ajue10 January 6th, 2010
During my three day, two night visit to Ker Momar Sarr (Northern Senegal, northeast of Louga), I had the wonderful opportunity to interview a continental fisherman named Moustapha Fall. Moustapha has been a fisherman for all his life in the village of Ker Momar Sarr, where his grandparents passed down traditional, artisanal fishing practices to his parents and him. He currently fishes with his uncle every single day on the Lac de Guiers.
The Lac de Guiers is one of Senegal’s sole freshwater water reservoirs in the lower Senegalese River basin during the dry season, with a mean depth of 2m, length of 50km, and a breadth of 6km (Varis et al., 2006). Having this conversation with Moustapha was extremely eye-opening and an incredible cultural experience because I was able to contrast it with the conversations that I had with Amadiou (who fishes on the ocean). There were both similarities and differences between the conversation that I had with Moustapha and Amadiou.
Moustapha expressed that there are a wide range of problems with fishing on the Lac de Guiers. He said that the biggest problem is “amuma matériels” (no materials), or the fact that he does not have the means or money to buy appropriate materials for fishing. He said that he is very limited by what he can catch and where he can fish because of how expensive fishing materials are. He said that he has to resort to using the equipment that he has because it is all that he can afford, though the equipment is not at all adequate for his fishing practices. Moustapha also said that another problem besides not having the materials to fish was typha. Typha is a fresh water plant that has taken over the lake since the creation of the barrage de Diama in the Senegalese River Valley. Typha gives a place for the fish to hid, but also makes it very inaccessible for fisherman to get to the middle parts of the lake where most of the fish are.
Throughout my entire conversation, Moustapha echoed the same idea, the idea that fishing was a means of survival. The more fish that you caught, the more money that you could make. “Pourquoi tu fais la pêche?” I asked Abdou Sarr to translate from French to Wolof for me. Moustapha would respond in Wolof and Abdou would tell me “Il fait la pêche afin qu’il peut vivre, pour qu’il nourrit sa famille, pour qu’il gagne un peu d’argent.” When you have been a fisherman for your entire life, and fishing has been in your family for years, you fish. This was made very clear to me in speaking with Moustapha.
Moustapha continued to explain that fishing is difficult when you do not have materials. He explained how he takes fishing nets out on loan, using them to fish for fish that he sells to pay back the net. Moustapha explained that the size of nets varies in length and width of string, and that a good net costs a lot of money. “Amuma xalis” (no money) was a frequent Wolof phrase that he would say. In addition to the expensive materials, Moustapha also explained how it costs 15,000 CFA (30 USD) for a fishing license on the lake if you are Senegalese and 200,000 CFA if you are a foreigner. He explained how these licenses were good for one year only and that if you were caught fishing without a permit, then you are fined and arrested. Moustapha told me how there were two Malians that were arrested for not having the appropriate licenses two-three weeks ago.
Moustapha told me that he does not fish with a permit and takes the risk of being caught. When you can barely make 1,000-3,000 CFA (2-6 USD), you are not going to pay 15,000 CFA for a permit. Because he does not have a permit, he cannot fish during the daytime. Moustapha told me that he fishes during the night. He lays his nets in the evening when it is dark out and there are no officials on the lake checking for permits. At about 3-4AM, he returns to his nets to see if he has caught anything. On a good day he said that he makes about 3,000-5,000 CFA (6-10 USD), but that these days are rare. He said that he is luck to catch one fish that will feed his family, and maybe a second one to sell.
When he does catch a lot of fish (pointing to a 8-10 gallon bucket) he will sell his fish to people in the village of Richard Toll. He explained that a truck will come to Ker Momar Sarr and he will sell the fish directly to them. However, another problem that he has is that he has no means of conserving the fish. He does not have access to ice, so that the fish will not rot. Moustapha explained that many fishermen on the Lac de Guiers do not have the appropriate materials to conserve their catches.
Moustapha said that all he wants is to have materials. Abdou told me that he said that “S’il a des moyens à faire la pêche, comme un fils, un bon pirogue…il serais riche!” Again, materials mean more fish or bigger fish, which means more money. The idea of money being key was something that has been noted in all of my conversations. Money is a means of survival in Senegal. Moustapha said that the fishermen on the Lac de Guiers who have a permit and all the appropriate materials “amnañu xalis ak pêche” (have money and fish).
I was also interested in Moustapha’a views of the national government and their helpfulness or lack of helpfulness to the fishermen in the area. Moustapha said that the government is useless and that they make it more difficult for fishermen like him to catch fish and survive. He said that he tries to avoid regulations and does not follow the rules because he cannot afford to. Moustapha can do this because, according to Abdou, in Senegal there is a problem with enforcement of rules and regulations.
Moustapha and I also discussed the idea of whether or not there were problems with fishermen coming from other countries or other parts of Senegal and taking all the fish from the Lac de Guiers. He said that before the barrage de Diama, there were a lot of problems with fisherman coming from St. Louis to the Lac de Guiers. The Lac de Guiers used to have fish that came from the ocean before the dam was built, so many fisherman would make their way to the lake. It is no longer a problem though. He told me that there was once a group of fishermen from St. Louis that caught a fish that weighed 50kg; they sold it for 50,000 CFA to three families. Moustapha told me that he wants to be like those fisherman. He wants to have a good net that can catch the big fish.
Bottom-line, Moustapha spoke about fishing as a way to make money and survive. When asked about sustainable fishing practices, he said that he does not have any materials that overexploit the fishing populations like on the ocean. He said that the nets that used to scrape the lake floors of all types of fish are now illegal. He said that there are plenty of fish in the lake and that if in the future there are no fish, then, as he said “mangiy toog” (I am going to sit here).