Here’s a selection of 20 images taken during a brief stroll around the Moroccan port at Essaouira, including a shot of the fisherman who flung a fish at me. He missed, but I’m still glad it wasn’t one of the many massive conger eels found in the makeshift stalls that line the piers.
Once the most important in the country, Essaouira is no longer among the country’s chief ports. But it is colorful and attractive in a gritty way, and a favorite stop among visitors and day trippers from Marrakech. It’s at its most vibrant and bustling in the late morning or early afternoon hours when fisherman are busy preparing their morning catch, negotiating prices, mending their nets or tidying their boats.
The vast majority of the catch seen here is meant for, and winds up on, the local market. What I find most interesting when visiting local market ports is the wide variety of fish you find there –and nowhere else. I’ll be forever grateful to anyone who can ID some of the fish in the images below.
Inhabited since prehistoric times, Essaouira was already an established trading port in the 5th century BC. The city was expanded by the Portuguese in the early years of the 16th century; much of the present look dates back to the latter half of the 1700s. The harbor’s fortifications, built by Ahmed El Alj, an English renegade, date to 1770 when the modern port was officially opened. It went on to serve as Morocco’s principal port through the end of the 19th century.
As recently as 1950, the port at Essaouira was the most important for sardine fishing, itself among the country’s primary industries. These days, some 600,000 tons of sardines are processed in Morocco, the largest canned sardine exporter in the world and the leading supplier of sardines to Europe.
Bringing in around $US1 billion (EUR 800 million) annually, the fishing industry is generally considered to be the largest in Africa and remains the chief foreign exchange earner in the country, accounting for 16 percent of total exports and 56 percent of agricultural exports. Nationally the industry employs about 500,000 people; of those about 100,000 make up the traditional, or artisanal, fishing sector whose meager earnings are barely above subsistence level. Those are the fishermen you see here.
The full gallery is below. Click on an image for additional information.
A few more links of interest:
- A database of 719 known species reported from Morocco
- Port info from Essaouira.nu, a site promoting eco-friendly tourism
- UN FAO Fishery and Aquaculture Country Report for Morocco (2006, French)
- Reducing Poverty for Artisanal Fishermen in Morocco – Report from the US Millennium Challenge Corporation
- a soundtrack by Moroccan band Ganga Fusion aptly entitled, Essaouira. Enjoy. 🙂
All images © Bob Ramsak. All rights reserved. High resolution images available.
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