In popular belief, Mauritania is a desert country and by mentioning its name, the majority of people imagine endless dunes and camel caravans across the Sahara. But surprisingly, this Western African country, Mauritania, has some of the most abundant fishing areas in Africa.
Local men, who push their pirogues into the sea, with 5 to 10 men in each boat, carry out traditional fishing labour. These sturdy open boats, about 30 feet long, are painted in the brightest and breeziest of colorus. The daily routine starts with an early morning prayer, followed by singing and pushing of the boats into the sea. They hang on their pirogues for their lives as they and their vessels are thrown about, crashing through the merciless Atlantic waves. Very few of the men know how to swim. This sort of fishing is incredibly dangerous. Men, indeed whole boats, are frequently lost at sea and never seen again.
My intention is to capture lives of these traditional fishermen, involved in self-sustainable fishing, their difficult work, their everyday life, their lives in traditional society, their role in it and above all, the dangers they are facing. Today the fishing industry is a major employer in Mauritania and major provider of food for a nation of almost 4 million. But about 40,000 people working in mostly a traditional way of fishing are facing growing competition. Their government has signed fishery agreements with Japan and China, and they’ve also made an agreement with the European Union enabling more than 100 European vessels from 11 EU countries to fish in Mauritanian waters. The national and international fishing fleets are overexploiting the fishing grounds, jeopardising the marine ecosystems and local economic development. They are leaving only leftovers for the locals. They also have a high by-catch of larger pelagic species and marine mammals including sharks, dolphins, rays and whales that are all protected species. An additional issue is the high number of illegal trawlers and unidentifiable pirate ships further impoverishing the Mauritanian sea.
Modern fishing vessels are floating factories. The catch is often processed on board, or prepared for use in the food industry in Asia, Europe and Africa before it is landed. It means that processing doesn’t take place in Mauritania. Only 5-10 per cent of the fish caught are unloaded in Mauritanian ports, and a much smaller percentage is processed locally.
Not only are the fishermen endangered by the Western fleets, but also their wives and others who live off of other activities connected with fishing. Although there are attempts to stop illegal fishing and steps to further develop the fishing industry in the country, more and more local people just helplessly observe their life and their biggest wealth, the abundant sea, being irreversibly changed and overexploited.