“What are we going to do if we can’t process fish? How will we take care of our families and our children’s education?”

Fishing community of Cayar, Senegal. © Greenpeace / Pape Diatta Sarr
Women fish processors from the Mantulaye Dieye fish market of Cayar, Senegal, are against the expansion of fishmeal factories in the region. © Greenpeace / Pape Diatta Sarr

This is what the women of West Africa are telling me again and again, when I meet them to share thoughts about the concerning expansion of fishmeal factories in the region. Tonnes of fresh fish are being sucked up by a wasteful industry, to feed animals in Europe and Asia. These are also the concerns they are sharing today, on World Fisheries Day.  

What seems impossible, is their reality. Because of expanding fishmeal factories, millions of people in West Africa are now risking their jobs, livelihood, and food security. The marine ecosystem is suffering too.  

Today, I am happy to stand united with women, who are on the front line of losing their jobs to the fishmeal factories, and are now gathering here in Dakar to sound the alarm. More than ever, they are determined to make themselves heard and fight for what they call a struggle to survive and preserve their jobs, as well as their dignity as women.

Fish Processor Women on MY Arctic Sunrise in Dakar. © Pape Diatta Sarr / Greenpeace
Senegalese fish processor women met with Greenpeace, on the Arctic Sunrise, to work together and put pressure on fishery authorities to stop fishmeal and fish oil production in West Africa. © Pape Diatta Sarr / Greenpeace

“It is with the income generated by fish processing that we manage to provide for ourselves and our families,” recalls Djaba Diop from the fish processing site of Thiaroye, Dakar.

She is supported by female processors coming from different fish processing sites from across Senegal. Places like Kafountine, Joal, Kayar, Mbour, and Bargny. They are all affected by fishmeal and fish oil factories, and they know that if they do not act together, no-one else will. 

“What will be left for the next generations if the ocean is empty and destroyed?” they said. 

Fishing community of Gandiol, Senegal. © Greenpeace / Pape Diatta Sarr
The future of millions of West African people is threatened by the fishmeal and fish oil industry. © Greenpeace / Pape Diatta Sarr

For a country like Senegal, whose second largest sector is fisheries providing more than 600,000 jobs, it is important to ensure the sustainable management of fisheries resources. This is especially important, as fish covers about 70% of the animal protein needs of the population, with an annual fish consumption of 29.9 kg per capita, shown in our latest Greenpeace report. Female processors are asking the Senegalese government: Stop authorising new fishmeal and fish oil factories, and  stop the factories using fresh fish that we could have eaten instead.

The thousands of jobs created by artisanal fishing and processing are far more numerous than the jobs created by the fishmeal and fish oil factories. They only employ an average of 20 to 40 people per factory. Clearly, expansion of fishmeal and fish oil factories is not economically viable. Female processors contribute to the national economy, so why put them in a situation of unfair competition with fishmeal factories that can plunge them into unemployment?

The industry also poses a risk to food security. How can we deprive entire West African and Senegalese populations of fresh fish which will be processed into fishmeal to feed farm animals, for example fish, pigs, and chickens, in Europe and Asia? This is unacceptable. It runs contrary to the UN sustainable development goals (1,2,3,12,14) that promote Zero Hunger, Food security, and sustainable management of fisheries resources.

Fishing community of Gandiol, Senegal. © Greenpeace / Pape Diatta Sarr
Communities discuss how fishmeal and fish oil factories are threatening their food security, livelihoods, and jobs. © Greenpeace / Pape Diatta Sarr

Instead of allowing these fishmeal factories to operate close to local communities, the government would be better off supporting the development of women processors’ business and directing investments towards establishment of refrigerating units. This would enhance the value of women’s processing activity, and facilitate the conservation of landed fish supply in remote areas of the country and the sub-region.

Women are the pillars of African society. By protecting them we protect our whole society.

Stand with West African women: Take action against the fishmeal and fish oil industry.

Awa Traore, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner for West Africa with Greenpeace Africa