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Guinea's Traditional Fishermen Feel Squeeze of Foreign Competition

In Guinea, as in many other coastal parts of West Africa, entire communities depend on fishing as their essential source of income. The industry remains one of the region's most lucrative. But several problems are making traditional fishermen feel increasingly squeezed out from profits being made. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Guinea's seaside capital, Conakry.

Guinean fisherman Soriba Camara has a difficult time making his pirogue start.

He screams instructions to his three-man crew as his pirogue sets out to sea for an early morning expedition.

While his team casts out nets, Camara explains some of the problems he faces.

He says the government should sell tax-free gasoline to fishermen because he says regular gasoline prices are too expensive. He says fishermen also need micro-credit programs to invest in nets, motors and repairs.

When the smaller boats such as Camara's return to shore with their catch, they are met by shouting middlemen wading knee-deep in shore break water.

Some of the smaller fish which are meant for the local market are plopped on the beach and given to market women, like Phoebia Moussa. She says she often buys the fish on credit or pays for them with different services, like cooking or even prostitution.

"It's very difficult because we do not have money to buy fish, unless we help the fishermen before we get some money to eat, so this is a problem," she says. "We don't have a place to sleep. Sometimes we just sleep on this beach."

Up narrow stairs to the dock, other market women act as barterers to price bigger species, including tuna, which are reserved for European and Asian markets.

Conakry-based lawyer Alpha Oumar Sysavane says traditional fishermen are being marginalized by this whole process.

He says Guinean fishermen should be selling their catches directly and that there are too many middlemen working for foreigners.

Sysavane says Guinea's government should at least rework fishing agreements to ensure more Guinean nationals are hired on foreign boats.

The president of Guinea's association for traditional fishermen, Issiaga Daffe, also has complaints.

He is unhappy with a recent request from Guinea's unions which was followed through by the government to ban certain fish exports. The idea was to ensure their availability on local markets at cheaper prices.

But, instead, the ban has created illegal export channels, further reducing revenues for fishermen.

A government official meeting other officials at one of the docks in Conakry, Souba Camara, says traditional fishermen are also victims of nighttime attacks by pirate boats. He says the government has no way to monitor or stop this.

Traditional fishermen have reserved waters close to shore, while foreign-owned industrial boats are supposed to limit themselves to deep-sea fishing.

Camara says no one knows who is behind the pirate attacks.

He says some of the bigger boats also catch small fish they are not supposed to, which they use to feed livestock in their countries. Other big boats, he says, kill small fish they do not need with their big nets, and throw them back into the ocean, disrupting both the seabed's ecosystem and depriving local markets.

One fisherman, Mamadou Camara, tries to support his family with a boat he calls "Have Confidence."

He says he has a hard time paying for food, electricity and school bills.

Camara says he is too discouraged to train his eldest son to become a fisherman and, instead, pushes him to stay in school.