Fishing in dangerous waters

by Luca Catalano Gonzaga

There is shortage of fish in Senegal, for large scale catch has progressively drained fish stock in the Country. Fishermen are no longer seen to fish with their nets few miles away from the shore, miserably empty. The continuous illegal raids from Asian, European and African fishing boats, in waters preserved for local people, force Senegalese fishermen to find an alternative solution securing their survival. An illegal and highly risky one: underwater fishing. Nowadays, to find fish a fisherman must dive from 20 to 50 meters down, a depth one can reach only by using diving cylinders. Senegalese Government officially forbids underwater fishing, of course, whether during the day or at night, but – as a matter of fact – prevents any control, based on the awareness this is the only chance for many entire villages to live on. Notwithstanding fishermen put their own lives at risk, the catch keeps decreasing from 60/70 kg a day in 2010 to 25/30 Kg as of today. The danger for fishermen resides in the fact they are forced to dive at least 2/3 times a day, for as long as 5/6 hours in total. No control on cylinders is in place, nor health care is available, not to talk about the impossibility to reach a hyperbaric chamber if embolism occur. Consequently, an extremely high number of deaths and permanent disabilities are accounted for on a yearly basis. A few key information: a diver going out fishing with its own pirogue spends 12 euros a day for gasoline and cylinder oxygen, thus he must catch at least 10 kg of fish just to balance his expenses. Taking into consideration the average daily catch gets approximately to 20 kg of fish, the actual daily earning is about 10 euros; not enough to provide for a family. Luckily enough, there is a great, spontaneous and strong social network among the many fishermen communities, supporting one another, giving part of the catch to elderly people or to former fishermen with disabilities caused by accidents occurred when fishing. Ndiattè Gueyeì has a very baffling story. He is 35 years old, has a wife and 2 kids; they live nearby Dakar, in a village along Yoof shore. His story is disconcerting: he has been a Senegalese rowing champion for many years and took part in several World Championships, such as the one in Germany in 2012 or in its own Country, in St. Louis in year 2018, yet he keeps living in utmost poverty. No support from the Government, no facilitation to let him train properly and get ready to wear the Senegalese uniform for Olympic Games. Ndattè lives as anyone else, in a one-room house with his entire family, and he is still forced to dive twice a day for he and his family to make ends meet, and despite he has already won 26 medals, proudly guarded at her mother’s place. (Text by Benedetta Cortesi).