Every three months, starting end of this September, 15 industrial fishing trawlers licensed in The Gambia will each land four tonnes of fish in the country.
“That means 60 tonnes of fish will land in the shores of The Gambia every three months,” said Dr Bamba Banja, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources.
Following the removal of industrial fishing embargo imposed by the former President Yahya Jammeh in January 2015, the fisheries ministry has issued industrial fishing licence to 15 fishing trawlers from June to early September, this year.
Usually, industrial fishing trawlers in the country land their catch every three months. As per the fishing regulation in the country, every fishing trawler is mandated to land four tonnes of the fish caught in the Gambian waters in The Gambia. This means other catch or catches, whatever the quantity, will be processed to fishmeal or other fish products and exported to abroad.
The first licensed trawlers are expected to land their catch by the end of this month, September.
“We are preparing, making arrangements and putting in the facilities to be able to store the fish in the right condition,” Dr Banja said.
“We are going to mobilise the women ‘bana banas’, we are going to support the Bakoteh Fish Market and Brikama Fish Market, as well as support the prison department and the medical and health departments with fish.”
Also, the Banjul fisheries jetty is being supported to have ancillary facilities for fish-processing and storage and to be able to produce 100 tonnes of ice every day. The jetty is being supported by the West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme, implemented by the Ministry of Fisheries.
“So when that happens, any fisheries vessel that is licensed to fish in The Gambian waters will land in The Gambia, because we would have the facilities to handle whatever quantity to be landed,” the permanent secretary said.
However, experts and local fishermen lamented that The Gambia is facing fast depletion of its fish stock, resulting from increased fishing pressure, mainly by industrial fishing trawlers.
An 80-year old retired fisherman from Bakau, Alagie Ousman Bojang, had told a local newspaper that failure to adequately observe conservative measures by industrial, as well as some artisanal fishermen is responsible for “the massive depletion” of the country’s fish resources.
“I can say that from the time I was fishing to now, our catches have reduced by 60 to 70 per cent approximately,” he said.
A report on fishing in West Africa by the Overseas Development Institute, an international independent Think Tank, says overfishing in the world’s oceans is at the centre of a crisis of sustainability.
“Nowhere is that crisis more visible than in Western Africa,” the report reaffirms.
However, Dr Banja of the Ministry of Fisheries said each licensed industrial fishing trawler has Gambian officials whose main duties include observing the types and amount of fish caught and the mesh type and size used.
“We know it is our responsibility to protect and preserve our fish stock for generations yet unborn and we are taking that responsibility seriously,” he said.
D8 million in gov’t coffers
Meanwhile, from June to early September, this year, the Ministry of Fisheries generated D8 million for The Gambia government, through licensing of industrial fishing boats.
The embargo on the issuance of industrial fishing licence put in by former President Jammeh in January 2015 lasted until March 2017.
“No industrial fishing activity was happening; they were not issuing out licence to both local and foreign fishing trawlers, because the former president put an embargo on it,” said Dr Banja, who was appointed and subsequently sacked as permanent secretary by the former president, only to be reinstated by the new government.
“It was only in March this year when I was reinstated that we removed the embargo and increased the licence fees for industrial fishing trawlers by 25 per cent,” he said.
He said the increment was done bearing in mind that for two years, the country was not doing any activity in terms of industrial fishing, “we were not generating revenue; we were not creating employment”.
“By May, we put the 25 per cent increment into legislation and by June we started issuing out licence. So June, July, August to early September, we have put this much money [D8 million] into government coffers,” Dr Banja said.
“There is hope going forward that fisheries will contribute immensely to the socio-economic development of The Gambia.”