Case Study

February 2
8 mins

Diambari Sine: Women’s fish processing organization leads the resistance against industrial fisheries and fishmeal factories in Senegal

Aliou Sall
This photograph illustrates how the community, a leading national provider of processed fish, is intricately tied to the marine ecosystem for both livelihood and cultural identity. It highlights the community's profound reliance on marine resources and the intangible, non-monetary values they attribute to fishing activities.
In Senegal women are central in marketing and processing fishing catches, mainly coastal small pelagics. Despite gaining social status and financial autonomy through this, they face challenges from industrial overfishing and fishmeal production, depleting crucial sardinella stocks. Women-led groups like Diambari sine advocate for sustainable fishing and resist detrimental industrial activities, striving to preserve their maritime culture and ensure sustainable fisheries management.
Figure 1. Women as the main actors controlling fresh fish marketing and processing are more numerous than men but not visible enough due to the lack of updated socio-demographic data. Photo credit: Aliou Sall, 2019.

Women are the main stakeholders in the marketing and artisanal processing of the small-scale fishing catches in the community of Langue de Barbarie (Senegal). Coastal small-scale pelagic fisheries account for around 70% of landings in coastal communities in Senegal (Mbengue, 2012; Dème & Dème, 2021). As such, small-scale pelagic fisheries in this community not only create jobs and generate income, but also contribute to food security, and are the foundation of social and cultural wellbeing. For example, the consumption of processed small pelagic is deeply rooted in the culinary traditions of Senegalese and West African populations.

Women in this community have succeeded over time in acquiring certain notoriety and social status with the place they have occupied for generations in the value chain (Sall, 2007). This has been possible thanks to their intergenerational control of two strategic segments of the value chain: fresh produce marketing, as well as artisanal processing using local traditional technologies, passed down from mother to daughter, and the marketing of these products. The various techniques include salting and drying, brining followed by salting and drying, braising then salting and drying, and boiling before salting and drying. To a lesser extent, smoking is also used.

Over the years, thanks to endogenous savings and mutual credit mechanisms on one hand, and reciprocal solidarity networks on the other, women have managed to build up their own financial capital. Due to this financial capital, women can avoid the usurious rates charged by conventional banks when taking loans. In this way, they are recognized as the main players who have enabled small-scale fishing to continue over time – by intervening before and after the act of fishing, which men mainly carry out. Upstream, in the absence of a formal system willing to finance small-scale fishing, it is the women who provide the necessary credit to the fishermen to pre-finance their fishing trips. Downstream, they are responsible for adding value to the catches through marketing and processing.

Figure 2. A demonstration of the rudimentary means women use, in the absence of appropriate infrastructure for the processing sector. Photo credit: Aliou Sall, 2019.

However, the prospects for pelagic small-scale fisheries have become increasingly bleak under the combined effects of two factors.

Firstly, there is the issue of the overcapacity of foreign industrial fishing fleets, which has endangered stocks of small pelagic fish, particularly sardinella (Sardinella aurita). This species is crucial for small-scale fisheries. This situation is the result of the signing of fishing agreements with foreign companies as early as 1996 (Business and Human Rights Centre, 2021). European distant water fleets have been the main contributors to this overcapacity. In the last three to four years, Chinese distant water fleets have also become significant contributors (Savoye & Bellanger, 2023).

Secondly, the impact of industrial fleets targeting small pelagic fish is significant, particularly as these fish are processed into fishmeal for international markets in aquaculture and animal feed (APRAPAM, 2020; Diouf, 2014). Notably, there is considerable vertical integration within this sector by Chinese entities. Chinese-owned fishing boats are often the suppliers for Chinese-owned fishmeal factories, creating a tightly controlled supply chain (Greenpeace, 2012; GAIPES, 2020).

Due to the aforementioned current unsustainable practices, which are exemplary of the ongoing poor governance of fisheries in Senegal (Sall, 2007), this has led to an unprecedented social crisis because of a dramatic fall in catches.  As early as the 90s, there was a drop in yields from seine canoes specializing in small pelagic fish (Dème, 2012). Sardinella, the emblematic species among small coastal pelagic, is becoming increasingly rare. Over the last three years, the community has seen some of the worst fishing seasons for this species, with fishermen going out for days on end without being able to recover the costs of their fishing trips. For women, this means a shortage, or even an absence, of raw materials, leading either to a reduction in their activities, or to a temporary switch to other activities in order to secure a minimum income. This crisis in small pelagic fisheries is gradually spreading throughout the country – threatening men’s livelihoods in small-scale fisheries, women’s financial independence, as well as local food security.

Diambari sine, a local women-led organization, is taking a stand against these problems. The organization has about 600 members of all ages (ANSD, 2019). The organization is mostly active in political advocacy and trying to influence policies, which they do through organizing protests and addressing their grievances with public authorities on major occasions (such as International Women’s Day, World Fisheries Day, World Environment Day, or World Oceans Day). However, due to their lack of time, financing, and capacity, most of their actions are carried out in partnership with partner NGOs and other fisheries umbrella organizations such as REFEPAS, which is the national network of women processors in Senegal.

Figure 3. From an early age, little children begin to mimic the gestures of adults as dugout canoes are hauled up on the riverbank. An illustration of the fact that fishing is an integral part of a socio-historical morphology. Photo credit: Aliou Sall, 2019.

On Women’s Day, 8 March 2023, in collaboration with REFEPAS and with the support of local and international NGOs, Diambari sine organized a public demonstration on the beach of their community. Holding placards, they denounced the fishing agreements between the national government and international fishing companies and the granting of licenses to industrial fishers for small pelagics to be used in the manufacturing of fishmeal. On this occasion, they also expressed their great concern for their future and the future of younger generations in the face of the danger represented by the exploitation of gas in an area not far from their community. 

The women’s demands and policy objectives for fisheries reform are twofold. First, they are demanding recognition and safeguarding of their human and traditional rights to continue to depend on (and thus to access) marine resources and coastal zones that are fundamental for their livelihoods and food security. In this way, they are seeking to preserve their maritime identity and the unique culture of the small-scale fishing and processing sector. Indeed, they are advocating for blue justice in the context of small-scale fisheries (Chuenpagdee et al., 2022; Ertör, 2021). Second, they are demanding respect for marine ecosystems and their sustainable management by questioning the poor governance that promotes industrial fisheries and fishmeal factories in a context of resource depletion, which further endangers the pelagic stocks on which small-scale fisheries rely on. In particular, they are seeking to ban pelagic trawling and the closure of fishmeal factories.

Regarding their aim to influence the fisheries policies decision-making process, given the considerable financial clout of industrial fishing companies, the results are still far from their aims. The financial power of industrial fishing, which has its own lobbying networks, is the source of the constraints encountered in achieving its objectives. In this context, the adage “divide and conquer” is one of the strategies used to break the momentum of such small-scale fishers’ organizations and social movements.

Moreover, the fishing agreements, a key issue on Diambari sine’s agenda and a national concern, have been mired in controversy. Senegalese representatives working on behalf of Russian and Chinese ship owners have reportedly employed corrupt practices and influence to promote a narrative favoring these foreign entities in pelagic fisheries. Indeed, a so-called union of industrial sailors has emerged from the industrial port, backed by wholesalers with exclusive rights to catches by Russian and Chinese vessels of pelagic fish. This group, allegedly supported by unscrupulous journalists, has formed a network to defend the involvement of these foreign nations in pelagic fisheries. Their main arguments are that industrial fisheries generate employment and contribute to food security since part of the catch is sold locally.

In conclusion, the issues that these women are engaged in and are actively denouncing are highly political. Diambari sine and their allies are fighting against financially powerful political actors and well-entrenched lobbies. Public visibility and external support are crucial for the success of their campaign. Although their struggle may be long, their steadfast commitment and strong sense of justice have the potential to persist and make a significant impact. 


Sall, Aliou (2024). Diambari Sine: Women’s fish processing organization leads the resistance against industrial fisheries and fishmeal factories in Senegal. The Ocean Defenders Project. Online at http://oceandefendersproject.org


ANSD Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie. Service Régional de la Statistique et de la Démographie de Saint-Louis, 2019. https://www.ansd.sn/sites/default/files/2022-12/SES-Saint-Louis-2019.pdf

Chuenpagdee, R., Bugeja-Said, A., Isaacs, M., & Jentoft, S. (2022). Towards Blue Justice for Small-Scale Fisheries. In S. Jentoft, R. Chuenpagdee, A. Bugeja Said, & M. Isaacs (Eds.), Blue Justice: Small-Scale Fisheries in a Sustainable Ocean Economy (pp. 681–692). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-89624-9_35

Diouf, S. (2014). Il faut réserver l’exploitation de la sardinelle à la pêche artisanale réserver l’exploitation de la sardinelle à la pêche artisanale. CAPE, 11 novembre 2014. https://www.capecffa.org/blog-publications/2014/11/11/2014-11-11-senegal-ilfaut-reserver-lexploitation-de-la-sardinelle-a-la-peche-artisanale

Dème, E.B.  & Dème, M. (2021). Mise en marché des petits pélagiques côtiers au Sénégal : formes de valorisation et enjeux autour de la ressource. EchoGèo 58(2021). https://doi.org/10.4000/echogeo.22771

Dème, M. (2012). Étude des connaissances socio- économiques des pêcheries de petits pélagiques au Sénégal. Commission Sous Régionale des Pêches (CSRP). 31pp. 

Mbengue, M.  2012. Rapport de capitalisation des initiatives de gestion des petits pélagiques au Sénégal.https://aquadocs.org/bitstream/handle/1834/6975/sn-gesptpelagic.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Sall, A. (2007). Loss of biodiversity: representation and valuation processes of fishing communities. Social Science Information 46(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/0539018407073663

Savoye, L. & Bellanger, E. (2023). Pillés par des bateaux étrangers, les poissons africains deviennent trop chers pour les Sénégalais. Le Monde. 9 avril 2023. https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/video/2023/04/09/pilles-par-des-bateaux-etrangers-les-poissons-africains-deviennent-trop-chers-pour-les-senegalais_6168850_3212.html

Ertör, Irmak. (2021). ‘We are the oceans, we are the people!’: Fisher people’s struggles for blue justice. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 1, 1–30. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2021.1999932

Douquet, M. (2023). Au Sénégal, les chalutiers européens et chinois menacent la sécurité alimentaire. Jeune Afrique. 10 novembre 2023 .https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1500097/societe/au-senegal-les-chalutiers-europeens-et-chinois-menacent-la-securite-alimentaire/

GAIPES, 2020. Arrivée massive de bateaux chinois et turcs au Sénégal : une menace sur les ressources et les communautés de pêche artisanale.  https://www.gaipes.sn/2020/04/27/arrivee-massive-de-bateaux-chinois-et-turcs-au-senegal-une-menace-sur-les-ressources-et-les-communautes-de-peche-artisanale/

Greenpeace (2012). Main basse sur la Sardinelle. Le scandale des autorisations de pêche au Sénégal: un drame en cinq actes. https://www.greenpeace.ch/static/planet4-switzerland-stateless/2019/05/994a93a1-994a93a1-2012_oceans_rapport_mainsardinelle.pdf 

APRAPAM (2020). Lettre ouverte à Son Excellence Monsieur Macky SALL, Président de la République du Sénégal. 11 mai 2020. https://www.aprapam.org/publication/initiatives/lettre-ouverte-a-son-excellence-monsieur-macky-sall-president-de-la-republique-du-senegal

Business and Human Rights Centre. (2021). Sénégal : Les acteurs de la pêche artisanale dénoncent la gestion opaque des ressources halieutiques et leur pillage par des bateaux étrangers.  https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/s%C3%A9n%C3%A9gal-les-acteurs-de-la-p%C3%AAche-artisanale-d%C3%A9noncent-la-gestion-opaque-des-ressources-halieutiques-et-leur-pillage-par-des-bateaux-%C3%A9trangers/


Declines of Biodiversity, Degradation of Ecosystems, Degradation or reduced supply of Ecosystem Services, Disruption of Marine Foodwebs, Fish Abundance and Productivity , Small-scale fishers, Women , Fisheries , Collective action, Social movements, Public protests and demonstrations , , Environmental Human Rights, Food Security, Gender Equity, Human Rights, Inclusive Governance, Lack of Economic Benefits

Recommended from The Ocean Defenders

Case Study

Guardians of Moheshkhali: Defending Traditional Ways of Living by the Sea Against Unsustainable Blue Growth 

Launched in 2015, the Matarbari Mega Project seeks to transform Moheshkhali Island into an economic hub, including a coal power plant and port facilities. Despite promises of modernization, the project has caused environmental harm and displaced 20,000 locals, impacting livelihoods and cultural identity. Since 2018, local ocean defenders have protested, resulting in successes like the cancellation of certain coal plants. Yet, the struggle to preserve heritage and environment against industrial expansion persists. This highlights the crucial role of community involvement in development decisions and the ongoing need for a sustainable and culturally sensitive approach to economic growth.
Case Study

Blue Justice? Impacts of oil exploration on small-scale fishers in Ghana

In Ghana’s Western region, over 150,000 small-scale fishers are struggling with the impact of offshore oil exploration, which has restricted their access to traditional fishing grounds. These regulations have drastically reduced their catch and income, deepening poverty and food insecurity. Despite limited resources and influence, the communities have actively campaigned for their rights.
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Skip to content