Overfishing by Chinese vessels in Gambian waters is driving dozens of species into extinction and threatening food security in the West African nation, experts say.
Illegal fishing in these waters is a significant problem with complaints that Chinese fishing fleets are taking too many fish.
“500 tons of fish production daily is no small amount. In a month, we talking of 15,000 tons which will accelerate to 180,000 tons of fish production per anum,” said Ahmed Manjang.
Mr. Manjang is a British-trained Microbiologist at the King Fahad Medical Centre in Riyad. He expressed his frustration on the manner in which a Chinese company, Golden Lead is operating in The Gambia.
Pollution, degradation of habitats, the spread of invasive species and the warming of the waters caused by human-induced climate change are also all putting pressure on fish populations.
Golden Lead has been dragged to court and ordered to pay a bail bond of $25,000 dollars for polluting Gunjur’s beaches and a nearby creek.
Activists say that Golden Lead’s pollution of the waters is killing marine lives and fear that it will dry the fish stock in the sea.
Fish is the cheapest protein food in The Gambia and the scale of fishing by foreign vessels could cause food shortages for local people, conservationists have warned.
Fish provide a major source of animal protein for coastal communities.
According to activists, in a part of the world where poverty reduction remains a challenge, preserving the rich diversity of marine fish species will help safeguard the livelihoods of local communities.
Experts studied the populations of some 1,288 bony fish species, the vast majority of those found off Africa’s west coast.
Of those classed as threatened or near threatened, 39 were targeted by fishing fleets and many were food staples like the Bonga fish, called ‘chaloo’ in Gambia and the Cassava croaker, which is estimated to have declined by 30 to 60 percent over the past 10 years, primarily due to overfishing.
A chemical waste thrown back into the sea through an underground pipe by Golden Lead has raised cancer concerns.
The dioxin produced by the fishmeal factory can cause serious health problems in the shortest period of time, health experts warned.
Manjang expressed concerns for the possible cancer epidemic if Golden Lead continues to use the hard oil produced from the fish oil to service their machines.
“There is an urgent need to set up a long-term monitoring network to access changes in coastal water chemistry and their impact on marine ecosystems,” Gao Kunshan, a marine ecologist, at Xiamen University said.
Fishing grounds in places like the Niger delta providing rich breeding grounds for fish has seen mass depletion because of serious oil pollution, development, and the conversion of mangrove swamps for human uses.
Gambia is facing a similar threat and using illegal fishing gears has been a problem, with some fishermen struggling to make a living because of the overfishing by Chinese vessels.
It is not just China’s air that is dirty and polluted, its coastlines are too.
According to the Chinese State Oceanic Administration (SOA) some 41,000sq km of coastline is polluted with inorganic nitrogen, reactive phosphate or oil, to name a few.
This amounts to roughly 81% of its entire coastline, which actually marks a mild improvement over 2013 despite an increase in ecological incidents such as red tides and algal blooms.
Roughly 90% of coastal cities suffer from intermittent water shortages. China’s mangrove swamps have decreased in area by 73% and coral reefs by 80% since the 1950s, and coastal wetlands have shrunk by 57%.
This past decade has arguably seen the most damage done to the Chinese coastline, along with its fragile ecosystem, as more and more pollution was discharged into estuaries.
Three-quarters of the 445 major waste discharge points along coastlines failed environmental requirements, and a tenth is contaminated with heavy metals, the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and petroleum hydrocarbons. These are the most dangerous pollutants to its local wildlife.
According to a World Bank report, 20 of the World’s most polluted cities are in China. China is the World’s largest polluter, a quarter of the World’s carbon dioxide comes from China.
“China is home to 459 cancer villages according to Chinese media academics and NGO estimates. How and why do we think they will care about ours” said Ousman Manjang, a native of Gunjur.
Not just the waters but the air in Gunjur is polluted. Dumping of fish waste has also polluted the air in neighboring Kartong sparking a protest by residents.
The environmental impact and degradation caused by the Golden Lead Company to the the “Bolong Fenyo” protected site is immeasurable, according to Mr. Badara Njie, Executive Director of Gunjur Environmental Protection And Development Group.
“We have worked so hard to establish an ecosystem around this site and our efforts are been frustrated thanks to the Golden Lead Company’s bad operational style,” he cried.