This year as many as 30,000 illegal migrants left West African shores for Spain's Canary Islands - a record number. In Senegal, fishing villages have been particularly hard hit by the migration. The local industry has suffered a downturn because of a drop in catches. For fishermen up and down the coast, the situation has not improved. For VOA, Jordan Davis reports from Dakar with help from Julie Vandal in Saint Louis.
Most days, Ousmane Fall heads out to sea in a brightly colored small, flat-hulled wooden boat known as a pirogue. The fisherman from the northern city of Saint-Louis says the catches he fills his boat with get smaller and smaller
There are fewer fish in the sea, Fall explains. He says these days to get a good catch you have to go north to Mauritania or south to Guinea. Most of the fish, he says are caught by big foreign boats who buy up fishing rights from the government.
Fall says it is hard to make a living off the sea these days. And many young people who might normally find a livelihood in fishing try to find work elsewhere. That is not an easy task in a country with rampant unemployment. So fishing villages have been one of the primary sources of young men who embark on a one-way pirogue trip to Spain's Canary Islands.
The nearly 2000 kilometer voyage can be deadly. Last week a pirogue capsized not far from Saint-Louis. Two dozen survived but aid workers say several times that number likely died.
Abdoulaye Diagne is the captain of the port at Saint Louis. Survivors of that wreck, he says, reported running out of food and water during the journey and being forced to drink from the ocean.
Senegalese authorities say joint sea patrols with European countries have reduced the number of boats setting sail for the Canaries in recent months. Despite the risk of dying at sea, or the likelihood of being deported, the promise of riches is as tempting as ever.
Down the coast near the capital Dakar, young men and boys in the fishing village of Hann wade ashore balancing crates of fish on their heads.
Eighteen-year-old Mamadou Diop says his two older brothers left for Spain. And he hopes to join them.
Diop says with fishing he might make a few dollars a day. But he says he wants a nice house and a nice car. The real money, he says, is in Europe.