A crisis in the water is decimating this once-booming fishing town

San Francisco Chronicle –

His ancestors were Portuguese colonialists who settled on this otherworldly stretch of coast, wedged between a vast desert and the southern Atlantic. They came looking for the one thing this barren region had in abundance: fish.

By the time Mario Carceija Santos was getting into the fishing business half a century later, in the 1990s, Angola had won independence and the town of Tombwa was thriving. There were 20 fish factories strung along the bay, a constellation of churches and schools, a cinema hall built in art deco, and, in the central plaza, massive drying racks for the tons upon tons of fish hauled out of the sea.

Since then, Tombwa’s fortunes have plummeted; Santos’s factory is one of just two remaining. The cinema hall is shuttered. Kids run around town barefoot instead of going to school. The central plaza is overgrown by weeds, its statue of a proud fisherman covered in bird droppings.

“Six or seven species have disappeared almost entirely from here, sardines and anchovies included – the ones these factories were made for processing,” Santos said in his office, after inspecting the day’s catch.

“We’ll just have to close shop at some point.”

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