Life & Leisure

Turning the tide: Somalia’s growing appreciation for fish

By Irene Escudero

Bosaso, Somalia, May 29 (efe-epa).- Somalia knows a thing or two about arid landscapes, poor harvests, climate change, drought and a constant need for society to adapt but it also has experience in an industry that often slips through the net — fishing.

The country in the Horn of Africa has the longest coastline on the continent. Despite this, many Somalians have never tried fish in their lives. That is beginning to change.

During periods of famine, such as those that hit the country after the collapse of Siad Barre’s regime in 1991, or the fierce drought of 2011, thousands of Somalians starved to death in the street while planeloads of the finest quality seafood left Mogadishu for foreign markets.

Seafood was expensive on the domestic market, as merchants had to cover the costs of chilling and transporting the product in a war-torn country that prefers meat.

Even now, due to lacklustre infrastructure, the largely artisanal Somali fishing industry remains underexploited in a country where a third of the population suffers from hunger.

“There is an old Somali saying about a nomad who vomited every time he met somebody who lived near the sea because just the thought of somebody eating fish made him feel violently unwell,” BBC journalist Mary Harper wrote in her book Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State.

Traditionally, fishing and the consumption of fish has been a feature of coastal communities, whose influence in the country has never matched that of the pastoral tribes in the country’s interior.

In a bid to boost seafood consumption, Siad Barre (1969-91) once banned the sale of red meat for two days a week.

According to a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report a decade ago — the latest information available — the average Somali consumed just three kilograms of fish per year, compared to 21 kilos of red meat.

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