ISSUE OF THE DAY: Dynamite fishing destroys marine life and coastal livelihoods in Tanzania- Part One. By Lucas Liganga
’’DYNAMITE fishing has completely relegated my family and I to abject poverty. To be precise the fishing malpractice has ruined my life,’’ says Omari Hamisi, an artisanal fisherman at Mwongozo, one of the coastal fishing villages situated along the shores of the Indian Ocean at Kigamboni in Dar es Salaam Region. Hamisi, a father of seven children and two wives, says the illegal and harmful fishing methods practised by a cartel of powerful fishermen has forced him to abandon fishing and ’’I have now been forced to engage in farming, a business I am not used to because I have lived all my life as a fisherman.’’
Dynamite fishing or blast fishing describes a practice of using dynamite, commercially available or home-made bombs or other explosives to stun or kill shoals of fish for easy collection. This practice has proved to be extremely destructive to the surrounding ecosystem, as the blast impact and shock-waves often destroy the underlying habitat structure, such as coral reefs, that supports the fish and other marine life.
Hamisi told THISDAY in an interview last week that before 1988 he used to get good catches of fish near an islet situated close to his Mwongozo Village. ’’I was getting handsome income from the fishing business that enabled me to look after my family,’’ he says. But after 1988, says Hamisi, powerful fishermen invaded the area in which he had been fishing, blasted it with dynamite, killing all fish and other invertebrates, ending his hope of leading a good life. ’’They left me poor. Today I don’t have money to buy food, I don’t have money to pay school fees for my children, and I don’t have money to send my wives and children to hospital when they fall sick,’’ laments the fisherman who has been in the business for over 40 years. He says the powerful fishermen blasted the area 80 metres deep and since then there has been no life.
Hamisi is among hundreds of thousands of artisanal fishermen along the Indian Ocean coastal villages who have been seriously affected by dynamite fishing which although illegal and highly dangerous, continues to be practised along most of the Tanzanian coast, including Tanga, Bagamoyo, Dar es Salaam, Mafia, Rufiji, Kilwa and Zanzibar, particularly Pemba.
Sea Sense is a community-based, Tanzanian, Non-governmental organization set up in 2001 to help coastal communities protect and conserve endangered marine species and habitats, improve livelihoods of coastal communities and educate communities about the issues facing the marine and coastal environment. Sea Sense targets the conservation and promotion of flagship species (e.g. turtles, dugongs, whales), whose continued survival is implicitly linked with the protection of the wider coastal and marine ecosystem.
Lindsey West, Sea Sense Coordinator, says in Temeke District and some other parts of Dar es Salaam 1,120 dynamite blasts were recorded by her organization in 2008. ’’Dynamite fishing is highly destructive and the long-term effects are considerable, both environmentally and socio-economically. It is also a threat to national security,’’ observes West. She says coral reefs are completely destroyed or seriously degraded by dynamite fishing, which has been practised in Tanzania for over 50 years.
’’Each blast can kill thousands of fish and other living organisms within the surrounding area and completely destroys the reef habitat. As only three per cent of killed organisms are harvested, it is also the most wasteful fishing method,’’ she says adding: ’’With numerous blasts occurring daily on reefs all along the coast over decades, the cumulative effect has been devastating.’’
West says coral reefs are among the most critical marine resources in Tanzania as they support livelihoods for over 8 million coastal people and are also an important source of income for the local and export-oriented fishing industry. West says dynamite fishing also destroys aggregations and breeding grounds of pelagic fin fish, an increasingly important source of food and high-value export.
’’Natural coral reef recovery is very slow and can take up to 50 years. During this time there is a significant reduction in fish and invertebrate stock. Such a long-term reduction in fish productivity has severe economic consequences for coastal communities who rely solely on marine resources for their livelihoods,’’ says West, a marine biologist. She adds that there is also a significant loss of potential revenue from the rapidly growing coastal tourism sector that far outweighs the short-term benefits of income from dynamiting.
Dynamite fishing could also discourage tourists who pay a lot of money for snorkeling or diving in healthy coral reefs because dead reefs lose all their attraction.
’’Dynamite fishers themselves face severe risks of injury that can affect their future earning potential or indeed can cost them their life,’’ she observes, giving an example of Selemani Mwanyi, a resident of Mafia Island whose hands were blown off while dynamite fishing.
Sea Sense has worked extensively with coastal communities to raise awareness of the dangers involved in dynamite fishing and the destructive effect it has on the marine environment.
In March 2008, Sea Sense in collaboration with the Tanzania Fisheries Division, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and with financial support from the British High Commission, conducted an anti-dynamite fishing awareness campaign targeting village leaders and fishers in Pangani and Mkinga Districts Tanga Region, Temeke District in Dar es Salaam and Rufiji and Kilwa Districts in Coast Region.
West says many coastal villages were visited and meetings were held with village leaders and the general public. Awareness materials including posters, leaflets and t-shirts were also distributed. She says: ’’Attendance at the meetings was high and many local people were ready to collaborate if they believed the perpetrators would be prosecuted and jailed.’’
’’If we don’t stop the dynamiting, not only will there be further injuries and potential loss of life, but much of the work carried out in the last 30 years or so in Tanzania to protect and manage the reefs will have been wasted,’’ warns the marine biologist.
Dr Narriman Jiddawi, a senior lecturer in marine biology with the Institute of Marine Sciences of the University of Dar es Salaam in Zanzibar, says dynamite fishing which is banned in Tanzania is doing a lot of damage to corals and other marine life.
Investigations by THISDAY have revealed that some measures have been taken to control dynamite fishing including patrols by fisheries officers and marine police but resources to fund patrols are limited and leaked intelligence about the timing of patrols has also reduced their success in apprehending offenders. Our investigations have further revealed that the main reason for the persistence of dynamite fishing is easy availability of dynamite and limited or lack of law enforcement.
’’Fishers caught with dynamite or dynamited fish are released after a few days, contrary to fisheries laws, and on release the offenders return to intimidate local communities,’’ observes a source in the fishing industry.
The sources told this newspaper that corrupt fisheries officers at the Dar es Salaam ferry market allegedly receive money from dynamite fishers rather than arresting them. The same is reported from Tanga.
THISDAY has learned that the sources of dynamite are cement factories, road building projects, mining areas and the defence forces. Investigations have further revealed that if explosives are so easily available, terrorists may use them to blast cars and buildings, killing people.
The present prices of a dynamite stick is 33,000/- (about $30) which is good for about five blasts, with each blast costing slightly over 6,500/- (about five US dollars).
It is reported that with one blast at a reef crest at low tide at Karange Island in Tanga Region, for example, where most blasts have been reported from over the last two years, fishers could in the past catch between 150 and 400 kilogrammes of fish, while many times the same amount cannot be recovered and is thus lost, not to mention the damage to corals and other marine life.
With fish prices upcountry ranging from 3,000/- and 4,000/- and more (about 2 and $2.5) per kilogramme, the catch of one blast can be sold for between 500,000/- and 2m/- (about 384 and $1,700).
Investigations have found that it is thus obvious that the current fines of 100,000/- to 200,000/- (about 80 to $160) to be paid by fishermen when they are brought to court, in the few cases where the cases are taken to conviction, are quite insignificant and easily paid by dynamiters. However, it is also alleged that in most cases a convicted dynamiter does not even have to pay the fine, as there exists an informal ’Charitable Society of Dynamite Fishermen’ in Tanga that has about 50 members paying monthly contributions of 50,000/- (about $38) each. Investigations have found that if a dynamiter is taken to court, this ’charity’ steps in, bails him out and pays the fine for him.
It is claimed that all the above is well-known by most local fishermen, but they fear for their lives and are too afraid to give information to the Fisheries Patrol Unit, e.g in Tanga. It is said to be also common knowledge among fisheries staff, including staff at the Tanga Coastal Zone Conservation and Development Project, but because of collusion of some of them with dynamiters, those who try to enforce the law are being frustrated. Another problem frustrating law enforcers like the Fisheries Patrol Unit is that patrolling is very expensive, and in addition, money is being wasted because dynamiters are warned in advance of the patrol unit movements, so the patrol may spend the whole day at sea and fail to apprehend anybody.
’’Marine police have normally to be informed of the patrols one day in advance, so there is plenty of time to ’warn’ dynamiters,’’ say the industry sources, adding that each patrol costs about 200,000/- (about $160) (120,000/- (about $92) for fuel for two 85HP engines, 10,000/- (about eight US dollars) allowance each for eight people involved).
’’Again, even if a dynamiter is caught by the patrols (rarely is the the case taken to court because of the reasons given above); hence the fines of 100,000/- and 200,000/- are insignificant compared to the cost of patrolling.
WATCH OUT FOR PART TWO OF THE ARTICLE