Ngo Manyama Déborah, a fresh fish trader, is still at the popular Youpwe fish market in Douala, Cameroon, at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 27. She complaints she’s been waiting for buyers who haven’t shown up. Buyers are being scared away by the high prices of fish, fuelled by a scarcity of fish. “I need to go home and prepare dinner for my kids before they get home from school, but instead I’m still at the market. I haven’t been able to sell fish”, Déborah explains. “We buy fish at exorbitant prices from fishermen who tell us about a lack of fish in the water. When we buy something expensive, we have to sell it expensive, which most Cameroonians cannot afford owing to the current economic situation “.
Michelle, who fled Bamenda in 2017 as a result of the violent conflict in order to find a means of survival, laments the lack of fish, noting that some species no longer exist. “Take a look at my basin… Today I only have machoiron (mud fish). I couldn’t get carpe (tilapia), which is popular among the public, because it wasn’t available today. After fleeing the violence in the Northwest Region, this is what I rely on to support my family, although times are terrible”.
Fishermen here in Youpwe say before they use to spend just a day at sea and come back with a good catch. But today they spend at least a week offshore before returning with fish, what makes it necessary for prices of fish to go up. “When we go for fishing we can’t come back if we don’t have a good catch. What we use to catch in a day some years back, we now spend a week to get it”, Hussein, a Fisherman told this reporter.
It doesn’t come as a surprise to mangrove experts that fish is becoming scarce resulting to price hikes. According to Christel Boum, a Mangrove Conservation expert and Executive Director of an NGO, APREMA, working to preserve mangroves fish population is dwindling as a result of the rapid destruction of mangroves along the Wouri Coastline, mangroves being a hub for fish reproduction.
“Between 1980 and 2017, Cameroon lost 5838.000 hectares of mangroves according to statistics from the FAO. This has certainly had an negative impact on fish reproduction over the years reason why fish population must drop because mangroves are a hub for fish reproduction”
Demand For Mangrove on the Rise
The demand for mangrove wood for cooking, smoking fish and other uses has grown in the last decade. Most people prefer mangrove wood because it burns to the last fibre and doesn’t remove as much smoke like other wood species. “I prefer to use mangroves to smoke fish because the end result is very clean. The smoked fish looks clean and it sells better in the market’
50 year old Aisha, a smoke fish dealer in Youpwe revealed
Mangrove Business Booming in Illegality
When we first arrived Pont Noir, in the village neighborhood in Douala, the dealers in mangrove wood refused us from filming, aware they are operating in illegality. After persuasion, Dinka, a 43 year old dealer in mangrove agreed to accord us an interview. He started by explaining why they are shying away from the camera “We know what we are doing here is illegal. But most people here are doing it to survive”
Dinka explains the demand is high but just like the risk “A stalk of mangrove sells at 2500FCFA(approximately US$5). People buy in a tricycle. A full tricycle can take up to 20 mangrove stalks which equals to about 50.000 FCFA (approximately US$100). The business is good but it is very risky. Sometimes the boat with which we use to go transport the mangrove from the sea capsizes and people die”
Corruption and Lawlessness
A 55 year old resident in Youpwe, Jacques Nom has exposed corruption ongoing at sea. Hear him “There are placards at sea prohibiting the cutting of mangroves. The security officers, precisely the gendarmerie officer who are supposed to protect the mangroves and enforce the laws are the ones selling. They pretend to be protecting the mangrove when Regional control teams visit but once they are gone they collect money from the mangrove dealers and let them cut indiscriminately. It is total chaos and it is very disturbing”
The Cameroonian law protects mangrove but lack of enforcement is causing the Wouri Coastline to loose this ecosystem which is vital, acting as a barrier between land and sea and helping to sequestrate carbon five times more than terrestrial forest thus helping to combat climate change.
Experts have called for reforestation of lost population of mangroves and where it is not possible to replant due to infrastructural development then the government should compensate by planting elsewhere.
By Regina Leke Tandag, Environmental Journalist
Featured image: David Clode / Unsplash