Dynamite Fishing: Two Major Causes that Drive Marginal Fishers’ Destructive Behavior

This article explains why some fishers resort to dynamite fishing. It expounds on two major causes why this practice has persisted even with strict enforcement. Further, the author describes dynamite fishing effects on fishers and the marine environment.

Dynamite fishing in many parts of the world, particularly in the tropical areas where the coral reefs are located, was rampant during the 1970s. This practice among fishers is one of the significant reasons why coral reef productivity declined in many places. The once abundant coral reef fishes were depleted in their natural habitats due to the destructive effects of dynamites that destroy coral reef ecosystems to such magnitude that prevent their recovery.

The Importance of Coral Reefs

Corals grow in coastal and marine habitats that serve as hard foundations for marine life to settle and grow. They are fertile habitats for a diverse community of organisms, including arthropods, soft and hard corals, a diverse variety of coral fish species, marine mammals, reptiles, and other critical ecosystem components arranged in a complex food web.

The coral reefs serve as the base upon which other animals depend for survival. Once they are destroyed, their ability to jumpstart a chain of trophic interactions is diminished.

The use of dynamite in fishing is so devastating that fish productivity declines have been observed in areas where corals grow and thrive (Naman and Akter, 2020). The inability of governments to address the root cause of this problem can have long-term consequences that will threaten the food security of people who largely depend on the richness of the coastal zone.

Two Major Causes of Dynamite Fishing

The use of dynamites in fishing arose not from the mere desire of fishers to do something that violates rules and regulations enacted by the government to protect marine life. It could be viewed as a behavioral response to two significant problems that fishers encounter, namely

  1. the intrusion of commercial fishers into municipal waters, and
  2. the lack of capacity to purchase the appropriate fishing gear due to poverty. These two factors are discussed in more detail in the next section.

Commercial Fishing Intrusion to Municipal Fishery Areas

Dynamite fishing may be viewed as something that arose due to economic necessity. Marginal fishers who practice this unsustainable method of fishing appear to be victims of unfair competition imposed by the large, commercial fishers.

Based on personal fisher accounts and published reports, commercial fishing vessels use fine mesh nets, venture into the shallower coastal zones, and catch fishes that take refuge in the fragile, fringing coral reefs of small islands and shallow seamounts. As a result, marginal fishers have to contend with whatever remnants are left in the wake of large commercial fishing boats.

The marginal fishers do not have the means to keep at par with the efficiency of the fishing gears of large fishing boats. The enforcement agencies’ inability to regulate this illegal practice for lack of personnel and funds to patrol the vast expanse of a municipality’s jurisdiction worsen the small fishers’ ability to meet their daily food and economic needs.

Fishers Inability to Secure the Appropriate Fishing Gear

Coastal villagers are highly dependent on the productivity of the coral reefs just next to their beachside cottages. Many of them could not afford even the luxury of engine-powered pump boats but would rely on the force of the wind to set their sailboats to the farther reaches of the sea.

Whenever the large, commercial fishing fleets come, the fishers were at the mercy of these big boats’ highly efficient nets. They were witnesses to the rape of their livelihood, with some large vessels giving them bycatch of less valuable fish species, adding more insult to injury.

In response, some marginal fishers thought of responding to the inequitable distribution of natural wealth by using dynamites to keep up with the competition. Dynamites would cost them a lot less than the big fish nets requiring a significant amount of money to buy. They could easily scoop their catch (rather victims) where most are left uncollected to rot or get scavenged by other fishes.

The following video shows the use of dynamites in fishing in Tanzania. Marginal fishers resort to this unsustainable fishing method partly because of their inability to buy the necessary fishing gear. However, educating the community on the harmful effects of dynamite to the coral reefs that serve as habitat to marine life can help wean them away from this practice that also harms their livelihood.

National Geographic documentation of blast fishing in Tanzania.

Dynamite Fishing Effects to Fishers

However, some of these dynamite fishers themselves are victims of their folly. Many of them die whenever they miscalculate their act; some carry the scars all their life. In some cases, they inflict scars but blasted fingers or the whole arm, which reminds them of their destructive pursuits. Some die in the process when they do their activities carelessly.

dynamite fishing effects
Fig. 1. The blasted fingers of a fisher who used dynamite in fishing.

My brother witnessed a fisher who demonstrated the destructive fishing method. His folly blasted the left side of his body when he unwittingly mistook the igniter as the dynamite. Thus, the dynamite exploded in his hand, including the left side of his body. Woe is he, as even with the appeal to bring him to the hospital, he is nowhere a candidate for surgical repair. He has to be buried on a lone island without the proper ceremony to rest his soul.

Since many of the governments in these places banned dynamite fishing due to its highly destructive nature, many fishers took other jobs. The fisher in Figure 1 is now a tourist guide, narrating his experience in dynamite fishing and showing the evidence of his once dangerous occupation.

Life is precious. Dynamite fishing is not something that marginal fishers can use to justify their actions in the desire to level the field of fishing. Stricter fishery law enforcement is the way to go with their vigilant support.

© P. A. Regoniel 24 May 2021