Famara Dampha, in this interview with the Foroyaa, explains the efforts being made by his department to enhance the earning capacities of fisherfolk in The Gambia.
Q:What are the on-going fishing projects initiated by the government?
A:We have The Gambia Government-African Development Bank (BADEA) and the Islamic Development Bank Project called the artisanal fisheries project which is currently constructing a fishing jetty at the Bakoteh fish market, rehabilitating the fishing centres in Tendaba and Bintang and Albreda.If you go around you will see that even the access road from main road to Bintang is about to be tarred. The same applies to Tendaba.
Q: What is the total amount earmarked for this project?
A: I have to find out.
Q: Why do you see the need to rehabilitate the fishery jetty?
A: Well, it is not rehabilitation. We have rehabilitated the centres but there has not been a fishery jetty. The Gambia does not have a fishery jetty. That is why some of the licensed vessels cannot meet some of the conditions. Some of those conditions include landing certain percentage of their catch in The Gambia. Because if they come to land and there is a commercial vessel at the port, the commercial vessel is given priority. But now this jetty will be specifically for fishing vessels. And fishing vessels will also create employment because people will be there to offload the fish and so on. It will also add value because companies here get most of their fish from artisanal fishermen. But when commercial fishing vessels are landing here, it is likely they will have other avenues of getting good quality fish and they can run 24 hours. It is better for a fishing company to run 24 hours rather than depend on artisanal fishermen whom the whole population also depend on.
Q: Who is funding the Bakoteh fish market project and what is the total amount earmarked for this?
A: The total amount as I said I will give you later.
Q: Is the fish market project a loan or a grant?
A: It is a loan.
Q: When do you envisage the completion of the fish market project?
A: The fish market project is almost complete. We have just completed a training programme for the beneficiaries on sanitation, fish quality and management.
Q: Will the ice plant at Bakoteh fish market produce sufficient ice cream for the fishermen in the Greater Banjul Area?
A: The problem is that the primary beneficiaries are the people in the fishery sector but no one will stop even you from buying ice if you come there. With a 10 tonne capacity, it will supplement already what is available because there are also private ice plants around which the fishermen are buying from.
Q: The 10 tonnes you are talking about, is it going to be produced on a daily basis?
A: Yes, it will. And you have storage, for example, if you produce and you do not have anybody to buy, then you can store it.
Q: Who is going to manage the fish market?
A: The fish market is going to be managed by the KMC.
Q: Is the fish market a property of the KMC?
A: It is the property of The Gambia Government. The department [of Fisheries] is going to sign a contract or MOU with the KMC on how to operate it.
Q: What are the factors responsible for the domination of the fishery sector by the Senegalese?
A:I don't agree with this question. The fishery sector has different aspects. You have fisherfolk that is to go and catch and bring. You have post harvest which starts from landing to the time it is put on your plate to eat. So there are two sectors. When you go to capture fish along the coast from Barra to Kartong, it is dominated by the Senegalese. But from our surveys which we did, if you go inland, the majority of the fishermen are Gambians. If you go to a village, you see someone who has a canoe and he goes with his son to fish every day. He comes, consumes and sells part of what he has caught. The post harvest sector is dominated by Gambians. If you go to Bakau or Tanji, you see women selling fish. These women are Gambians. I have always said that the fisheries sector is the only sector employing people on a daily basis.
Q: What is the Government doing to encourage more Gambians to join the fisheries sector?
A: What the Government is doing is coming up with projects. Before the construction of the Brikama fish market, there was a survey which showed that there were 60 fish sellers at the said market. Having constructed the market, 144 places were constructed. Yet, this number was not enough as so many prospective fish sellers turned out to be allocated a place in the market, thereby causing chaos. Apart from the 144 places in the market, other fish sellers are bringing their tables to the market. And all of them are Gambians. It is worth noting that The Gambia being an ECOWAS member state cannot deny non-Gambians places in the market.
Q: How many tonnes of fish are caught in Gambia's territorial waters every year?
A: About 35 thousand tonnes were caught last year.
Q: How many tonnes of fish are exported annually from The Gambia?
A: Well, I have to find out that figure.
Q: Where are these fishes exported to?
A: You have the formal market and the informal market. Most of the frozen and smoked fish go to EU countries. Some also go to Asian countries such as China and Hong Kong. It also has an African market such as South Africa and even in the West African sub region in countries like Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Guinea Conakry where smoked fish is sold. The main market for dried fish is Senegal.
Q: Which type of fish is mainly exported to South Africa?
A: It is mostly sole fish
Q: What percentage does the fisheries sector contribute to The Gambia's GDP?
A: This is always a controversial question between us and GBOS. We always say something like 4 to 5 percent. But GBOS is the competent authority on statistics.
Q: How much does The Gambia earn annually from the exportation of fish?
A: Well, again I have to find out that from the records.
Q: What is the estimated number of Gambians working in the fishery sector?
A: Well, that is about 200 thousand. This number includes the fishers, fishmongers and those who are engaged in fish smoking and drying.
Q: Is the Bakau landing site a priority to the Fishery Department?
A: If it is not a priority to the Fishery Department, you will not find what is there. Since 1993 it has been a priority because it was in 1993 that we put what is there.
Q: Why is Soma a priority to The Gambia Government even though it does not have a landing site?
A: This is because Soma is a central point where many gather to get fish. We also want to decentralise to Farafenni, Bansang and Basse. We are negotiating with the Japanese for a grant.
Q: Why is the Government of The Gambia negotiating with the Japanese Government to change the machine at the ice plant in Bakau?
A: The Japanese Government has a policy of looking after machines after a period. The last time the machine at Bakau was overhauled was 1993.The only thing we are negotiating with them is what to do with the jetty. But as far as the ice machines are concerned we are going to privatise them. If a private person gets the machine, he or she can remove the old machine because it consumes a lot of gas oil. The Japanese had a policy of bringing their own machine, but the machine at Brikama was bought from a third country and it consumes less oil than the ones in Gunjur and Tanji.
Q: Why do you see the need to rehabilitate the fishing jetty at Bakau?
A: The jetty at Bakau is hazardous. People usually get injured or hurt there and the rehabilitation is meant to reduce that risk. The iron was corroded. What we offered was whether they could have some plastic curtains or even timber. But we don't encourage timber because it poses some problems when it is wet.
Q: How useful will it be for the community of Bakau?
A: It has a dual objective which is fishing and enabling vessels to anchor. After, it was realised that the place was too windy and rocky to serve the anchor role. In fact there was a day when three boats were destroyed by the weather.
Q: After the destruction of the boats, did you visit the area?
A: I visited the area the same day the boats were destroyed. The incident was reported to the National Disaster Management Agency. GRTS also covered the incident.
Q: How many fishermen are in Bakau?
A: I have to find out.
The Foroyaa will conduct a follow up interview with the Director of Fisheries.