Days and Nights of Freetown – Working on the beach

It was tiring work – and my soft hands blistered easily on the rough rope.  I got a mixture of encouragement and jibes from my effort, but most of the people there were pleased a white guy had come along to help them get the catch.  Most of the hauling was achieved by a few strong heavy set guys, but even a few little children were joining in as were a couple of women who could have easily put me over their shoulder and taken me off to their village if they so thought about it.  Someone at the back started to chant a deep slow song which helped to pace the hauling hand over hand.

At this time the beach was dominated by men.  I then saw a load of people, mainly women, come through a gap in the dunes, no doubt from the village that was just behind, carrying an assortment of plastic bowls and buckets.  They took up positions in the shallow water and waited as the net came closer to the shore.  I noticed the boats which had been spread out in the water when we first approached had now come in close to the net and their occupants were reaching down inside the net to scoop up the first of the catch.  On went the hauling.  Now I could see the water surface was boiling away as the fish became more tightly grouped and began to panic.

Jan and I had given up hauling in and watched the scene, Jan trying to get in with his camera to get some close ups.  A couple of people started to introduce themselves to me and ask where I came from.  Some were friendly, some inquisitive, others just drunk on palm wine and after money to feed their habit.

The final push to bring the net in commenced – it was barely 100m round the water and the fish took up almost the whole volume.  The fishermen had obviously carefully chosen this late part of the afternoon when the sun was beginning to get low in the sky to spread their net, as it is when fish tend to congregate in the shallows, and they could maximize the haul.  Buckets and bowls were now being dipped into the melee and up came a full catch of silvery slithering creatures.  I was disappointed to see how small most of the catch was; mostly juveniles.  Was it a case that overfishing had depleted the bigger sized fish as elsewhere in the world or were these the ones which hung around the shallows at this time.  Whatever, two things were clear; in quantity terms this was a huge source of protein to an entire village, but also the practice of taking out such big amounts of small fish did not bode well for the long term sustainability of the fishery.

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On the beach

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