Senegal-Gambia: The Controversial Fishing Agreement!
The residents of the coastal villages of the Kombo South and North settlements are always in the spotlight as frequent confrontations always emanate from fishermen on both sides of the border between the Gambia and Senegal over illegal fishing activities. On numerous occasions, fishing boats and fishermen from the Gambia have been arrested by the Senegalese NAVY over allegations of illegal fishing in Senegalese waters as Senegal has a fishing policy that prohibits fishing two (2) kilometres into the sea from the shores since it is designated as breeding ground for fishes.
However, the Senegambia fishing agreement states that, any fishing vessel registered in the Gambia can fish in Senegal likewise any fishing vessel registered in Senegal can fish in the Gambia. So, where then the problem lies in this whole frequent fishing saga between the Gambia and her only neighbor Senegal if both countries could fish in each other’s territories?
According to Mustapha Manneh, a resident of Kartong village, Gambian fishing boats frequently cross over into Senegalese waters to fish around the border of Abeneh village situated in Casamance, southern Senegal but also in prohibited fishing zones illegally.
He said that, as the Senegalese respect and enforces their marine and environmental laws; they would apprehend anyone who violates their maritime laws designed for the protection of their fish breeding areas which is two kilometres (2) from the shorelines into the sea contrary to what obtains in the Gambia, despite having similar protective fish breeding laws. “As far as your fishing vessel is registered in the Gambia, even though many of those fishing vessels are owned by Senegalese, if you are caught illegally fishing in Senegalese waters, you are arrested by Senegalese authorities and civilians.” Manneh stated.
He believes that, most of the fishing vessels fishing in the Gambia are in fact owned and operated by Senegalese citizens based in Kartong, Gunjur, Sanyang, Tanji or Bakau fish landing sites, saying but they apprehend them in Senegalese territorial waters simply because they are legally registered in the Gambia.
The environmentalist and journalist explained that, whenever there is fish scarcity in the Gambian waters, fishermen from the Gambia who are mostly Senegalese with Gambian registered boats would sneak into Casamance waters to illegally fish and run back into Gambian waters, noting in such cases, they are usually apprehended or chased by the Senegalese marine authorities and this creates the frequent conflicts between the two countries and people.
He continued that, whenever these Gambian fishermen are chased by the Senegal authorities, they will report the matter to the Gambian NAVY that they have been chased or apprehended by the authorities in Senegal with claims they were within Gambian waters when in fact the Gambian fishermen cross over to the prohibited fishing grounds in Senegal. “This brings chaos between Gambian and Senegalese security agents, since there is always that suspicion between the Gambia and Senegal in security matters.” he added.
According to Mr. Manneh, there is a vigilante group in Casamance who work with the Senegalese authorities to patrol the sea to protect or enforce the fish breeding protocols especially in the Abeneh village end in Southern Casamance and mostly it is this civilian vigilante group that apprehends Gambian fishing boats in Senegalese waters saying the group’s ultimate aim is to safeguard the non-fishing zones on their waters. “This vigilante group is supported by the Senegalese NAVY and maritime.” Manneh asserts.
In such situations, the Gambian NAVY usually intervene to protect Gambian fishermen but also remedy the situation with their Senegalese counterparts and in most cases the chaos is tense from both sides of the divide according to Manneh. “Recently, the boat that was involved in such activities wasn’t in fact a Gambian fishing vessel but Senegalese one registered in the Gambia.” he pointed out.
Besides, fishing in breeding zones in both countries is strictly prohibited. Meanwhile, Mr. Manneh urged Gambians to be protective of their waters and natural resources whilst calling on government of the Gambia to purchase proper fishing vessels for Gambian youth to venture into the sea.
Recently, a 16 year old Gambian minor was caught by the Senegalese authorities for allegedly fishing in no-fishing zones in Senegalese waters and was dragged to court in Senegal in shackles sparking a public outcry on social media and in the human rights community calling on the Gambia government to use all diplomatic channels to secure the release of the minor who is a secondary school student.
The Gambia and Senegal share special ties especially since the advent of the Barrow government, but critics believe that Senegal isn’t reciprocating those ties to the Gambia as numerous civilian incidences and military incursions have been witnessed in his four years of leadership.