The wind is always blowing in the city of Nouadhibou, which today is laced with toxic particles and the putrid smell of fish meal production. Nouadhibou sits on the edge of the Atlantic and has a population of nearly 120,000 people, many of which have become greatly disturbed by the growth of enterprises producing farine du poisson (eng. fishmeal) or locally known as MOKA in the city. The city hosts a busy port that exports a number of Mauritania’s minerals and natural resources extracted from the interior. Well connected by railways and roads, this port city’s wharf was reconstructed in 2011 to extend to its current length of 122,000 square meters. Yet, while the loading and export of up to 320,000 tons of cargo occurs daily on the wharf, only one commodity has developed into a conflict amongst the population of Nouadhibou: fishmeal (MOKA).
Since the government opened more than 30 contracts for fishmeal production in 2010, the numbers of fishmeal factories have increased from six to twenty-three , with a concurrent 282% increase in tons of fishmeal production between 2010 and 2013 . Currently, in Nouadhibou there are 32 registered processing plants (according to the EC data corresponding to April 2018) .
With most of the activity situated in the northern-most part of the city, residents complain of chronic illnesses and suffocation due to the pollution from the production. The accompanying deplorable health and sanitation conditions have provided cause for alarm by the local population. Residents have demanded that the government intervene to impose limits on industrial pollution . Despite laws in place to protect health and sanitation since 2012 , companies are not forced to comply. Doctors state that the factories have resulted in an increase in asthma, allergies, and respiratory infections, particularly amongst children .
Indeed, the toxic waste thrown into the ocean has transformed a highly frequented coastal zone into a sewage area [1, see photos]. The production of fishmeal usually requires a greater amount of live fish per one ton of fishmeal produced. Waste and effluent from the fishmeal production is emptied directly into the bay, causing some to mention an overall change in the color of the water as well as depleted fish stocks and putrid odors . Moreover, particulate matter in the air is said to contain carcinogenic components .
The government’s original intent was to establish industry around the less-exploited coastal species, including some that are highly important to low income consumers, such as sardines. Along with the loss of fish, local residents state that constructing the fishmeal production industry in the city of Nouadhibou and not on the periphery was a gross error that has destroyed the unique coastal attractions of the city, but also heavily polluted the water and air. Activist and president of l'Organisation pour la Promotion de la famille et pour la Défense de l'Environnement, Sid Mohamed Ouelt Mohamed Cheikh has launched a campaign against the fishmeal companies, to force the government to protect the communities. In turn, inhabitants of the Kansadou neighbourhood have organized protests against the neighboring Asnim fishmeal enterprise. Al Mokhtar Ouelt Salem is a lawyer working on the case. He believes that it will be possible to bring the case to court and prosecute the companies. On January 12, 2017, nearly a thousand protesters gathered at the Hotel Eljazira, followed by a march through the center of Nouadhibou. Their slogan read, in English, "Stop Pollution Nouadhibou!"
In light of numerous studies and a large number of complaints about chronic sickness and asthmatic disorders, the authorities of Nouadhibou became obligated to proceed to the closing of a great number of enterprises . In November 2017, all of the factories specializing in fishmeal production were closed temporarily to be inspected. "The Free Zone, in cooperation with the Minister of Fisheries, have organized a committee in charge of carrying out an inquiry into the activities of fishmeal factories, with the goal of only permitting operation to those that are in compliance with the norms and specification described in the rulebooks." declared Mohammed Ould Ould Daff .