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In Djirnda people are desperate to go back to fishing

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GEF-FAO Coastal Fisheries Initiative Program


Coastal fishing in Senegal hard hit by measures to prevent spread of COVID-19

Djirnda, Senegal, 30 May 2020 – Elhadj Issakha Sarr is sounding the alarm. So far, says this 52-year old fisherman and trader, the people of Djirnda have managed to cope. “Now,” he adds, “they can hardly take it anymore.”

Nested in an islet in the delta of Senegal’s southern Saloum river, close to the Gambia, the small village of Djirnda lives of fishing. However, the measures taken by the Senegalese authorities to control the spread of the corona virus have brought this community to its knees.

First, Issakha says, you have the curfew. Nobody is allowed out from eight o’clock at night until six in the morning. This has put a full stop on shrimp fishing, which happens at night. According to Issakha, shrimp represents around 25% of Djirnda’s catches.

Women have been most affected, he says. They focus on drying shrimp and smoking fish. With no shrimp coming in and without traders from Burkina Faso or Guinea, who buy most of their smoked fish products, they are at their wits end. The more so because the alternative fish outlet, the nearby port of Joal, cannot be reached because of the transport ban.

Men too have a hard time, Issakha adds. “You can still go fishing during the day,” he explains, “but you don’t really know if you are going to sell.”

Emergency measures such as the transport ban, market closures and suspension of exports, have heavily impacted the fishing sector, according to Ibrahima Lo, who is in charge of fisheries in Fatick region where Djirnda is located.

“Fishing, processing, trading - the whole sector has been hit,” Ibrahim Lo says. The risk of food crisis resulting from a slowdown of activities and loss of income is real, he adds.

New normal

Djirnda is not an isolated case. Communities all along the coast of Senegal face similar challenges now that fishing, an engine of the economy providing 16% of national exports in 2018, has come to a grinding halt.

And, the impact of COVID-19 is not felt in fishing alone, says Robert Guei, FAO’s Sub-Regional Coordinator for West Africa and Representative in Senegal. All food production sectors are in serious difficulty. “FAO is adjusting to the new normal,” he says. “Our priority in the short term is to prevent the health crisis caused by the pandemic from becoming a food crisis.”

To keep the food supply chain alive, FAO has teamed up with the government, UN Women and UNFPA to launch the "Household Food Basket” initiative.

This initiative aims to build a bridge between producers, who cannot sell their food products because of restrictions related to COVID-19 and households facing food and nutritional insecurity.

Improving coastal fisheries

“In the longer term, we will have to adapt and help find new solutions to assist the most vulnerable,” says Nathanael Hishamunda, a Senior Fishery Officer at FAO.

In Senegal, Hishamunda expects coastal fisheries to be part of the solution.

Coastal fisheries makes up around 80% of Senegal’s total capture and accounts for the majority of jobs in artisanal fishing and processing – an estimated half a million.

This explains why the Coastal Fisheries Initiative (CFI), a global effort to improve coastal fisheries management and conserve marine biodiversity, works with local communities in Senegal.

“Fisheries are a lifeline for coastal communities in Senegal,” says Leah Karrer, a Senior Environmental Specialist at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) that is funding CFI. “As the coronavirus pandemic is dramatically showing us today, we need to care for the environment if we want sustainable growth for people and the planet.”

In February, before COVID-19 first appeared in Senegal, leaders of Djirnda’s local fishing community discussed the challenges to artisanal fishing in the Saloum delta with FAO.

They expressed the need for a dam to protect the women’s workspace from flooding. They also agreed to step up surveillance to safeguard endangered species in marine protected areas.

Elhadj Issakha Sarr, who took part in the discussion, would love to be able to concentrate on those issues again. But, it all seems very far away. Right now, people in Djirnda have more pressing concerns, he says. All they want is to go back to fishing. “This is about survival.”

How is COVID-19 affecting the fisheries and aquaculture food systems?

"The full range of activities required to deliver fish and fish products from production to the final consumer is subject to indirect impacts of the pandemic through new sanitary measures, changing consumer demands, market access or logistical problems related to transportation and border restrictions. This in turn has a damaging effect on fishers and fish farmers’ livelihoods, as well as on food security and nutrition for populations that rely heavily on fish for animal protein and essential micronutrients." as described in the abstract of the new FAO Policy Brief.

This policy brief reviews on going challenges and proposes measures to protect production and income of the sector and the most vulnerable, as well as maintain operations and support the supply chain.

The policy brief is available to download from the FAO website.

For more information on the Coastal Fisheries Initiative Program, please contact the Program Coordinator, Fatou Sock ( and visit their website as well as the project page on

This article was prepared for the GEF IW:LEARN Special Edition Newsletter in celebration of World Oceans Day, 8 June 2020