Most Gambian families in the Greater Banjul Area derive their main source of fish protein from Bonga (commonly called Kobo or Chalo), as it has always been the cheapest fish in the market.
Hitherto, Bonga was the most affordable fish to the majority of households but the recent economic realities in the country is beginning to change this status as the price of this 'fish of the poor' is relatively rising in step with other basic commodities beyond the reach of the low income earners.
Market women (consumers) are now complaining about price of fresh Bonga fish in the markets which they said has tripled or quadrupled if it is even available. It is this development that has prompted the reporters to cover the supply chain from the beach to the markets to find out what is responsible for this.
At the fish landing site in Bakau, one Ansumana Saine, a fisherman, said he started working at the Bakau beach since 1986. Commenting on the scarcity of fish in the market, he said whenever the fishermen do not make enough catch, fish becomes expensive.
Ansumana was however quick to add that it favours them more during such periods when they don't have to throw away fish as everything is sold out. He said when there fish is in abundance they normally throw away a lot of the leftover catch due to the fact that they lack facilities for preservation to avoid spoilage.
He said the reason why people are complaining that fish is expensive is because you don't have enough catch and enough fish in the market and as such they cannot sell at the same price as when it is abundant.
The reason for this, he said, is because of the rising cost of fuel as they buy nothing less than D1, 420 of gasoil on every fishing journey. He stated that if there is fish they sell one basket of "kobo" at D300 and if there is not much they sell it at D400.
Idrissa Jatta, a young Gambian fish monger or 'Bana bana' (middle person), who has been in the fish selling business for over 6 years now, explained that the reason why there is scarcity of fish is because of the nature of the sea which determines availability or non-availability.
According to him, the present scarcity of fish is caused by the cold season that is coming. He said the boat will sometimes go but return with only one basket or half basket of fish. "We do not give price to our fish, it is the fish which prices itself. When there is enough fish, the price will be less and when there is not enough the price goes up", said Idrissa.
He said if the fishermen go out fishing and come back with only 2 baskets when they were in fact expecting 20 baskets and in order for them to get there profit from the fuel, the price will be expensive otherwise the fishermen will be at loss.
He said they the "Bana Bana" would always like to see fish in abundance so that they will be able to sell many baskets in order for them to get something from it, adding that if fish is scarce they may not be able to guarantee for themselves even a single basket to sell to market vendors.
Idrissa also complained about the children who steal fish when they are onloading the catch they buy from the fishermen from the boat to the shore.
The fish vendors in the markets of Serekunda and Brikama are also complaining about the scarcity of fish which they partly attribute to the recent Muslin feast of 'Tobaski or 'Eid ul Adha' because some of the fishermen went to pray in their original homes to re-unite with their families and are not yet back. They said it is this scarcity which is responsible for the high price of fish in the market.
The women fish vendors also attribute the increased price of fish to the high cost of electricity bills which also increased the cost of the ice blocks they use to preserve the fish.
According to women fish vendors, a basket of 'Bonga' fish that used to cost between D700.00 and D800.00 is now costing them D1,300 per basket, while those selling the other varieties called 'White fish' said a basket which costs D2,000 before the 'Tobaski' is now costing D4,000.
They explained that a set of three or four 'Bonga' fish which they use to sell at D10 or D15 before cannot be sold now at less than D25.00 if they are make any minimum profit.
The fish vendors said they are aware of the complaints of the consumers but the reality is that the price increase is beyond their control.