Fish: Gold from the Sea

The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa. Located in West Africa, surrounded by Senegal, it delights visitors with its diverse cuisine and many types of fish – in addition to all the other highlights: e.g. the incredibly long sandy beaches.

Varied fish dishes

The colorful fishing boats, which set sail for a few hours or days, can be seen daily by the sea. In some areas, e.g. Tanji, the fish is sold fresh: Bonga, ladyfish, butterfish, barracuda, perch, snapper, sardines, and many more. Over 70 different fish species are known in The Gambia.

The quickly prepared grilled fish tastes particularly delicious with an onion sauce. The fresh fish is cleaned and fried in oil over a charcoal fire on site.

A large portion of the catch is smoked in large ovens to preserve it (smoked fish) and dried in the open air (dried fish) before being used in stews. Rice is on the menu practically every day. It is a side dish for a wide variety of stews with fish or meat, vegetables and spicy sauces.

Who really gets rich from fishing?

The supposedly idyllic scene of local fishing has a bitter downside. In places like Gunjur, Sanyang, Khartong and Batokunku, most of the fish is transported on a large scale (industrial boats) to Chinese fish factories (Golden Lead), where it is processed into fish meal or fish oil as feed for fish farming cultures. Allegedly 20 to 40 shipping containers per day. A dramatic development, as a Spiegel reporter noted back in 2021. 

As idyllic as the colorful pirogues may seem, fishermen make little profit from the licenses for large-scale fishing. The promised jobs have also failed to materialize. On the contrary: the fish factories deprive many families of their livelihoods and discharge toxic chemicals into the sea.

The calls of local conservationists go unheard. They have long been drawing attention to the fact that the fishmeal factories and IUU fishing are endangering the once abundant fish populations, destroying local ecosystems, polluting the environment and paralyzing tourism.

What needs to be done?

As long as those responsible for fishing rights sell them off with virtually no strings attached, the population will have to dig deep into their pockets for fresh fish and suffer the environmental consequences. Tourists usually see little of this. The best way to support the local population is to travel with local providers, appreciate the country with its cultural traditions and natural beauty and question our own fish consumption.