The Seabass and Senegalese people

«[…] Darrell always used to say that there were three types of men:  those who live in front of the sea, those who venture into the sea, and those who manage to return from the sea, alive. And he used to say: “What a surprise you’ll get when you find out who are the happiest”»

(From A. Baricco’s “Ocean Sea”)

How many of you would venture on a small boat in order to travel thousands of kilometres on the high seas? Probably none. However, some people do that.

Senegal is a beautiful country in West Africa, bordering on the Atlantic Ocean. It conserves an important fishing tradition, so much so that the name of the country derives from the typical Senegalese dugout, which in “Wolof” (the most spoken language) means “our dugouts”. As far as their protein-based diet is concerned, Senegaleses have always benefited from the sea and, today, the majority of local people is involved in coastal fishing.

But, in the last decades, something has changed: fish has progressively started to diminish, forcing fishermen to drive their vessels tens of miles off the coast.

Finally, someone has succeeded in reaching Canaries, in Spain; since then, Senegalese people have understood that it is possible to land in Europe, departing from Senegalese coasts. It is a long-lasting, risky and almost impossible journey but it can be done.

Yayi Bayam Diouf was the son of a woman who belongs to a fishing family from Thiaroyesurmer, a suburban Dakar neighborhood: unlike his father, he did not manage to reach Canaries. Since that terrible loss, his mother has struggled against illegal emigration, making aware young people of this problem.

From 2006 until today, Yayi’s association has come a long way and has continued to sensitize us about the reason which pushes so many young Senegaleses to looking for the illegal way. A plausible motivation is represented by fisheries agreements between Europe and some West-African states: since 1980s, the latter have allowed European ships to access to Senegalese waters in order to catch the fish that we put on our tables.

All this is well-described in Cafi Mahud and Luca Cusani’s “Cry Sea”, a documentary which recounts the hard knocks of seabasses from African coasts to our plates (often without us knowing).

Actually, when we buy them at the supermarket, we do not read “fished in Senegal” on the label, but “Capture Fishery 34”, an expression that the final consumer does not understand. The documentary contains the testimony of Senegalese fishermen, who bemoan the vertiginous capitulation of fishing: several of them are tempted to leave and emigrate to Europe.

The next time you hear someone say “Why Senegalese people come in our countries? We do not go to Senegal with a view to giving them a hard time”, invite him (or her) to dinner, cook a salt seabass and… tell him (or her) Yayi’s story.

Wrtitten by Giordano GolinelliFondazione ACRA-CCS

Translated into English by Arianna Rimoldi

Originally published on

Photo Boats (cc) Jeff Attaway