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This report was prepared as part of a study effort on marketing artisanal fish products in West Africa in the framework of the West Africa Regional programme "Improvement of Post-harvest Utilization of Artisanal Fish Catches" - WARF, financed by the Commission of the EU.

There is a thriving trade in dried shark products between the Gambia and Ghana but between 1993 and 1995 this declined. 1996 is likely to show further falls as preliminary figures, released for the first eight months of the year, indicate that only 414 tonnes were exported and so total exports are unlikely to match those of the preceding year.

The objective of this study is to identify the factors responsible for the inadequacies in the dried shark trade and make recommendations to alleviate the problems.

A considerable proportion of the product exported from the Gambia is derived from the neighbouring countries of Guinea Bissau, Guinea and Senegal. Problems facing effective sourcing from these countries are also examined. All the identified problems were discussed with the economic operators in the trade at a round table conference.


2.1 Fishing

2.1.1 Species

The major species available in the Gambian waters are long month shark, black shark and hammerhead shark.

2.1.2 Fishing methods

Shark are fished almost exclusively by artisanal fishing canoes but they are also a bycatch of fish trawling. About 30 canoes are currently involved in shark fishing in the Gambia, of which Ghanaians own 26 and three are owned by Gambians but operated by Ghanaian fishermen. Only one canoe is owned and operated by Gambians. In the interest of sustainable fish trade and in order to maximize trade benefits, more Gambians should be deliberately encouraged to go into shark fishing and joint ventures should be encouraged between Gambians and Ghanaians.

The current fishing method involves the use of gill nets which is a selective, passive fishing gear and shark fishing boats are few. They therefore constitute no serious threat to the shark resource base. Scarcity of nets occasionally occurs in the Gambia, to the extent that fishing operations may be suspended while users travel to neighbouring countries to buy some. It is therefore recommended that retail sale of these nets in the Gambia should be encouraged.

2.1.3 Fishing canoes

The Gambian as a sahelian country has little or no raw materials (timber) for canoe construction. Large shark fishing canoes are expensive because either the raw materials for construction or fully built canoes are imported. It is recommended that the design, production and trial of fibreglass shark fishing canoes should be pursued by appropriate agencies in the Gambia, in association with the Japanese International Co-operation Agency or any other donor body.

2.1.4 Premixed fuel for powering motorized boats

Premixed fuel costs 9 dalasis per litre, or more during periods of scarcity. This is scarce in the Gambia but readily available in the Casamance region of Senegal so fishermen from the Gambia are tempted to purchase it there. The customs department in the Gambia classifies this as smuggling and fishermen may be prosecuted for it. Scarcity of premixed fuel is known to cause loss of fishing days. It is therefore recommended that pre-mixed fuel should be made readily available to shark fishermen in the Gambia so that fishing can continue smoothly.

2.1.5 Fishing grounds

The presence of trawlers and use of conflicting fishing gear at fishing grounds in the artisanal fisheries result in serious damage and loss of fishing materials. Such incidents are reported frequently and often result in loss of investment. The artisanal fishermen can only overcome this problem by making longer fishing trips during which they stay close to their nets. The problem of trawlers encroaching on the artisanal fishing grounds remains a conflict situation. It is recommended that the relevant authorities should intervene to lessen the problem by enforcing the provisions of the law and arranging conflict resolution meetings between shark fishermen and trawler operators.

Table 1 Shark production and exports 1990-1995








Exports (tonnes)







Value (million dalasis)*







Domestic production (tonnes)







Imports, re-exported







% of exports derived from other countries







% of exports accounted for by domestic production







* Department of fisheries, Banjul, Gambia

2.1.6 Sources

The statistics available from 1991 to 1995 indicate that the Gambia produces much less than it exports. Traders confirm that products come from neighbouring countries and are re-exported by the Gambia. For example, domestic production as a percentage of exports peaked in 1991 at 81%. In 1992 and 1993 domestic production constituted less than 50% of total exports. Appreciable rises in domestic production were observed in 1994 and 1995 even though total exports decreased. It is recommended that increased production should be sustained without sacrificing resource conservation. Furthermore, the practice of sourcing products from neighbouring countries for re-export should be encouraged.

2.2 Shark Products

2.2.1 Product forms

The product forms derivable from shark are dried sharkfin, smoked shark and salted, dried shark. While dried sharkfin is almost exclusively exported to the Far East because of its high export value and demand as a choice food, smoked shark products are consumed locally, largely by the Ghanaian population. Salted, dried sharks are exported exclusively to Ghana. Exports of smoked shark products to Nzerekore in Guinea have recently been reported. Only a small percentage of cured shark is available in smoked form; the bulk is salted and dried. See Table 2.

2.2.2 Handling and processing

After catching, the fresh shark may be eviscerated and salted, dropped into the canoe, deposited on a bare beach and chunked. Thus contamination by sand, dust, insects, bacteria and other contaminating agents is assured. During periods of abundant landings, products are buried on the beach overnight. Quick drying takes about two weeks during which the product loses moisture and becomes hard. Slow fermentation and further drying takes place during the storage period of 2-3 months. Quality considerations at the end of processing and storage include absence of browning and discoloration, product hardness and evidence of adequate salting which is reflected by whitish salt crystals on the product. Product chunking on a bare beach, open-air drying in a sahelian country like the Gambia and the burying process are unhygienic and should be improved upon with a view to eliminating contamination. It is recommended that handling and processing methods should be improved without sacrificing consumer preference.

2.2.3 Transportation

The final product is loaded into hired trucks and transported to the port of Banjul. Finished products for re-export are transported from neighbouring countries to the Gambia by sea, using cargo canoes. Shipping from Banjul to Mankessim takes about 2-4 weeks. Forwarding and clearing activities are efficient at present.

Overloading and stormy sea conditions are reported to have caused serious mishaps in this transport system. Annual losses of between 50 000 to 100 000 dalasis have been estimated and more importantly, lives have been lost. In 1994/95, three canoes capsized with losses of 150 bags of dried shark each and a number of people died. It is therefore recommended that canoe operators should be trained in appropriate loading methods and taught the dangers inherent in overloading. Existing laws on such offences should be strictly enforced so that disasters can be averted.

2.2.4 Seasonal abundance

Available information indicates that during the dry, cold season (December to February) water temperature is warmer close to the shore. This condition is apparently favourable to the sharks and so they are caught readily in fishing grounds close to the shore. During the rainy season they go to deeper waters and are more expensive and difficult to catch.

However, because of the long processing and storage period (2-3 months) and other trade practices, such as hoarding to be able to take advantage of scarcity, dried shark products are more readily available during the periods of heavy rainfall (June to September) as shown in Table 2. This also shows that shark is more available in dried than smoked form at the major fish processing centres of Brufut, Gunjur and Tanji.

Table 2 Stockholdings & prices of dried shark products at Gambia’s major fish processing centres 1996










Dried shark

Stockholdings (bags*)








Price (Dalasi/kg)








Smoked shark

Stockholdings (bags*)








Price (Dalasi/kg)








Source: Brufut, Tanji and Gunjur
* Dried shark = 33 kg/bag, Smoked shark = 90 kg/bag

2.2.5 Prices

Despite wide fluctuations in stockholdings, available data indicate that the price of dried shark remained stable at 9 dalasi per kg between June and December 1996. Similarly, the price of smoked shark remained at 8 dalasi per kg during the same period. Dried shark fins hardly feature on the market. When they do, quantities are relatively small and prices are extremely high at about 300 dalasis per kg.


3.1 Fishermen

Fishermen who target sharks are largely of Ghanaian origin. Out of the 30 canoes fishing for shark only one is exclusively operated by Gambians, Ghanaians operate the others. Gambian and Senegalese fishermen irregularly land shark as bycatch; these are sold to processors. Big shark fishing canoes have a crew of about 10 and smaller ones about 5. It is evident that Gambians are not adequately involved in shark fishing. It is therefore recommended that effective extension services should be put in place to ensure that willing Gambian fishermen are trained in shark fishing in the interest of sustainable trade.

3.2 Boat owners

Shark fishing boats are owned by investors who employ fishermen. However, the fishermen own the fishing gear and fish on alternate days for themselves and for the boat owners. Under an agreement between fishermen and boat owners, the fishermen take all the catch on days earmarked for them while the boat owners own all the catch on their assigned days. The participation of women in the ownership of shark fishing boats is a welcome development that should be further encouraged.

3.3 Shark processors

Operators in shark processing are predominantly Ghanaian women. They either work in small family units or are hired by canoe owners or fishermen to process shark. Processors buy the raw materials from fishermen but some of the women processors own fishing craft and buy the fishermen’s portion of the landings in addition to their own. Other women processors, who do not own boats, have strong relationships with the fishermen from whom they buy their shark and they pre-finance raw material supplies. The processor/trader relationship is also strong as the latter pre-finance procurement of raw materials and collect the finished products 2-3 months later.

Sharkfins are cut off shortly after catch and sold at lucrative prices to specialized dealers, because of their high export value. Men are also involved in shark processing but are much less prominent than women. Willing Gambians should be encouraged to go into shark processing which is currently dominated by Ghanaians. The formation of co-operative societies involving women of both nationalities should be encouraged.

3.4 Packers, loaders and hauliers

Packers are special labourers in the dried shark trade who have acquired relevant packing skills through years of practice. They are paid 2 dalasis for every bag weighing about 33 kg. White bags are used and each contains about 400 pieces of the dried product. These are loaded into hired trucks by "loaders" for two dalasis per bag. The same amount is paid for loading the product into containers at Banjul port, which is about 30 km from "Ghana town" (Brufut). Transportation to the port costs between 700 and 1200 dalasis, depending on the size of the truck, among other factors. The product takes 2-4 weeks to arrive in Tema harbour in Ghana by ship.

3.5 Exporters/Importers

The exporters are largely the same as the importers. They have representatives in both countries. They travel by air in either direction depending on whether they are exporting products from Gambia or receiving products in Ghana. It can be concluded that this dried shark trade, which allows exporters and importers to travel by air, must be one of the most lucrative cured fish trades in West African. Exporters pool their products for transport to the port and for shipment, so that costs are minimized. Markings are put on each bag for easy identification of ownership and this is reflected on the bill of lading.

Twenty major traders are involved in the dried shark trade between the Gambia and Ghana, eight of whom are based in “Ghana town” (Burut) and the rest in Gunjur, Serekunda, Banjul and other settlements in the Gambia. The traders have representatives in Ghana who arrange for product clearing from the port, payment of relevant fees, transportation to Mankessim and marketing of the product with or without the exporter, who may travel by air to Ghana to supervise product sales. Some traders regularly travel to the Gambia to collect purchases made by their agents and return, for about 3 months on each occasion, to sell the products in Ghana.

3.6 Wholesalers and retailers

Wholesalers, retailers and hauliers are also involved in the dried shark trade in Ghana. The wholesaler purchases in bulk at Mankessim and distributes the product to smaller wholesalers and retailers in other parts of Ghana.

Detailed statistics are not available but it is evident from the above that economic operators in the dried shark trade are many and diversified both in the Gambia and Ghana. The dried shark trade is therefore important to both economies and relevant establishments in both countries should ensure that trade practices are conducted in such a way as to ensure sustainability.


The dried shark trade involves the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal on the one hand and Ghana and the Gambia on the other. Table 1 indicates local production as well as those sourced from neighbouring countries and re-exported from the Gambia. Supplies from the neighbouring countries are quite significant and any efforts focused on the improvement of the trade between the Gambia and Ghana will have limited impact if the problems of product sourcing from neighbouring countries are not addressed.

4.1 Domestic trade

The demand for dried shark products by Gambians is low. This is due largely to low taste preference for the product, religious and social taboos and the availability of a large number of other preferred forms of fish products. Domestic demand is largely restricted to the Ghanaian community.

4.2 Exports

4.2.1 Product destination

The major destination of dried shark products originating from the Gambia is Ghana. This trade is conducted exclusively by Ghanaians. Gambians have recently begun to export smoked shark to Guinea (Conakry and Nzerekore) but the volume of this trade is relatively low compared to that between Ghana and the Gambia. The port of destination in Ghana is Tema, from where products are transported in trucks to Mankessin, about 150 km from Tema. Further distribution inland takes place at Mankessin.

4.2.2 Export volume and value

The volume and value of dried shark exports from 1990 to 1995 are summarized in Table 1. The disparities between exports and domestic production are accounted for by dried shark products from the neighbouring countries of Senegal, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, transported to the Gambia and re-exported to Ghana. Revenue paid to the government peaked in 1993 at 3.2 million dalasis, declining to 2.9 million dalasis in 1994 and 2.7 million dalasis in 1995.

4.2.3 Export formalities

As is the case for exports of all fish and fishery products from the Gambia, shark exporters obtain export permits and health certificates prior to consignments being exported. The Fisheries Department issues export permits, which are applied for on a standard form. The Department makes an inspection of the products for certification based on quality, hygiene and packaging. Once satisfied, an export permit is issued to the exporter. The Department of Health also conducts an inspection of the products for the issuance of health certificates.

Based on the FOB value of the products, presently set at 4 dalasis per kg, the value of the consignment is indicated on the export permit. On the basis of this value, the Department of Customs and Excise charges export duty at 10%. Custom entries are completed and shipping documents finalized with shipping agents. Freight charges used to be paid locally but arrangements between traders and shipping agents now favour payment of the freight charges in Ghana.

4.2.4 Monthly trends in dried shark exports

Based on the detailed monthly export figures for the period 1990-1995 and preliminary figures for 1996, indicated in Table 3, the largest volume of exports was recorded in November. No shark products were exported in August except in 1996, largely because that is the peak of the rainy season when high ambient humidity and rainfall are not conducive to product processing and handling. Another factor is the low level of fishing activity during this month. Little is exported in July and September either.

Table 3 Monthly dried shark exports in kilograms, 1990-1996












33 297


126 060

12 030

32 091

105 150

308 628



113 418

123 735

42 660

31 185

78 248

6 000

395 246


110 001


33 435

117 312

105 363

124 302

82 810

573 223


32 490

41 005

71 396

62 139

16 560

14 949

30 570

269 109


115 257

109 308

20 070

23 067

160 844

92 380

64 653

585 579


156 123

84 321

193 692

158 742

67 815

159 213

73 820

893 726




3 729

31 272

34 800

33 672

44 130

147 603







6 150

6 150



23 100



50 630



73 730



53 380


59 530

160 077

44 010


316 997


111 183

28 060

171 537

161 828

108 273

156 630


737 511


6 400

53 573

15 296

126 166

79 640

45 420


326 495


531 454

539 462

632 890

908 776

827 217

780 915

413 283

4 633 997

Source: Department of Fisheries, Banjul, The Gambia

4.2.5 Yearly trends in shark product exports

Exports rose until 1993 and have fallen since. Though domestic production increased appreciably, by 52% from 1993 to 1994, only a slight increase, 4%, was recorded in 1995. Increased domestic production should be pursued without sacrificing resource conservation. The major area of concern is product sourcing from neighbouring countries, which declined drastically by 41% from 593 tonnes in 1993 to 347 tonnes in 1994 and by a further 18% in 1995. Problems affecting product sourcing from neighbouring countries should be investigated, as this trend has not been explained.

4.3 Trade problems

4.3.1 Credit repayment problems

Importers in Ghana encounter credit repayment problems. Products supplied to wholesalers are sometimes not paid for in good time or not paid for at all. This often leads to conflicts. It is recommended that wholesalers should of necessity belong to a co-operative organisation, to which they should be financially committed. Such an organisation should act as a guarantor for products supplied on credit.

4.3.2 Single market problems

The only reported destination for dried shark of Gambian origin is Ghana. The need for market diversification is imperative as policy changes in the destination market may adversely affect trade. Product diversification and taste-preference research should be conducted prior to test marketing in other target markets. This exercise, which should involve traders on sub-regional basis, should be conducted during the second year of the EU programme implementation.

4.3.3 Loss of finished products

Stormy sea conditions and the overloading of canoes with finished products from neighbouring countries have been responsible for product losses and loss of lives. Hauliers should be trained in loading and safety regulations. The wearing of life jackets should be made compulsory on these boats and other safety laws should be enforced.


The dried shark trade between Brufut in the Gambia and Mankessim in Ghana is a concrete example of regional co-operation, which should be encouraged. Such ventures, involving grassroots economic operators, are capable of achieving sustainable regional integration and economic development. Constraints identified in this study should therefore be addressed by the relevant organisations in both countries in the mutual interest of all concerned.


Causes of the problem


Follow-up action by

1 Regular scarcity of shark fishing gear in the Gambia

Encourage retail trade of shark fishing nets in the Gambia

Dried shark exporters Department of Fisheries

2. Destruction of shark fishing nets by trawler operators

Arrange regular meetings with shark fishermen and trawler operators to resolve conflicts in fishing activities

Department of Fisheries

3. Scarcity of pre-mix fuel

Make pre-mix fuel available locally

Oil marketing companies Fishermen’s organisation

4. Expensive nature of canoes used for shark fishing due to imported inputs.

With donor agencies, design, produce and trial fibreglass boats.

Department of Fisheries

Fishermen’s organisation

5. Improper handling and processing resulting in product contamination, discoloration and rehydration.

Intensify extension services for the improvement of product handling, processing and storage. Introduce HACCP concept to shark fishermen and processors.

Department of Fisheries


6. Overloading of boats used for transporting finished products from neighbouring countries.

Boat operators should be trained in proper loading and the dangers of overloading

Maritime transport authorities in the Gambia Department of Fisheries

7. Problems of credit recovery from wholesalers and retailers in Ghana.

Give credits only to traders who belong to and are guaranteed by their co-operative societies


8. Products targeting single markets are prone to many problems of sustainability.

Identify other markets for the product


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