The fishermen of Yoff

A bustling beach and a malodorous fish market is facing us in Yoff, Dakar

Beautiful pirogues in Yoff, Dakar.
Beautiful pirogues in Yoff, Dakar.

I have fallen in love with the long and colorful boats that you see everywhere in Senegal. The slender shape with the prow extending towards heaven appeals to an artist’s soul. In addition they are decorated with beautiful ornaments in bright colors. Dakar is situated on Africa’s absolute westernmost point and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. In the outskirts of the town, traditional fishing is still an important industry performed from a pirogue, as these boats are called.

Yoff is a neighborhood in Dakar, but it is also a separate town with its own peculiarities. Yoff is known for its Muslim Community Council and its fishing villages and is considered slightly more conservative than more central parts of Dakar. To get a proper impression of traditional fishing and the beautiful pirogues a visit to the district Yoff is a good idea. Yoff is the most northeastern district of Dakar and adjoins the airport in the west.

Young boy on the beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Young boy on the beach in Yoff, Dakar.

We took a cab to the Layene beach and were met by a fetid fish market, which was about to quit for the day. We weaved through the narrow stalls, flies and big women who glared at our cameras. But well down on the beach, the kids came and wanted us to photograph them and we got to see the boats lie in a row along the beach. It was time for repairing nets and men worked in groups. Some of the pirogues are so large that they need a crew of 5-6 people.

Repairing fishing net at the beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Sorting out the fishing net at the beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.

Layene beach in Yoff stretches infinitely northeasterly and offers excellent conditions for surfers. But we went the opposite way, westward along the coast. The white beach stops here and is replaced by cliffs and rocky beaches. While we wandered, we met women and children who collected shells among the rocks. Further west, we came into a bit more fashionable residential areas and after 7-8 miles we ended on the beach just inside the small recreation island Ile de Ngor.

On our way we met a lot of nice people who welcomed us to Senegal and if we had spoke better French, I am sure we would have had many pleasant conversations. Along we stopped at Hotel le Calao and had a lovely lunch. The hotel looked a little worn out and we were probably a bit skeptical, but were pleasantly surprised when the food arrived. But close by is one of the most ugly hotels I’ve seen. The tall building reminiscent of a silo seen from the short wall looms, looks like an Eastern European bad example of architecture.

The tour ended at Plage de Ngor just inside Ile de Ngor, an idyllic little island that we will tell you more about in another post!

Pirogues at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Pirogues at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.

Fishing is one of Senegal’s most important industries. According to a Norwegian Newspaper Senegal is exporting fish for 282 million euros a year. There are around 120 trawlers with fishing license and 30,000 pirogues used for traditional fishing. The fishing grounds off West Africa are considered the richest in the world and giant trawlers fish off the coast of Senegal. 37% of the fishing here is probably illegal.

Senegal had an agreement with the EU until 2006, which allowed European trawlers to fish off Senegal. The agreement was terminated at the initiative of Senegal because of overfishing, but today the situation for the traditional fishing with pirogue is still harsh. Missing infrastructure makes receiving fish difficult. Freezing facilities are few and that’s one of the reasons smoked fish is a tradition. Smoked fish gives the fisherman much higher price than fresh fish. The disadvantage is that it requires a lot of wood to smoke the fish and in coastal areas the mangrove forest is vanishing fast. And with the forest, the basis for the people in the area is also disappearing alarmingly fast.

Building new Pirogues at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Building new Pirogues at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Looking for shells at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Looking for shells at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Child on Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Child on Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Waiting for a load of fish at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Waiting for a load of fish at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Pirogues at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
Pirogues at Layene beach in Yoff, Dakar.
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