"Money dae na sea".

Quote and photo from the field. By ESR Cecilie Baann.


All ESR's are on fieldwork in various parts of Africa in 2019. As part of the dissemination they will be sending a photo and a quote from the field while they are away.   


This photo and quote from the field comes from ESR Cecilie Baann who is doing her fieldwork in Sierra Leone on marine resources and Human Security. Read more about her research here


I could have been listening to a TED-talk about the blue economy, but instead I was sitting at a small bar in Waterloo, the district capital for the area where I am conducting my fieldwork, listening to a discussion about fishing and government policies. It was early May, and the Government of Sierra Leone had just concluded the first “closed season” in the history of the country, with great encouragement from the World Bank and other international agencies seeking to promote sustainable use of marine resources. The closed season lasted for one month, and banned foreign industrial trawlers from fishing in Sierra Leonean waters, as well as fish export to neighbouring countries. The discussion at the bar was already ongoing by the time I entered from the market, with the topic in question being the export of ‘floatas’; the fish swim bladder, which is  a valuable part of certain fish that the Chinese and Korean fish traders in West Africa buy for export to the Asian markets. When I asked if the closed season had affected the floata trade, one of the bar guests commented “tsk, money dae na sea” – Money is there at sea. The ones who are set to control the trade of marine resources are known to “like money”. Thus, any illegal export will continue as long as money is there.

However, “money dae na sea” is also used about fishermen and boat owners. Fish and marine resources can be caught plentiful, and with a good portion of skill and luck, one single fishing trip can solve all your economic problems. I have been told about fantastic catches in the past, when boats landed fish worth thousands of dollars after only a day or two at sea, and these stories still motivate people to go into the trade. Increasingly, though, such catches are smaller and farther between. “De gron dry”, meaning the ground is dry, or there is no business and no money flowing, is a common Krio description of the current times. Sometimes used to critique the government, sometimes used to describe a particular season – ironically the rainy season, during which most businesses, including fishing, slows down – and sometimes used to describe the current decade, during which many Sierra Leoneans have experienced a stagnation or even deterioration of purchasing power, and, as a consequence, living standards. In the fishing sector, there is a general agreement, amongst both local fishermen and the foreign scientists monitoring catch reports from the region, that there is less fish in the sea, making it more difficult to both get an averagely good catch to make a small profit, as well as the fantastically great catches. In an economy where one is increasingly in need of liquid catch, whether to pay school fees, buy fuel for the outboard engines, pay medical bills, or buy government licenses for various activities, including commercial fishing, the decreasing ability of the ocean to provide, entangles fishermen and fish processors in networks of debt, with loans provided by a variety of sources, including microcredit institutions, family networks and foreign fishing companies. Then, just as a drought in arid climate can be catastrophic, serious flooding of coastal communities during the rainy season can destroy the opportunity to make a living, and to pay back loans. In Tombo, the community where I am conducting my research, heavy rains in early August washed over a hundred smoke ovens to the sea, and smashed two dozen boats to pieces. Money may be there at sea, but when you have no boat to go out with, the ground is indeed dry.