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Dynamite fishing, also known as blast fishing or bomb fishing, is a method of fishing where explosives are thrown into the water to kill large numbers of fish quickly and cheaply. As the bombs explode, they send out shock waves through the water which stun or kill the fish and rupture their swim bladders, a special organ bony fishes used to control their buoyancy. The affected fish than either float to the surface or sink to the bottom where they can be easily collected.
Dynamite fishing has been identified as one of the leading causes of coral reef degradation as it is extremely damaging to the reefs and the organisms that rely on them.
Although corals may resemble plants, they are actually soft-bodied marine invertebrates that are members of the class Anthozoa and the Phylum Cnidaria, making them closely related to jellyfish and sea anemones. They typically live in colonies made up of many identical individuals know as polyps. These amazing organisms bringing complexity to the environment as they form the structures we recognize as reefs.
As foundation species, corals, form the base of productive and thriving ecosystems when in good health, but bottom-up effects mean that the whole ecosystem suffers when the reefs are damaged. Dynamite fishing is a major conservation concern as the blasts from the bombs fragment the calcium carbonate coral skeletons and reduce the reefs to rubble. This destroys important habitat and nesting sites for many fish and invertebrate species. This can affect the survival and reproductive success of fish in the area leading to localized declines in fish numbers.
Unfortunately, corals are slow growing organisms and take many years to recover from disturbance. In the instance of dynamite fishing, the disturbances are often frequent and significant, thereby reducing the ecosystems’ ability to recover and some areas are never able to return to pre-disturbance levels.
As the productivity of the reefs are reduced due to the damage done by blast fishing, it is often the local fishermen that suffer as fish stocks decline and, in some cases, collapse entirely. Local tourism industries often suffer too, as a result, because the coral scars are unattractive, and the damaged habitat supports fewer fish and other exciting marine life, thereby deterring diving and snorkeling enthusiasts.
Blast Fishing Is Illegal In Most Countries
Because of the harmful impact on local ecosystems and the economy, dynamite fishing is illegal in many countries. However, the lure of easy money, corruption among officials, difficult to patrol coastlines and lack of law enforcement means that it has not been completely eradicated and still continues today. Hot spots for dynamite fishing include Southeast Asia, coastal Africa and locations in the Aegean Sea. Dynamite fishing often occurs in some of the poorest communities as traditional fishing is a much more expensive enterprise, because of the costs of those involved in purchasing equipment.
Homemade bombs, on the other hand, can be produced easily and cheaply using glass bottles filled with easy to obtain explosive chemicals. Unfortunately, these bombs are not very stable and often explode prematurely, resulting in the death or injury of the fishermen that use them or sometimes that of innocent bystanders.
However, blast fishing continues because it yields much higher quantities of fish than traditional fishing methods such as net fishing. Whereas as a net fisherman can catch about six pounds of fish on a good day, blast fishing can yield about 20 pounds on a normal day and up to 45 pounds on a good day. Blast fishing is essentially a short-term win but a long-term loss, but when you have nothing, sometimes the most important thing is just putting food on the table tonight.
Managing Blast Fishing
As blast fishing is much more lucrative than other fishing methods, many fishermen are willing to accept the risks involved and still continue to fish this way despite it being illegal. Therefore, involving local communities in the management of illegal fishing practices and educating the locals of the consequences of destructive fishing methods and the value of coral reefs can often be a far more effective solution to eradicating blast fishing than top-down regulation by central government agencies. By working together, local communities and the authorities are more likely to catch illegal fishermen and protect the environment because of the understanding that a healthy ecosystem benefits everyone.
In addition, poverty is one of the main drivers of illegal fishing practices and therefore it should be the responsibility of governments not only to punish people who take part in illegal fishing practices but also to provide other opportunities for employment, such as eco-tourism, to remove the temptation and the need to resort to unsustainable fishing practices making a living.
MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) are also an effective way to manage destructive fishing practices by designating specific areas where fishing activities are prohibited or restricted. Once again, these are often much more effective when they have the support of local communities which can be achieved by engaging local stake holders and educating local communities as to the benefit of MPAs. MPAs often target areas of high and unique biodiversity as well as protecting important feeding, nesting and mating sites to ensure the preservation of both species and habitat. Having MPAs in an area can mitigate the effects of blast fishing as they protect vulnerable life stages of the fish life cycle and have spill over effects where fish from the protected area leave to populate areas which have been depleted.
Another approach to managing dynamite fishing is to limit or ban the sale of ammonium nitrate, one of the chemicals used to manufacture the homemade bombs. Other countries may also choose to not limit the sale of ammonium nitrate but rather to keep a record of everyone who purchases the chemical to keep track of people who do so regularly and in large quantities.
Blast Fishing And Climate Change
Dynamite fishing is becoming more of a problem as the effects of climate change become more acute. The destruction of coral reefs unbalances the entire ecosystem, making it vulnerable to the changes brought on by climate change, such as rising sea temperatures.
While dynamite fishing is an appealing method of fishing due to the high yield and relatively low cost, it is, unfortunately, a very harmful fishing practice as it results in the death of other marine invertebrates as well as the destruction of surrounding coral reefs or other types of habitat.