Fishing & Handicrafts: A Way of Life in Senegal
Updated: Jan 17
The artisanal sectors, rich history, and strong traditions never cease to impress in Senegal. After a trip to St. Louis, or as it is called in Wolof “Ndar,” the capital of Senegal during the French Colonial era, we discovered so much more about trades in Senegal, in particular to this region and one of the largest sources of income, fishing.
Photo by: El Hadj Diongue
Senegal has a coastline of 718 km known among the most fish-rich countries in the world. Fishing is a resource-intensive sector that employs the most labor in Senegal (around 600,000 people and contributes more than 3.2% of GDP). Fifty species are recognized, twenty-two of which by the Florida International Game Fish Association. The abundance of fishing in Senegal is related to upwelling.
Photo by: El Hadj Diongue
Upwelling ecosystems provides more than 40% of global fisheries catches while they represent less than 3% of the ocean surface. Upwellings are caused by winds that induce upwelling of deep, cold water and are loaded with mineral salts. They are at the origin of an important contribution of nutrients in the homogeneous layer which makes it possible to develop and maintain a strong biological production in the coastal area, except for the contributions by the rivers.
Photo by: Natalie Diongue
St. Louis is located on a busy fisherman’s peninsula called “Langue de Barbarie” or “Barbary Tongue,” referring to the tongue-like shape of the peninsula and the barbary coast, citing the barbary pirates coming from North Africa to the Western coast. The infamous peninsula is known for its bustling streets and grueling but honorable way of life in the fishing village. Amongst the piles of fish, impossibly tangled up nets, the colorful and intricately decorated pirogues according to family name and fishing team are a silver lining to the chaos. Well before the arrival of trawlers, fishing was artisanal and reserved for certain families (such as Bosso and Lebou, etc.). Fishermen went at night and only returned early in the morning.
You cannot talk about artisanal fishing in Senegal without mentioning Soumbédioune, a famous oceanside fish market in Dakar which sits next to the most well known artisanal handicrafts market - it’s as if the two went together without question: fish and handicrafts. However, if you think about the history, the artisanal work sector and way of life, and most importantly the national dish of fish and rice, there is no question at all.
Fishing plays a major role in the diet of Senegalese populations with an average contribution of nearly 70% to the nutritional intake of animal protein. Moreover, the Senegalese national dish is based on fish. If you ever find yourself in Senegal, you absolutely have to taste the famous rice and fish meal eaten for lunch known in Wolof as “ceebu jën” pronounced “cheb ew gin.”