Tanzania is the only African country that practices dynamite fishing (also called Blast fishing). Blast fishing is a technique that uses materials such as kerosene and fertiliser to create explosive devices to increase a fish catch. Explosive materials are sourced from local mining industries and can be easily purchased in many coastal towns for such as Dar Es Salaam, Lindi, Mtwara and Tanga. The practice began in the early 1960s and was made illegal under The National Security Act in 1970 however it is an activity that continues to deplete fish and coral stocks in an aggressive manner. There are several culminating factors as to why the illegal activity perseveres. The availability of cheap and accessible materials, a extensive network of wealthy business investors that create and control the fish markets, high unemployment levels, ineffective law enforcement at the local level and a lack of political will throughout all government departments from the previous administration are driving forces in the propagation of blast fishing.
The fisheries industry in Tanzania directly employs some 400,000 people and indirectly employs 4 million people in Tanzania. The industry supports fish processing, fish selling, domestic and international fish markets and boat reparation and maintenance. Forty years of the dynamite fishing has had a devastating effect on the coral reefs and diverse eco-system that fringe the 1424 km Tanzanian Coastline. A typical bottle sized explosive will kill all marine life within a 10-30 m radius, including fish, fish eggs, coral seeds depending depth of the blast and other environmental conditions. The blasts create shock waves that stun the fish, often rupturing their internal organs. The damage to hard corals is the most detrimental with rejuvenation and recovery of anything from 10-100 years depending on the size of the coral head.
Sea Sense NGO
There are several factors that contribute towards the maintaining the practice. Socially, its roots are deeply linked to poverty, lack of awareness with resource users, lack of education and movement from rural to urban areas. There are also environmental issues that contribute the degradation of these eco-systems that include pollution from urban towns, natural weather conditions that contribute towards coral bleaching and reef degradation. There is another socio-political aspect to the practice of blast fishing. Fishermen who use traditional methods of fishing now claim that their livelihoods are threatened due to decreased fish populations. Coral reefs provide food, income & leisure for coastal communities in Tanzania. The provision of food and profits generated from sourcing food has been the focus of fishing communities. The leisure sector and its reliance on the immediate environment has been somewhat overlooked.
The fishermen in Masani Beach, Dar Es Salaam are visible. They are visible because they use dhows, traditional boats usually with one or two lanteen sails. They also work in teams, laying out seine nets to catch fish and hauling large nets of catch into their dhows. The fishermen on the dhows, shout and direct the divers in the water that lay their seine nets out. They use large traditional stick poles to push and pull the dhows in the direction they want to go.
Women of the Sea
There is however a more elusive group of people that can only be seen if you look hard. When the tide is out in Masani Beach, you can see a scattering of women walking slowly through the greasy mud that is the exposed seabed. Women play an interesting role in the fishing industries that can sometimes be overlooked and unreported. Women in the Tanzanian fisheries play an important role in the post catch processes of fishing. Their roles as women define where they are situated in the fishing industry. They process the fish and prepare it for selling for domestic and international markets.They are beach combers. They only work when the tide is fully out and the comb the ocean floor looking for what the call as COMA. Working in groups of 3-15 they search the shores in .5 metre water depth looking for shells and other crustaceans. Their aim is to find 1kg of COMA which will earn them 20,000 schillings which is approximately 10 euro. The women I spoke with only went fishing once a week. The women scan the exposed seabed spotting coma through a lush green seaweed. They wear gloves and open the shell with a knife to get the fish out. They throw the shell back into the seabed and continue searching. They continue this process until the tide creeps in and makes the work too difficult.
Diving in Dar Es Salaam
Divers travel all over the world to seek out underwater adventure. Most will travel for days on end to reach remote destinations that promise pristine reefs, whale sharks, giant manta rays, turtles, dolphin, bait balls and sharks. I too, am a diver and have spent 2 years working as a Dive Master in the Bay Islands, Honduras whilst working on a whale shark conservation project in Utila, Honduras. I wanted to see the effects of blast fishing on the corals and marine life underwater in Masasani Bay, Dar es Salaam and so I arranged to go on a dive with Sea Breeze Marine Ltd and met with Hannes Poitgeirs and Gavin Manning. Hannes has lived in Tanzania for over 20 years and operates his dive shop from the Masasani Slipway in the Bay..
Kivukoni Fish Market
At 9 am we have already arrived late to the bustling Fish Market and the crowds have dissipated a little. I chat with one of the port security guards and he informs me that the market is at its busiest at 6 am. It is one of the largest fish markets in Tanzania…
There are however, glimmers of hope emerging as the recently elected president John Magufuli nicknamed “the bulldozer” for his no- nonsense approach towards high government spending, inefficiency and corruption, veers his attention towards a clamp down on all illegal trades and crimes on wildlife in Tanzania such as elephant poaching and trafficking, rhino poaching and trafficking. The elephant population alone decreased from 110,000 in 2009 to 43,000 in 2014 due to poaching and trafficking. Armed criminal networks traffic ivory to Asian markets for ornamental and medicinal purposes. Other illicit trades include drug cartels and illegal dynamite fishing. The president stated yesterday that “no one should be untouchable” and “arrest all of those involved..spare no one”. Having stood as Minister for Livestock and Fisheries from 2008 to2010, perhaps Magufuli experience and understanding of the Tanzanian fisheries industry and the need to replenish fish stocks will be brought to the forefront of a political agenda for change and reform in relation to blast fishing.