How Fish-Meal Production Is Destroying Gambia’s Waters

[graphics sound effect] [Mustapha] When they first dumped the waste there,

it changed the water color to red instantly.

Everything was completely dead.

Crabs, fish, even all the plants

surrounding the place were all done.

They all died.

And that happened in the beginning days of the factory,

before they started running it

out to the ocean. Before they started.


[indistinct shouting]

People were arrested for removing

a pipe that was planted there.

So instead of prosecuting the offenders,

they prosecute the activists

who are trying to do everything to make sure

that the environment is protected.

If Gambia is destroyed, it’s destroyed for us,

and if Gambia is made, it’s made for us.

I will run and come back,

but I will never stay away.

We are coming back again.

[somber music]

At root, this seems to be a story about The Gambia

and it’s David and Goliath struggle

to protect its own waters.

The West African coast is one of the few places left where

major industrial players, mostly Asian and European,

haven’t yet depleted the waters

of all their creatures and resources.

And in the last several years, there’s been a rush here

to begin industrial level fishing.

In this case, you have these three big Chinese factories

that essentially take massive quantities of fish

and grind them down

into these high protein pellets called fishmeal.

The entire community was affected.

When the factory started operating.

The smell is unbearable.

[Ian] And this is the Golden Lead Factory right here.


Cameras should be put away because,

you can be attacked, you can be assaulted.

They see journalist as their enemy.

Lot of secrecy

because we don’t know the chemicals they use.

They shouldn’t be anywhere

one kilometer from open water bodies

That’s an international convention.

And the government itself isn’t doing spot checks?

Yeah exactly.

In fact those whoa are checking

they only come there to collect money.

[gloomy music] [Ian] Fish meal is one of these products

that you’ll never see but you’re consuming all the time.

It’s used primarily as a protein supplement

in the booming industry of aquaculture.

It’s a huge market and growing by the day

and it’s unbelievably destructive for the oceans

because you need huge quantities of fish.

What I’m hearing from local fishermen

is that boats are appearing at night on the coastline

more than ever before.

They look to be Senegalese or Asian trawlers.

These Gambian fishermen are also saying

that their catches are plummeting.

50% of the protein consumed by the Gambians

come from the sea and fishermen are already starting

to say they can’t catch even bare subsistence level of fish.

When the local guys have tried to find out what’s happening,

how many boats are there?

How much are they taking out of the water?

Just basic questions

so they can monitor how things are going,

they’re getting no kind of information.

The panic that I sense from them

is that next generation is going to have nothing

to sustain themselves with because the waters will be empty.

[birds calling] [gloomy music]

At minimum, I think what the local fishermen want is

for the government to police these waters

to the letter of the law

and to stop the illegality that’s happening out there.

But The Gambia doesn’t really have the ability

to police these waters

and that’s partially why Sea Shepherd’s here.

[indistinct chatter] [engine rumbling]

Got a call from Peter, the captain of the ship

that I’m going to be boarding.

We gotta start going.

He said that they’re doing a patrol

off the coast of The Gambia.

[gloomy music]

The Gambians know there’s a huge problem

on the water out here, there’s rampant illegality.

The job we had was to show it.

Most of the adversaries are concentrated

on the Southern boarder?

[Peter] From here? The Southern boarder.

Yeah. Okay.

Then we can follow the coast and if we see any boats

that are inside the nine miles

and they’re going two, three knots, so trawling speed,

then those would be the targets.

Did that make sense? Yeah.

[Ian] The first time out, we saw a vessel,

didn’t know who it was, ran at it.

[Man] They’re fishing, film that, they’re fishing.

And suddenly it’s the vessel

that we were most interested in

because it’s connected to this really sketchy

fishmeal plant on land.

[indistinct chatter] [Officer On Radio] Peter we are on board.

[indistinct chatter]

A lot of them, their passport are inside.

[Fisherman] Passport, passport,

if you need my passport, come here.

I have seen my passport.

Can we see your license?

[Ian] This is a vessel that had its transponder off,

so it was already a dark vessel, but even worse,

it had no fish log.

[Peter] A fishing vessel’s got to have

a navigation log which is their positions every day,

where they fish, the quantity of fish.

You can see the last entry here was on the 21st of January

and then there is nothing.

This is a dark ship.

Who knows where they fished.


[speaking in foreign language]

Santa Maria.

He’s saying that they can’t start going

to Banjul yet, he needs two hours to make some repairs.

We’ve seen him motoring all morning.

It’s a delay tactic, so you can get on the radio.

[gloomy music] [shouting muffled by engine]

We’ll bring the Navy team from the South

and the rim back here.

And then from here, we’ll go straight

and try to grab the Lucky 909. Alright.

[engine rumbling] [indistinct chatter] [officers shouting in foreign language]

The second vessel, 10 times worse,

the living quarters were horrific.

Some of the worst I’ve seen.

There was this space, it’s like a crawl space.

Where all these guys were sleeping at night.

Six of you?

Six people are sleeping in here.

Sometimes we close here,

but the water still is coming in.

It’s so hot.

I’ve never ever seen this bad.

Few things rattle me these days.

But for some reason that space really rattled me.

The local fisherman testified

that these guys have been trawling very close to the shore.

And on top of that,

the living conditions are really not for humans,

not even for animals, but not for humans.

[gloomy music] [radio chatter] [Ian] It does seem like what happened here

is kind of a repeated African story

in that you had just another wave of extraction occurring.

First it was men and women as slaves,

then it was natural resources on land,

and now it’s moved off shore.

[gloomy music] [crowd chanting]

I think the local fishermen want the government

to tap the brakes on signing of deals

with these massive factories and also giving licenses

to these industrial size ships

that are pulling fish too aggressively.

But the forces of the industry that’s taking

all this fish are just massive.

And you see on land,

how little control even local villagers have,

you see how little interest the government has

to do anything about these crimes.

China has given a lot of loans to Gambia

given a lot of so called grants to Gambia

polluting the mindset of our politicians.

They get away with anything.

So because China is involved

this factory will never be closed.

We are taking the natural one, giving it to the Chinese

they convert it into powder

send it to China, feed the fish,

ship, and bring it to Gambia

And resell it at an inexpensive price, right.

While the local fishermen or put out of work.

Yeah, exactly.

So the locals are competing directly

with these fish meal factories

whose daily turn over is about 500 tons.

And they are pumping fishmeal waste into the ocean.

Because there is no control.

What we are seeing is not development.

This is exploitation.

[ambient music]

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