Another Scourge in Our Seas: Blast Fishing

The practice of dropping explosives to kill fish quickly is prevalent globally, despite being illegal
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 24, 2023 2:20 PM CDT
Fishing With Dynamite Is Even Worse Than It Sounds
IEDs used for blast fishing seen in a box in a fisherman's boat outside Benghazi, Libya, where Libyan fishermen use dynamite as a shortcut to catching many fish.   (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

Despite being illegal virtually everywhere, blast fishing has continued to harm local fishing industries and marine ecosystems across the globe. The Guardian details how the practice—which uses explosives like dynamite to kill a mass number of fish for quick returns—is "thriving" in Sri Lanka while simultaneously wreaking havoc on ocean life and the legal fishing industry. "Everything within a 100-meter [328 foot] radius of the blast is destroyed—coral reefs, marine plants and animals," says Wilson Perera, a fisherman from a small village in northern Sri Lanka. He reported seeing a steep decline in fish available to local fishermen who use traditional methods.

The appeal is financial: A dynamite blast can yield up to 2,200 pounds of fish, whereas fishing from a motorboat may bring in around 100 pounds per trip. But the practice is also wasteful, with over half the bounty killed from a dynamite blast left behind as illegal fishers speedily grab what they can before they get caught, according to Augustine Sosai, a retired academic from the University of Jaffna. "Dead fish wash to the shore even two days after the blast," he tells the Guardian, noting endangered species, dolphins, and turtles are often found dead as well after blasting is employed.

The problem extends well beyond Sri Lanka's waters: Per one study, detectors recorded 850,000 blast fishing instances in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Philippines between 2006 and 2016, and places ranging from Lebanon to Tanzania have recently expressed concern about the practice. In Peru, artisanal fishermen have begun staking out fishing ports at night to chase blast fishers off, Mongabay reports. A local fisherman recounts deterring "these criminals" one night only to discover they simply blasted further ashore. The need for locals to take charge is partly a result of government inaction, says fishing specialist Renato Gozzer, who says "the control measures, either preventive or punitive, are pretty weak" and aren't prioritized, especially among "coastal fisheries."

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In Tanzania, locals are incorporating special-designed concrete and limestone spheres to counter how climate change and blast fishing are destroying reefs and fish habitats. "We want to create a base for the reef to grow back naturally," Steve Atwell of Mwambao Coastal Community Initiative told El Pais. He, along with volunteers like local Mbwana Ishihaka, have submerged over 60 spheres, and plan to add more soon. "We are proud of what we do because the community understands that it is good for everyone, Ishihaka said." (Another thing that's taxing reefs? The demand for vibrant fish tanks).

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