Small-scale fishing in Mauritania is threatened by a perverse system: industrial fleets, mostly foreign, are plundering its fish-rich waters, causing serious problems for local communities.
In 2006 Mauritania sold fishing rights to the European Union in exchange for a reduction in its public debt, giving up the fight against overfishing and encouraging a new form of colonialism. The industrial fishing boats hire and fund the local fishermen and the fish is frozen and taken to North Africa or Europe for processing.
The damage has been enormous. Almost 50% of mullet stocks are at risk and the fish-processing activities, including botargo production, traditionally practiced by the Imraguen women have been abandoned.
Few are able to continue making a living. The local NGO Mauritanie 2000 is working with groups of women to try to preserve local knowledge, strengthen their technical skills and improve hygiene conditions. The producers buy mullet from fishermen, extract the eggs, rinse them, salt them and let them dry naturally, obtaining a traditional botargo (from the Arab butarikh, salted fish eggs).
The women also prepare tishtar (dried and finely chopped mullet fillet) and mullet oil.
To help protect this type of production Slow Food has started a Presidium with three groups of Imraguen women who work in Nouadhibou and Nouakchott, the country’s main ports.
Slow Food, in collaboration with the producers from the Orbetello Botargo Presidium, has helped the Imraguen women improve production, directly manage the sale of their products and find alternative markets. Thanks to the projects supported by the Piedmont Regional Authority and the City of Tours, the women have acquired a vacuumpacking machine and a refrigerated room for storing the botargo. A good practice guide for processing mullet has been produced in Arabic and French.
In 2014 a project to create local quality saltworks has been launched in collaboration with the French association Univers Sel and the NGO Mauritanie 2000, thanks to support from the EU Commission.
What is a Slow Food Presidia?
The Slow Food Presidia are projects sustaining quality production at risk of extinction, protecting unique regions and ecosystems, recovering traditional processing methods, safeguarding native breeds and local plant varieties.
Check out our website: http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/presidia
Photos — Alberto Peroli
Photos — Paola Viesi