OPEN LETTER TO THE FISHERIES MINISTER, JAMES GOMEZ
Sir, I am at pains writing you this letter, and I hope you will give it the attention it deserves. Yourself and your social circles might not be directly affected by the concern I am raising here but average Gambians are suffering thanks to your ill-advised decisions concerning issuing of an operational license to fishing vessels and fish meal factories. The animal protein shortage we predicted when you started giving functional permission to these fishmeal factories without due consideration to how this will impact on the lives and livelihoods of the locals is imminent and biting very hard. In recent months, the Golden Lead fishmeal factory in Gunjur is engaged in prefinancing the fisher folks before they go out to the sea which put the locals in an unfair advantage in accessing the daily catch, the fisher folks have to supply Golden Lead first before the leftover is sold to the locals and in recent days there is hardly anything left.
Besides environmental damages and pollution, the Kombo Coastal communities are suffering as a result of the activities of the three fishmeal factories within a fourteen–kilometre radius from Snayang to Kartong, these communities in recent weeks are experiencing severe fish shortages since most of the daily catches is being sold to the fishmeal factories which relies on small pelagics as the locals. Our food security is facing serious threat; the majority of Gambians lives on less than a two–dollar a day; these small pelagics provide the locals with their cheapest and surest source of protein. Right now, GL alone isexporting 32,000 kg [32 tons] of fishmeal powder every month. If we consider the monthly output other four fishmeal factories that are currently operating in the Gambia, this amount rose to 160,000 kg [160 tons] of fishmeal exiting Gambia’s port. How is this sustainable? Right now, the locals are fiercely competing with these factories for this vital but quickly dwindling essential natural resources, thus putting lots of pressure on the locals on making ends meet for their daily protein supply.
As a result of acute fish shortages, the locals are increasingly relying on cheap, highly subsidised imported chicken meat for their animal protein needs. This option might be convenient short term fix but the communities over-dependency on chicken products are fret with lots of other health issues. Unless necessary precautions are put in place by food safety standard regulators, chicken meat and eggs can be contaminated by infectious agents that are harmful to humans. Poultry products can also be contaminated with antimicrobials and anti-parasitic drugs or pesticides used on farms. The consumption of antimicrobials can cause anti-microbial resistant bacteria to develop in humans and spread within the community. Consuming raw or under-cooked chicken or chicken products has been implicated as potential risk factors for human causes of influenza H5N1. Increasing dependency of the community on chicken products exposes the locals, especially children, to host of health issues such as food-borne bacterial diseases.
For a nation recovering from twenty years of brutal dictatorship, this is one problem too many and self-inflicted. I am calling on you as the fisheries ministerand the most critical stakeholder to engage other stakeholders who are responsible for issuing an operational license to these fish meal factories to introduce stringent measures to safeguard our natural resources from overexploitation. The interest of the citizens should override everything when you are making this kind of important decisions. The cost of small pelagic fish is beyond the reach of many locals and that should much concern to all and sundry. I call on you to come up with quick remedial strategies that will guarantee a certain percentage of the daily catch of fish is sold to the locals and at affordable prices.