The Only Country Where Blast Fishing Is Still Widely Used: Tanzania

Source: National Geographic/Jani Astman - December 31, 2015 in Environment

The Only Country Where Blast Fishing Is Still Widely Used: Tanzania
Photo: Drajay1976/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Strewn in the shallows of the Indian Ocean off Tanzania lie shards of dead coral reefs.

Why? Because poor Tanzanian fishermen are using explosives, illegally, to kill hundreds of fish in seconds. Blast fishing, as it’s called, not only destroys large numbers of fish directly—but indirectly as well by killing coral and the rich array of marine animals that depend on it.

Experts believe that in Tanzania, blast fishing is occurring at unprecedented rates, in part because a boom in mining and construction has made it easier for people to get their hands on dynamite. Bottle bombs made with kerosene and fertilizer are also used. “It’s pretty obvious it’s on the rise again,” says Tim Davenport, country director of the Washington, D.C.-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Tanzania program.

Blast fishing in Tanzania dates back to the 1960s and was outlawed in 1970. Cheaper and vastly more productive than traditional methods, such as basket traps and hook and line, it’s also dangerous: Errant blasts can shatter limbs, even kill people.

Tossed overboard, one bottle bomb can kill everything within 30 to 100 feet of the blast. The explosion can rupture a fish’s swim bladder, the organ that gives it buoyancy. Most of the dead fish sink, but fishermen are ready with nets to scoop up those that float to the surface.

“With numerous blasts occurring daily on reefs all over the country over a period of several decades,” Greg Wagner, of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, wrote in a 2004 study, “the overall impact of dynamite fishing on coral reefs in Tanzania has been devastating.”

It was European armies during World War I that introduced dynamite fishing as a way to catch a quick, fresh meal, according to marine expert Michel Bariche. Some countries, such as Kenya and Mozambique, have succeeded in shutting it down, but it still goes on in Lebanon, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar, among others.

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