As “Chalo or Kobo” — the traditional Gambian delicacy — are now threatened with extinction:

Alagi Yorro Jallow

Mamudu:  I am perplexed and still amazed how farm raised tilapia (‘furro or wass’) from China manages to pass through customs and phytosanitary controls at our ports. It is just recently that the USA banned farm raised fish and shrimp imports from China due to drug residues and poor aquaculture practices like feeding salmonella laden pig and geese manure to fish.

Mamudu: How Chinese fish got past veterinary control services at the port of entry in the Gambia, then found its way into dinner tables in Bakau, Banjul, Brusubi, Pipeline and in rural Gambia is puzzling. The country’s border control officials are corrupt beyond repair. They can pass snake venom as human food if you can part with the right amount of money. If we can eat farm raised tilapia from China, despite the ongoing health concerns, then Gambia’s phytosanitary standards must be concern for the Health department.

Mamudu: The Gambia imports frozen tilapia, frozen mackerels, sardines, prawns and salmons among others imports frozen tuna, octopus, frozen whole tilapia fillets from China and lobsters caught in the, lakes and the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. The country has a large exclusive fishing zone with potential to produce tons of fish annually estimated at about billions of Dalasis. However, it is yet to optimally utilize the opportunity.

Mamudu: Fishing is the mainstay of river-side communities in Badibou, Niumi, Kiang and Jarra. It has fueled the economy and provided employment for decades, but these days overfishing, a lack of infrastructure and cheap Chinese imports have hit the industry hard. The Gambia’s fish stocks have been ailing and its main competitor are European Union and China, one of the world’s largest economies and leading fish producers. The increased demand from Gambia’s fish-hungry population means the country is relying on frozen farmed imports. The traditional tilapia delicacy leads the way in the decline in the Gambia fish population while government gives fisheries no respite.

The Gambia’s Fisheries ministry has failed to save its country’s diminishing fish stocks. Majority of Gambians depend on the fish caught off shore for their basic protein needs, but because of the river waters are becoming increasingly overfished by European trawlers. Many species, including “Chalo or Kobo” — the traditional Gambian delicacy — are now threatened with extinction.

Mamudu:  I was livid when I discovered from a restaurateur who confirmed that they were purchasing their tilapia fillets from suppliers, who were sourcing their tilapia from global markets including China. The Gambian in me couldn’t accept this scenario.  This restaurateur (name withheld) revealed that they serve approximately 5000 meals per day, fish fillets in various forms (grilled, battered and fried, curried etc.) were popular options and accounted about 10% of sales about 1200 fish meals a day. He added that “the tilapia fillets were of a specific size (approx. 225-250gms per fillet) and the customers had come to expect that size as a brand standard, deviations from the size met with disappointment and/or anger from customers”. Digging into the numbers, according to the restaurateur, one fish gives you 2 fillets. The restaurant consumed about 1200 fillets per day, which translates to about 600 tilapia fish…daily that the restaurant served.

Mamudu: Armed with the numbers. Is it possible to get suppliers that could supply the restaurant and other eateries with local tilapia fillets 1200 per day or more,365 days a year? Now the reality hit, why they couldn’t find a single local fish processor/supplier who could consistently fill this order of tilapia rather from China.

Mamudu: How can the Honorable minister of Fisheries delved into the debate of local vs import fish tilapia, logistics, infrastructure (refrigeration, roads etc.)

1. The local vs imports debate independently of building local supply chain capacity.

2. Passionate building local capacity that reacts the demands of the market.

3. Create avenues to fund local scalable fish farmers/processors then revisit the debate.

Mamudu: The Gambia government need to take the responsibility of enabling sustainable incomes and livelihoods for their citizens. The governments also need to tackle overcapacity, the destruction of fisheries, ecosystem preservation, as well as control and surveillance. In fact, a reduction of the fishing activity for some years would help restore stocks to a level enabling fishermen to catch and earn more income than they currently do, without depleting the resource in the long term