Singing fills the air at the small dam in Sébi Ponty, about 40 kilometres from Dakar in Senegal. Young co-operative members sing while they pull in their fishing nets. As they draw the nets tight, gleaming fish leap to escape the tightening mesh. The spectacle is a delight for children watching on the banks.
Twenty-year-old Pape Ndaw is one of the men pulling in the nets. He says that many families have come to depend on the fishery since the dam’s rehabilitation in 2006. He says, “I earn more than 120,000 CFA francs (around 270 American dollars) per month when there’s a good catch. I’m supporting my elderly parents as well as my own young family.”
Aquaculture is a vital economic activity for youth in the area. All fishing activities are handled by a co-operative. Around 300 co-operative members are local youth.
The dam is half a kilometer long and about the same wide. In 2006, the dam was stocked with tilapia hatchlings. According to Senegal’s National Aquaculture Agency, it yields 50 kilogrammes of fish per day during each fishing season. The first fishing season begins in July. This signals three months of intense activity for residents of the villages around Sébi Ponty. In October, fishing in the dam will be forbidden for two or three months. This allows stocks to reproduce before another fishing season begins in December.
Anita Diagne Diouf sells fish products. She says the fishery offers real opportunities for young people in the area. And young women like her benefit as much as men in the co-operative. She says, “We share the income and get the same amount as the men.”
However, the dam has several obstacles to overcome, according to Senegal’s National Aquaculture Agency. The main challenge is the co-existence of various dam users.
Amadou Camara is president of the dam’s management committee.. He says, “The market gardeners use water from the dam. The herders bring their animals here to drink, especially during the dry season.” He explains that this often creates tension between the managers of the dam and the farmers.
One worrying sign of poor co-ordination is that the dam is filling with sand. This is caused by overexploitation of the water. Babacar Ndao is the national minister with responsibility for small-scale water reservoirs. He says the government will soon begin dredging sand from the dam.
He is aware of other challenges faced by the co-operative, such as lack of fishing gear and access to finances. He promises, “The government will launch a program to improve the equipment and reinforce training of the various classes of users.”
Pape Ndaw looks forward to this support. The work at the dam is his only employment. But he does not sit and wait. He says, “During the off-season … when the fish are allowed to reproduce, I keep myself busy with poultry at the house.”