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article imageA horrific fishing tactic in Tanzania is destroying marine life

By Karen Graham     Jan 3, 2016 in Environment
Dar Es Salaam - The use of explosives in catching fish was outlawed some years ago in Tanzania, but recent reports confirm the practice is alive and well in the African country.
Many authorities are blaming the continued practice of using dynamite and bottle bombs made with kerosene and fertilizer, to catch fish on a lack of government follow through on existing laws or a lack of community empowerment.
But no one has put the blame on crooked officials, willing to take a bribe while looking the other way, or the light sentences handed out if someone is caught and prosecuted for using this illegal practice. But the worst problem with blast fishing is the impact the practice has on the marine habitat.
Tanzania is the only African country where fishing using explosives is still practiced on a large scale. From Mtwara to Tanga, and off nearby islands, it occurs all along the Tanzanian coast. Baraka Mngulwi, the assistant director of the Tanzanian Fisheries Resource Protection department, says the explosives are taken from mines, demolition, and road construction crews, or made at home using kerosene or diesel fuel and fertilizer, reports the BBC.
Mandarinfish are beautiful denizens of coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific.
Mandarinfish are beautiful denizens of coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific.
Schnuffel Morguefile.
Just how bad blast fishing had become in Tanzania was discovered when a research group out counting whales and dolphins off the coast of the country ran into the practice as it was going on. “It’s pretty obvious it’s on the rise again,” says Tim Davenport, country director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a New York-based organization.
Davenport and his group had set out in march 2015 to gather information about whale and dolphin species inhabiting Tanzania’s coast. But they found they were hearing more explosions than cetacean whistles on their hydrophone recordings. They decided to look into the explosions, reports National Geographic.
Over 300 explosions were counted in 30 days from the Tanzania-Kenya border down to Mozambique. The hydrophones weren't able to record blasts in the shallow waters close to shore where a lot of the blast fishing occurs, or the number of explosions would have been higher “What we wanted to show was how extensive this is,” says Davenport, “and that it’s going all the way up and down the coast.”
Most of the blasts were occurring within 50 miles, or 80 kilometers of Dar es Salaam, where a large and well-attended fish market can be found. Using explosives, a fisherman can net a profit of $1,800 from a single blast catch. It's hard to get fishermen to look at the broader impact blast fishing causes when the money is that good.
Coral reef off the coast of Tanzania shows the effects of blast fishing.
Coral reef off the coast of Tanzania shows the effects of blast fishing.
Saleem Kikeke
Destruction of coral reefs and the killing of marine life
Two-thirds of Tanzania's shallower coastline harbors coral reefs, vitally important to fish, crab, and other species. “Some of these corals have been growing for decades,” says Gabby Ahmadia, a marine conservation scientist with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “When you damage them, it can take decades for them to recover, and sometimes not at all.”
The WWF also has evidence that the blasts have killed a number of the endangered Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins that swim in Tanzania’s waters. Besides the environmental threats blast fishing causes, there is also the risk to the livelihoods of legitimate fishermen. Blast fishing has already been found to have caused a significant decrease in fish species in the waters off Tanzania, as was reported in 2014 by the Mwambao Coastal Community Network.
There is also the damage to tourism to consider. Tourism constitutes 17 percent of Tanzania's gross domestic product, and people won't come to the beach if there is a threat of explosions and the coral is all chewed up and destroyed. Davenport says, "If people are scared to swim in the waters because of incidents like this, that’s a big problem."
And lastly, there are the fish themselves. Most people wouldn't be able to tell a net-caught fish from one that was killed by an explosive concussion. But a few fish sellers and auctioneers can tell. A female fish trader says she can tell because the scales are very loose on blast fish, according to the BBC.
"We don't buy them; because of the impact of the blasts, they rot very fast - by the time you get home they are rotten. Some buyers and sellers don't know that so they buy them,'' she says.
The government of Tanzania says it's launching a task force to deal with wildlife crimes, but as has been the case in years past, we are left to wonder what, if anything will be accomplished. In the meantime, man is just going about his business, killing off more of our environment.
More about blast fishing, Tanzania, use of explosives, outlawed in 1970s, Coral reefs
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