Press about dynamite fishing

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"Why Tanzania is losing the war against dynamite fishing menace BY CORRESPONDENT, 6th September 2011

Dynamite fishing, a get rich quick but illegal venture, surfaced in the country's waters over four decades ago. Nobody can say for sure when the illegal activity took off and why, though some people associate it with population growth. What is, however, worrying is the fact that the gravity of the crime notwithstanding, the bandits have, all along, been regarded as heroes in society.

Most people living along fishing villages realize the hazards caused by dynamite fishing. Such people include fish mongers. If such is the case, why then do they seem to cherish the unlawful act? Why do they embrace the perpetrators? "It is not possible to expose the practitioners because, to most villagers, the bigger the catch the cheaper the commodity," according to Mwinyi Omari (80) a resident of Mwarongo village, Tongoni area in Tanga city.

Big catch, particularly those involving small fish and sardines killed through blasting, are normally loaded into carts conveyed by donkeys and sold openly in households through cities' or towns' streets. But what is baffling is the fact that fish killed by dynamites are easily noticed. In fact one does not need to hold a degree in fisheries.

Such fish bear clear big scratches in their bodies. Why then are fisheries officials and their assistants, as well as environmental conservationists, failing to identify the anomalies and deal with the fishmongers as appropriate?

'What does the law say?
Doesn't it require fisheries officers to constantly visit sea shores and markets to ensure products sold to consumers carry the requisite quality for sale?" questioned Antony Andrea, retired government official. But some villages doubt whether the vice will be contained in the foreseeable future. "It is difficult to wipe out the malice because some officials who are supposed to confront the practitioners in the vice, have joined hands in the activity," says a villager residing at Chongoleani, a fishing village on the Tanga -Mombasa road.

The villager's view is echoed by a government official working in the education sector in Tongoni Ward. "How do you expect officials engaged in the fisheries department, not only here, but also in other places, to harass the perpetrators of the vice when their incomes hardly satisfy their domestic needs? he queried. "There is already a network linking the bandits and some of patrol officials. The latter normally tip off the blasting team when patrol days are due so that they refrain from going ashore on such "dangerous" days.'

Some people believe that the officials colluding with the bandits may be doing so on noticing that courts of law have not been meting deterrent sentences to suspects taken to court for dynamite fishing.
"The law says a person convicted for illegal fishing faces an instant penalty of 500,000/-, but in most cases the bandits have escaped with light sentences. How do you expect such people to abandon the vice when the punishments have no impact to them?" asked a retied fisheries officer who decided to remain anonymous.

With the government's resolve to eradicate poverty, through its various developmental strategies, much remain to be desired, as far as eradication of the vice is concerned. But some people are of the view that in order for the practitioners to abandon the crime, the government should devise ways to help them through formation of small scale ventures. "Those engaged in illegal fishing need to be assisted through establishment of small scale development projects so that they may abandon what they are presently doing" according to Amir Mshihiri, a city resident.

"Population growth is threateningly high. If the present trend of dynamite fishing is left to flourish, in a few years, fish stock will have drastically been depleted, "says Mshihiri. He adds: "Perhaps the best way is to ensure that the young generation is made aware of the repercussions of illegal fishing through inclusion of the topic in school syllabuses."

Dynamite fishing is a serious activity in that it threatens the economy and the livelihood of small scale fishermen who earn their income through fishing. An 85 year's old resident of Tongoni, another fishing village on the Tanga -Pangani road, speaks bad of those engaging in illegal fishing, warning that deliberate efforts and not words, were needed to wipe out the deadly vice. "Many people are not aware that the acts of those engaging in illegal fishing now will have disastrous effects on future generations, he asserted, saying most of them were driven by the motive for quick money.

Another resident of the same village, Kombo Ali, says normally bandits carry their activities in deep sea. Kombo says when a single blast is released, over 60 per cent of various fish species die with most of them drowning - hence only 40 per cent is harvested. "The killed fish remain deep in the sea for sometime and later come afloat when they are already rotten".

Observers say, in some places notorious for dynamite fishing along the coastal line, at least ten blasts are blown out a day. When blasts are made, coral reefs, breeding habitation for fish, are extensively damaged, leaving fish desperate and homeless. Corals, extremely fragile creatures, are organisms which, when they die, form coral reefs. The creatures are most vulnerable, ostensibly caused by excess atmospheric carbon dioxide - itself responsible for temperature rise."