By Paule Kadja TRAORE for SIPANews
Times are hard for fish mongers. They are facing soaring prices for purchasing their goods as a result of the measures to be abided by in addressing the Coronavirus. They are now paying more for transport to the uptown areas of Dakar where they go to sell their fish. There, their clients’ doors are not wide open to them. The list of the pandemic side effects is not exhaustive.
It’s 7:30 am. The weather is nice with cool air. At the Pikine fish market entrance, in the suburbs of Dakar, women are lined up in a single queue in full respect of the market management team’s instructions. For the overwhelming majority, they come from Dakar’s suburbs. They get into the market one by one with their mouths and noses hidden behind a mask and gloved hands. Just afterwards, they wash their hands in front of the inquisitive eyes of the security guards before putting on their gloves again. They are then allowed to make their way into the market’s compound. Here, the fear of contamination is tangible.
With a thoughtful face, Ramatoulaye Thiam, is dragging her feet. A bassin hanging on the ribs, her gaze says a lot about her fears of not being able to get the desired supply. Indeed, with only 50,000 CFA francs in her wallet, while the price of fish has increased since the closure of the Senegalese maritime space to foreign boats until further notice, and with the small-scale fisheries sector hit by the restriction measures, limited fishing space and time spent at sea. The lady knows that she will not be able to buy the fish so cherished by her clients who live in the affluent neighbourhoods of Dakar. In a resigned and bitterly-tinged tone, she reveals that she has been living such an ordeal since the beginning of the state’s decision. « I can no longer make any significant profit. My clients don’t understand that there are changes in the market. I have to make do with it, otherwise I will no longer be able to provide for my family », the lady confesses.
Another young lady, a dark ebony-haired, tall and corpulent woman and mother of four expresses the same concerns. Her husband, who is a bricklayer, is having trouble finding a construction site during this period. « It’s hard for me, but I still have to fend for my family. So, I am struggling to sell my fish and at least have the daily expense and make provisions for the next day», says Ramatoulaye, with a forced smile on her face.
But the daily life of these two ladies is common to all other women fishmongers. “From 3 a.m., now the market opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 12,” says Pape Alioune Thiombane, the communication officer of the market management team, “Despite all this, the saleswomen meet on the spot from 6 a.m. onwards. Each one has her own special place,” says Kiné Thiaw, a young girl who has been selling fish for 2 years. « As soon as I get out of here, I go to Mermoz [a dwelling area in the centre of Dakar, ed],” she says, “I have very regular clients there. I go around the neighbourhood until approximately 12 o’clock,” she confides. She explains that she needs to sell all her fish, otherwise it’s not cost-effective because she has to pay for her fish to be kept in a refrigerator: «The next day, I have to reduce the price», she says.
In addition, the young Kiné Thiaw complains about the behaviour of some customers, who take advantage of the situation to take her product on credit. Indeed, as they have lost clients, they cannot sell their fish at the end of the day, so when a regular client wants to take on credit, it is hard for the women fishmongers to refuse. «When I come to collect my money, I am told from the entrance that my customer is not around or is sleeping, it goes on like that for several days and it’s a big blow to my business», complains Kiné.
Product transportation, another hardship
Once the basin is loaded, another puzzle awaits these struggling ladies. At a time when cars are mainly used by other types of customers who can’t stand the smell of fresh fish, the women are rejected by the “swift bus” apprentices who provide much of the public transport. « We waste a lot of time to get a car to carry us and our goods. The drivers, to respect to the rules, only take two passengers, so they charge double price. From 1000 francs, the price has gone up to 2000 CFA», says Fatou Sow, a fisher seller heading out to the Cité des Maristes, a more or less glamorous neighbourhood on the outskirts of Dakar city centre.
« Some of us go for other, and less annoying solutions. Those who are going in the same direction contribute and rent a horse-pulled cart to carry them and their goods», she says with her eyes glued to her comrades who are negotiating with a cart owner. These challenges, however, are far from hindering these women’s desire to earn a dignified living.
Low sales turnover
With the change in working hours, women can no longer afford to search the nooks and crannies of the market looking for more affordable prices, because afterwards they still have to travel many kilometres away to sell their fish. « On my way home, I have to buy vegetables and other things, and once I get home, I will have to prepare the meal, often very late, but you get used to it,» says Khoudia Thioye. With the curfew, she goes to bed early enough, which allows her to rest enough. « Before, I used to sell couscous, from dusk onwards, because rest is not meant for us, it’s for those who have full bank accounts. But with the curfew, I can’t do that anymore, so I rest », she jokes.
Adja Yacine, one of the fish market elders, says she gets in the market with 150,000 CFA francs. « I’ve been a retailer in the market for almost 8 years, so to attract customers, I have to offer good products. When it works, I can go back down with more than 250,000 francs of profit. Because I only sell luxury fish», boasts Adja Yacine. But she admits that since the outbreak of the Covid 19, it’s difficult to sell off her products. « With the little time we have, I often have to sell them at a lower price. That’s why I’m seriously thinking about stopping selling the luxury fish, until the Covid 19 is gone by», she says.
The fishmongers are complaining about the maritime closed borders
Since the enforcement of the state’s decision to close maritime borders and prevent small scale fishermen from going beyond the province where they live, activities have slowed down, says Modou Thiam, a fish market trader. « The consequences are huge for us », he says. «The quantity of fish in the market has dropped considerably», reports the fish wholesaler.
According to the latter, the market is supplied by factories with large stocks of frozen fish. «It’s going to be complicated for us, but we’re leaving everything in God’s hands. We’re not like the factory owners who can afford to get fish. We the retailers, we rely on landings», Modou Thiam suggested. He explained that the box of fish has gone from 30,000 to 35,000 CFA francs.
Not far away, grouped wholesalers are waiting for potential customers to arrive. Boxes of frozen fish from Yarakh, Yoff, Thiaroye landing sites and others are unloaded from the rickshaws at any time. These fish species such as “dorat” and “pajot,” which cost between 32,000 and 35,000 CFA each whereas in normal times, the price of a box is set at a maximum price of 30,000 CFA. Faced with the scarcity of fish, retailers are now compelled to rely on the fish frozen at sea with the hope of bringing something home.
Market Access code
In this market, where all the fish that garnishes many dishes served in Dakar, in families and in restaurants comes from, the hygiene and sanitation rules have been tightened, in accordance with the enforcement measures to contain the virus. This has brought about changes in its opening hours, and in the access conditions. « Since the Head of State issued instructions related to the implementation of hygiene rules in the view of addressing the Covid-19, we have decided go by these rules 100% in the market.
That is why we have changed the opening hours. », says Pape Alioune Thiombane, the market’s management team communication officer. He added that market goers know that there is a police station inside and the law enforcement officers will make sure that the new rules are respected. These rules include washing hands before getting into the market, wearing masks and gloves and forbidding access to children under 10. Above all, no gathering in front of refrigerated trucks and sales stalls is allowed.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ousmane Guèye, Director of the National Health Education and Information Service (Sneips), stated that as long as the Fish Market Directorate applies and enforces the required instructions to its clients to protect themselves from spreading the coronavirus disease, there is no reason to prevent them from using the premises.
This story is written with the support of REJOPRA, Network of Journalists for Responsible Fisheries in Africa