By Madiba Singhateh, Hatab Nyang &Loius Jobe
The state of almost all fish landing sites was becoming worrisome for buyers, fishmongers and fishermen who operate in the area and more people were calling for a stop or controlled minimization of the activities in order to save the country from the spread of the deadly virus.
As Fishmeal Factories resumed operation, the state of activities at these sites could be compared to that of a beehive, considering the number of people who mingled together without observing any of the preventive and protective guidelines and measures provided by the WHO and the Ministry of Health.
Foroyaa reporters were out and about in Sanyang, Gunjur and Tanje and spoke to natives of these villages on the worrisome state of their fish landing sites amid the global Corona virus pandemic and the dangers the activities in these people posed to their communities. Tanji and Gunjur were busier than Sanyang. In Tanji, shops and restaurants were allowed to open in the morning and close by 1 pm. In Gunjur, the situation remained the same, but fishmeal factories were left to continue with their work unperturbed by the global pandemic.
One native of Sanyang who wanted to remain anonymous said social distancing as a preventive measure among those working at Fishmeal factories was the least respected. He said social distancing was not observed among fishermen in big boats that take between thirty and forty men to sea; that when the Fishmeal factories were closed, most of these big boats returned to Senegal and those that remained, did not go out fishing. But that this has changed after the fishmeal factories resumed full time operations; that the beach in Sanyang resembled a reactivated beehive where people mingled without observing any of the preventive guidelines.
Ahmed Manjang an environmentalist and micro-biologist said the closing and re-opening of the fishmeal factories was a controversial decision; that the Fisheries Ministry ordered all Fishmeal plants to stop operations due to the global Corona virus pandemic, but the factories reopened after a short break. Manjang said Government needed to look into this issue especially the Ministries of Health and Justice. Manjang asked the rationale behind opening factories when Mosques and Churches continued to close. Manjang said Government should get fish to feed needy families rather than feeding factories that feed animals in foreign lands; that right now, 260 million people across the world faced serious food insecurity due to the global pandemic and Gambia was no exception.
The President of the Artisanal Fisheries Association Foday Jack said they were asked to close by 2 pm and this did not suit them; adding that the time fishermen return from sea usually coincide with their closing time.
Foday said they wanted the authorities to reconsider the time since they were in a state of emergency; that the time for the closing of shops should also be looked at and changed.
Foday said they were trying to cope with the resumption of operations for fishmeal factories; that when the factories were closed, lots of fish was landed by fishing boats; that this was why they called the attention of the Ministry to open fishmeal factories in order to avoid wastage.
Foday indicated to these reporters that the press release from Fisheries Department asked them to let the boats out to sea on shift basis. However, he said this was difficult because a lot of work had to stop; that even boats that signed contracts with fishmeal factories stopped work.
When contacted to shed light on this issue, Dr. Bamba Banja, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Fisheries said one of the objectives of the Fisheries Policy was to develop industrial fishing; that industrial fisheries entailed having fishing trawlers and fish processing establishments such as fishmeal plants.
‘‘We do not do anything that is against stated laws or stated emergency regulations. We are conscious of the Covid-19 pandemic and that is why we told the fishermen to down-scale their operations. We are all operating on minimal operations. Let them adhere to the WHO and Ministry of Health guidelines; Dr. Banja said; that before they took action to open fishmeal factories, they consulted the Ministries of Health and Justice on the issue.