I have no other business; I have spent all my life in tourism… I opened this place because I wanted to transfer skills to my community, to the young ones and it works.Barry*
Barry fought back the tears as he explained to Amnesty International what had happened to his dream of a future, not just for himself but for the coming generations. Tourism is a major source of income for Gambia, but tourism to experience the natural beauty of the Gambian coast requires the beaches and fabulous landscape to be protected. All of that is now under threat.
In 2006, Sanyang started to develop its potential for tourism. Some members of the local community invested in lodges and restaurants to host tourists who wanted to enjoy the spectacular beaches, unspoiled nature and the local fresh fish cuisine. Many, like Barry, saw this activity as an opportunity to invest in their community, providing training for young people, giving them an opportunity to make a decent living and discouraging them from making dangerous journeys to Europe in search of a better life. A thriving tourism industry promised to help end irregular migration that was depriving communities of their youth and therefore their future. Barry bought into that dream.
In the 1990s, Barry decided to give up his job in a five-star hotel in Banjul and come back home to Sanyang to set up his own business. Since then, he has trained many young people from the community, investing in them, giving them opportunities and jobs. In 2018, his dream was shattered.
I do not regret coming here but if I could have foreseen the factory, I would not be here… Now there are less chances for tourism to survive and the less chances for the youth to have opportunities in the community.”Barry*
Nessim Fishing and Fish Processing Co., Ltd (Nessim) set up shop just 100m from his restaurant – according to the community, there was not enough consultation and information about what the impact on them might be and promised job opportunities from the factory for local people proved an illusion. The impact for Barry has been devastating. The tourism idyll was turned into a financial and ecological nightmare – awful smells, smoke and dead fish on the shore.
There are three fishmeal and fish oil factories in Gambia. These factories transform pelagic fish into fish oil or a powder called fishmeal which is then used to feed farm animals and other fish, like salmon, in the aquaculture industry, usually in Europe, Asia and America. It takes about 4.5kg of fish to make 1kg of fishmeal. Fish oil is also used in food supplement capsules. Nessim, a Mauritanian-owned company, was the last of the three factories to be opened in Gambia.
The impact on Sanyang and its people has been profound in a number of ways and the unsustainable level of fishing required to feed these factories is having a devastating impact on the area and the community, which risks becoming irreversible. Barry is not the only one that feels a sense of helplessness and frustration. All the lodges and restaurant owners that Amnesty International talked to shared similar stories, including their collective realization that the Gambian authorities are not doing enough to protect them or remedy this situation.
For Barry, like others in the tourism industry, overfishing by the factory and foreign trawlers has led to a shortage of fish, leading to a rise in the cost of fish, putting at risk the economic viability of his business. But the consequences go far beyond that. For Barry the factory is tearing his dream of a vibrant community apart little by little.
Fast and effective government action to address the problems facing Barry and others in the tourism industry is vital to stop irreversible harm to the people, their environment and their futures. Yet so far that action has been lacking.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect the interviewee’s security and privacy.
Listening to the voices of Sanyang and the stories of suffering from members of the community, it is hard to understand why the Gambian authorities are failing to act to defend the human rights of the people affected by the fishmeal factory and foreign trawlers. Clearly, the voices of those championing the benefits of profits are louder and stronger – but the profits are not reaching the people paying the price for mass exploitation of Gambia’s coastal waters.
No matter who shouts loudest, the Gambian authorities have responsibilities that they must fulfil – including ensuring the rights of the population to food, work, health and a safe environment.
The Gambian government has a duty to protect these rights and pass legislation requiring companies to conduct human rights due diligence in their operations and supply chains and ensure proper monitoring of Gambia’s waters. It also has an obligation to ensure transparency and allow easy public access to information about fishmeal factories and foreign trawlers and investigate the possible detrimental impact of their operations.
The Nessim fishmeal factory must be transparent about its activities, regularly consult with the community and follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, including by putting in place an ongoing and proactive human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and address the factory’s impact on human rights. Given the potential high economic and environmental impact of its activities, it must phase out the use of fish that according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization are already overexploited, such as sardinella and bonga fish.
Companies in the supply chain of fishmeal factories also have a role to play. They need to conduct supply chain due diligence and publicly disclose their due diligence policies and practices, in accordance with international standards, and take action, in cooperation with other relevant actors, to mitigate or remediate any harm caused.
Responsibilities for the situation also lie further afield. The international community, including countries that have signed fishing agreements with Gambia, need to regulate the aquaculture industry to limit the use of fishmeal and fish oil made from already overexploited species and increase transparency regarding their supply chain. They cannot carry on closing their eyes and ears because the sights and smells of Sanyang are far from them – out of sight must not mean out of mind.
Join Amnesty International members and supporters in their campaign to protect Gambia’s coastal waters, marine resources and communities. Act now by emailing the President of Gambia, Adama Barrow, to demand that he ensures the implementation of Amnesty International’s recommendations.
VOICES of sanyang: #SaveGambianSeas #ProtectGambianCommunities
The members of the communities affected by the overexploitation of the seas through the activities of Nessim Fishmeal Factory and foreign industrial trawlers are sharing their stories with us. These firsthand stories are meant to let you know more about why we’re standing with Sanyang to save Gambian seas and protect Gambian communities rights.