice and thus reduce profitability. This is a damaging downward spiral despite increased experimentation on how to reduce the amount of ice without compromising the freshness of the fish. The locals are all the more concerned about the fate of these species when they realise that this strong pressure on croakers tends to synchronize at the scale of the subregion (the same owners operating in Guinea Bissau). Also, the opacity typical of how the Asian and Lebanese investors operate poses a problem of management and governance of fisheries in view of the major constraints to inform the traceability of the products they fish and export.

  2. Aliou Sall in a food store in Boulbinet Beyond the expected negative impact of this fishing overcapacity on the resource, other direct consequences have been raised: First, for the women, the changes in the ownership structure (progressive control by Asians and Lebanese) have an impact on the social organisation as the conditions of access to products have changed. Indeed the women have fewer possibilities to purchase on credit and obtain preferential prices from fishers. In the same way, several women who obtained their supplies from fishers directly at the quai are obliged to go to the KENIE market, not far from where the Asians sell their bycatch known as "African fish". This new situation has direct negative effects on the organisation of work (more time spent buying the product in a city known for its traffic jams) and consequently higher transaction costs.

  3. Another worry concerns the impact of these developments on local food security. In the occasion of visiting one of the open air restaurants serving only fish with Aloko situated in a famous part of the capital called Brikomomo, Madame Fofana, manager of the place, said:

"Only seven or eight years ago, we bought fish piled up directly on the dock and we took care ourselves to put in our basins. But since then, I see only fish already packed in cardboard and most often frozen, which we must therefore thaw before cooking. Also, we do not know where it comes from, who fished it even if basically, we are rather sure that it comes from Guinean waters. My customers order smaller portions than before because the fish has become expensive. I do not understand why the chicken that we import frozen can sometimes be cheaper than the fish while we are surrounded on both sides of the ports of Boulbinet and Taminataye. I know that if the fish has become expensive, it is also because everything goes abroad and it will become a problem because people will no longer be able to eat. Look at the quantity of small mackerels and horse mackerel that I serve today and everything is bought by customers, some of whom preferred to stay on an empty stomach instead of eating these two species. Maybe there are ethnic groups who love it, but here in the restaurant it was never the dish, while now....".

Pirogues in Kayar, Senegal, April 2013 (Photo P.Bottoni)We are therefore approaching a similar situation to Nigeria where large quantities of "African fish" frozen in bulk by industrial vessels offset the scarcity of fish in the country's waters in the face of strong demand. With the difference that the Guinean waters and all those of its neighbours to the north of Africa were among the richest in the world. But IUU fishing is causing widespread overfishing. Thus species with high international market value whose populations are already greatly reduced are accessible only by the rich - whether at home or abroad. The small pelagics often caught in Senegal and Mauritania - fortunately of good nutritional value - are still within the reach of the populations as long as they are not reduced to fishmeal and fish oil to feed salmon and other carnivorous species fattened in fish cages eg in Norway or in China for that matter.

This is an additional argument for proponents of a development choice that should be given to artisanal fisheries. This assessment highlights that as locally anchored economic value chains, small-scale fishing distributes costs and benefits relatively better than industrial fishing. This is in opposition to an approach associated with a sort of myth that fisheries development should go towards complete industrialisation (all phases of the value chain, from capture to marketing). This was prevalent in Senegal, where, since independence in 1960, the authorities had based all their hopes on the industrialisation of small-scale fishing deemed "doomed to its own demise". But this assertion has not withstood the analysis of the facts when we see today the place of small-scale fishing in the overall economy of capture fisheries (ex: not less than 65% of the volumes exported by the factories come from artisanal fisheries). J.P. Chevaux, in one of his works, referring to the dynamism of this artisanal fishery, spoke of "development without developers".

Conversely, IUU fishing (illegal, unregistered, unregulated) as it is practised in particular by industrial vessels flying different flags, which are responsible for half of the catches in the sub-region and more than three quarters in Guinea, compromises the resource to such an extent that the local and sub-regional economy based on artisanal fishing risks of breaking down. The significant decrease of catch per unit of effort in these small-scale fisheries are pointing in that direction. (1, 2, 3).

In a West African context where the authorities are still looking for financial means to support decentralisation, the artisanal fisheries, from the perspectives it offers from what we have seen in the port of Boulbinet, could be a good source of inspiration provided that it is protected from unfair competition from industrialists. In fact, compared to the industrial fishing port located not far away, Boulbinet, like all artisanal fishing ports, has the following advantages: (i) opened up to the public thus offering opportunities to carry out income-generating activities for thousands of people with no other alternative (ii) the "atomised distribution" providing prospects for widely distributed local development compared to industrial ports located in one and only one site given the investment in hard infrastructure needed and where the benefits accree only to few owners and investors.

(1) Belhabib, D., Doumbouya, A., Diallo, I., Traore, S., Camara, Y., Copeland, D., Gorez, B., Harper, S., Zeller, D. and Pauly, D. (2013). Guinean fisheries, past, present and... future?. pp 91-104. In: Belhabib, D., Zeller, D., Harper, S. and Pauly, D. (eds.), Marine fisheries catches in West Africa, 1950-2010, part I. Fisheries Centre Research Reports, 20(3). Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Canada [ISSN 1198-6727]. See graph with catches between 1950 and 2012 that can be modulated according to different search criteria on the website.

(2) Belhabib D, Sumaila UR, Lam VWY, Zeller D, Le Billon P, Abou Kane E, et al. (2015). Euros vs. Yuan: Comparing European and Chinese Fishing Access in West Africa. PLoS ONE, 10(3): e0118351.

(3) Belhabib D, Sumaila UR and Pauly D (2015). Feeding the poor: Contribution of West African fisheries to employment and food security. Ocean & Coastal Management, 111:72-81.