By MARK MINTON
A small ﬁre and the faint smell of burning marijuana signals the presence of a group of ﬁshermen on the shore of Rabat, Morocco’s coastal capital. As the twilight hour begins and the sun casts a shimmering golden glow across the various tidal pools on the rocky shore, ﬁve Moroccans sit down to enjoy a fresh catch from the evening’s haul.
“We enjoy the simple life here,” says Hamada Benhima with a winsome smile as he presents a slightly charred ﬁsh called Halama. Nimble sand-covered hands pass theﬁsh back and forth, tearing off small pieces that practically fall off the bones. “Eat with us,” he says, still smiling.
The ﬁshing industry is one of Morocco’s most important sources of national income.With more than 1,800 miles of shoreline and numerous port cities including Rabat,Casablanca, Essaouira, Tangier, Sale and Agadir, Morocco boasts some of the most abundant ﬁshing waters in Africa. Morocco is a leader in the African ﬁshing market, and in 2005 the ﬁshing magnate caught 932,704 tons of ﬁsh, approximately 100,000 tons more than the runner up, South Africa, and roughly 400,000 tons more than the third runner up, Namibia, according to a study conducted by the World Resources Institute.
However, ﬁsh does something special on the local level that transcends the economy,and one group of ﬁshermen in Morocco have made a cultural practice of it that functions independently of big business.
Benhima and his friend Adil Hassouni are surfers. They have been surﬁng and ﬁshingthe coastal waters of Rabat for 10 years, but not with ﬁshing lines or nets. They say they come to the same place on Rabat’s coastline every evening.
With ﬁshing guns, ﬂippers and wetsuits, these ﬁshermen swim out into the Atlantic waters where it is nine feet or deeper and bring in scores of Moroccan ﬁsh: halama,bouka, dibe, hadad, chaghou, fekhe, karfouhe and boumakhiete, as they are called inDarijan Arabic.
Benhima and Hassouni are ﬁshermen part of a rare culture. They say that someMoroccans, about 10 by their count, ﬁsh with ﬁshing guns and wetsuits in much the same way they do, and combine surﬁng and ﬁshing as a sustainable way of life by selling their catches in the local souq.
These ﬁshing surfers make their entire income by searching the waters in their wetsuits in the mornings and evenings, which allows them to live the simple life they love. They say the best time to ﬁsh is in the summer.
“When there is no waves the surfers go ﬁshing,” says Benhima. “When there is no waves we proﬁt maximo.”
Fish sells in Morocco by the kilo, and according to Benhima and Hassouni, they can selltheir catches in the souq for hundreds if not thousands of dirham, up to 10,000 dirham per haul.
Said Chiboub, a ﬁsh merchant in the souq, says most of the market’s ﬁsh come from Casablanca, but he says he likes to buy ﬁsh from local ﬁshermen like Benhima andHassouni. “There’s a good price and it’s what the people want to consume,” he says.