I have always admired the tenacity and ruthlessness of sharks when they are in water, when I watch them on TV. They seem unbeatable as they maul other sea creatures wantonly. So when I visited the famous fishbay market on the shores of the Indian Ocean, not far away from Mogadishu Sea Port, I never expected to see dead sharks being chopped away-helplessly.
But then, there they were! In big numbers, dead, their fins gone, their flesh being chopped up and sold off to go and make soup, on this hot Thursday afternoon.
There are not just sharks here at this chaotic fish market. I see the giant sea turtles, some weighing as many as 50kg, the sword fish, the stingray, the kingfish, tuna, crabs – all spread out in the crowded fish market.
“People are buying sauce for the weekend,” one of the traders told me. In Somalia, Friday is the first day of the weekend so, people do most of the shopping on Thursday.
Somalia is gifted by sea water. The entire ocean coastline runs through over 3300km, from the south to the north of the country. Main fishing bays include Mogadishu, Barawe and Adale. According to various surveys by the European Union, Oxfam and the government of Somalia, fishing has the potential of making every Somali rich. Although the country has been under war for over 30years, the return of peace in some areas-thanks to efforts of AMISOM forces is making the fish industry thrive again.
“The returning peace is making it possible for fishermen to venture deeper into the lake,” Mohamed Ahmed Bergan says. He says pirates on the seas had made fishing in deep waters dangerous, however pirates have been reducing since 2012.
Sea of activity
There are many Somalis unloading fish outside the market. Some of them are picking them from a motley of boats that dock to the west of Mogadishu seaport. But it is inside that the sea of activity hits you straight in the face.
The floor of the market is tiled in some parts and cemented in the others. There are also hoisted cemented platforms that act as cutting boards for fish.
There is blood everywhere as the fishermen cut one giant fish after another. Of course, men and women, even several children, are buying piece after piece of fish. Sometimes the noise, both from humans and from sharp pangs as the cut away fish reaches unbearable levels.
In one corner, there are two men seemingly quarrelling over ownership of a piece of what looks like a stingray.
As I stand confused by the fishy confusion, a young man saunters in, heaving at the weight of some fish. It is a part of a stingray, cut in four halves. “This was mature,” he says.
The part that he carried weighed around 30kg. That is too much for what I thought about stingrays. However, he murmured to me that they have caught some larger ones, weighing around 300kg. I had only seen this on TV, in water and it never looked that big.
It is, however, the miserable sharks, lying helpless on the floor that draw my further sympathy. There is a tiger shark, about 50kg, there is even a hammer head shark too. Their jaws widely open but harmless. Their tiny, grayish eyes motionless.
“Are you not scared of these monsters?” I ask.
“They rule the waters, but we rule the land,” one of the fish mongers says, as he makes a clean cut off of the top fin. Indeed, sharks rule the Somali waters, including the coastline. The fishermen do not have to go too deep into the ocean to trap them.
“We have had sharks attacking people swimming on the coastline in recent years,” Lt Dan Kamya, who served with UPDF under AMISOM says.
In one such attack, a shark went off with the leg of a UN employee who was swimming along the shoreline, near the end of the Mogadishu airport runway. Apparently, the sharks are attracted by the blood flowing into the ocean from the several camel and donkey butcheries on the coastline.
And as they rule the waters, their body parts rule the fish markets. Ahmed Abdullah, a fish monger, tells me that the fins are sold separately because of their nutritional value.
He says a kilo of shark fins goes for as much as $100 (about sh360,000). However, according to the fishermen, this is cheap compared to say if one is buying the same at Mombasa or Lamu. At Mogadishu, a shark can go for as much as $300.
A lot of potential
TheSomali government sees a bright future for Somalis as long as the fishing sector is further regulated and a naval force set up to regulate fishing.
“We need government owned and controlled ocean patrols to regulate fishing on the ocean,” Abdi Ali Raghe, the Maritime Security Co-ordination focal point officer in the office of president Mohamed Farmajo, says. He says if this is done, then Somalis will benefit a lot from their fish.
According to a joint European Union (EU) and Oxfam survey, Somali waters are home to some of the richest fishing grounds in Africa, with vast potential for fisheries and coastal area development. However, the sector remains under developed due to lack of skills among fishermen to go deep into sea water, lack of tools (boats and fishing gears) and lack of regulatory frameworks.
Oxfam says the Somali fishing industry has high potential for growth and job creation. Though it is not among the top three contributors to the country’s GDP, the Somali coast line is the longest in Africa and among the most blessed waters.
According to the latest Oxfam survey, some of the only fish stocks in the world that are actually “underfished” are in the deep waters off the Somali coast. Large schools of primarily tuna migrate from north to south and back along the east coast of Africa. It is no doubt home to an extensive list of fish species, including lobster, swordfish, shark, and many others.
“The Somali fisheries resource remains largely under-exploited partly due to the absence of good infrastructure for postharvest management of catches, despite the fact that there is growing local, regional and international demand for fish which could be exploited,” Nimo Jirdeh, the policy and advocacy advisor for Oxfam Somalia says.
Success will depend on exports, which in turn will depend on the ability of Somali producers to meet international standards for food safety. At the moment, most of the fish at Mogadishu fish bay is sold to domestic consumers and hotels in the city.
At fishing bay in Mogadishu, there is no sign of any value addition. Instead the fish is cut into different ‘favourite’ parts and sold off to buyers from as far as Ethiopia.
“I want shark fins,” a woman screams. A young man, with a sharp-sea knife cuts them off and the woman hands him a wad of Somali money.