Giant ‘noble’ thiof gives Senegalese fish-lovers crumbs of comfort

Senegalese shoppers have found one small piece of comfort among all the coronavirus chaos – a dive in the price of thiof, a fish at the heart of their national dish.

A fishmonger holds a frozen fish at the Goxu Mbacc Dock, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Saint-Louis, Senegal May 16, 2020. PREUTERS/Christophe Van Der Perre

The large white grouper caught off the Atlantic coast – considered one of the “noble fish” by Senegalese on account of its size and firm skin – was generally seen as a luxury treat, served up for big occasions with rice and vegetables.

High demand from Europe and over-fishing by foreign trawlers made it too expensive for many local families who had to cook up their “thieboudienne” meals with cheaper alternatives.

But then the pandemic restrictions came, trade routes were disrupted and the export market slowed.

At a busy market in the northern port city of Saint Louis, supplied by the city’s legions of colourfully-painted wooden fishing boats, metre-long thiofs were selling at a steep discount over the weekend.

“Before, the thiof was at 4,500 CFA francs ($7.56) per kilo. It was expensive, so as a vendor, it did not work for me,” said Aissatou Diop, who stood at her stall underneath an orange-and-white parasol, wearing a black mask with “COVID 19” written in white letters.

“But now at 2,500 CFA francs a kilo, I can buy some for my own consumption and sell the rest,” she said.

The crisis has had the opposite effect on other parts of the market. Without the distortions of slackening exports, prices for fish meant for local tables have gone up as curfews cut the hours fishermen can spend at sea.

“The prices have risen because the fishermen can no longer go fishing normally, and the demand is still there,” said Aliou Ba, a political adviser at Greenpeace who monitors the sector.

Senegal’s fishers and the industries that support them have been hit hard.

“Because of the restrictions we had to let go of 10 employees. Now we only have five people working,” said Daouda, a worker at a refrigeration company in Saint Louis.

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