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Qatar tribune


Nowadays, when a Senegalese fisherman gets into a canoe, it’s probably the last time he will do so – either he is leaving his life behind in a bid for a new one in Europe or failing in the attempt.

Small-scale fishing has long been a mainstay of Senegal’s economy and its communities along the Atlantic coast, but overfishing, industrial competition and the impacts of climate change are taking their toll.”These young guys behind me, when we’re at sea, all they talk about is going to Europe,” said Ibrahima Diouf, a solidly-built fisherman in his 40s, pointing to the six crew members getting his boat ready in Thiaroye, outside the capital Dakar.

He pointed to a dozen other boats lying on the beach, saying they’d been abandoned by colleagues who left for Europe “because there are not enough fish, they can no longer make a living.” In recent years, thousands of Senegalese have embarked in the narrow wooden canoes, some reaching 20 meters (65 feet) long and carrying dozens of passengers paying several hundreds of dollars each to traffickers.

It’s a huge price for a dangerous trip of 1,500 kilometers and over a week toward the Canary Islands of Spain, their gateway to the European Union.

Nearly every day in cities and towns across Senegal, people hear about a successful venture, a boat stopped by coast guard interceptions, or capsized ships.But that has not deterred a growing number of fishermen from joining the ranks of those hoping to leave, generally, the young people fleeing poverty and unemployment.

“Today, you also have women and children and people with jobs. Fishermen are the new ones,” said Boubacar Seye, president of the migrant nongovernment organization Horizons Without Borders.

Less to catch “Almost everyone here has left,” said Ababacar Diop, a married father of two in his 30s, who himself tried to make the crossing but was picked up and returned by Senegal’s navy in October.

“We’ve gotten used to coming back empty-handed” from fishing trips, he said, blaming the lost catches on “these trawlers behind me.” At anchor are dozens of hulking fishing boats, some with Senegalese flags, many others with Chinese or other foreign flags.

Most are hauling in hake, sole, shrimp or octopus mainly to meet the demands of European consumers or to supply fishmeal or oil producers, the Environmental Justice Foundation said in a recent report.

“A few years ago, we would set out at 6 a.m. and return around 5 or 6 p.m.,” Diop said. “These days, we’re forced to return at 10 or 11 a.m.” because there’s nothing to catch.

Fishing provides around 600,000 direct and indirect jobs for Senegal and 3.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP), according to a 2022 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But for the tens of thousands still trying to catch sardines, mackerel or scad, “heading out to fish is a losing proposition,” said Aliou Ba, head of ocean campaigns for Greenpeace Africa.

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