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Tanzania: Deadly Dynamite Fishing Resurfaces

Provided by Sue Wells (Independent)

Tanzania, on the central eastern coast of Africa, is home to an extensive network of coral reefs whose biodiversity and beauty support major artisanal fishing and tourism industries. Unfortunately, Tanzania is also the only country in Africa where dynamite (blast) fishing still occurs on a large scale. Besides killing and injuring fish, these blasts leave behind rubble and broken corals on the sea floor, destroying habitat for all reef species.

This devastating form of fishing first appeared in Tanzania in the 1960s, and by the mid-1990s had become a serious problem. A high-profile national campaign involving hotel operators and the media brought international pressure and donor attention to the issue, and the navy was enlisted to assist with enforcement. This campaign, along with close community and peer group control, succeeded in almost completely eradicating dynamite fishing between 1997 and 2003.

However, since 2003, dynamite fishing has returned with increasing vengeance. One reason for the increase in blast fishing is that explosives are cheap and easily accessible to fishers. Bombs are usually sourced from mining, demolition, and road construction enterprises or made at home from fertilizers and diesel. One blast can lead to a catch of up to 400 kg of fish and a profit of US$1,800 in market sales, a lucrative short-term profit despite the long-term destruction left behind.1

Dynamite fishing has increased despite national laws that prohibit it. Adequate anti-dynamiting legislation and prosecution procedures exist on paper. Furthermore, international donors and NGOs have invested substantial funds in marine and coastal resources management projects in Tanzania. However, the government has failed to fully prosecute the dynamiters, and the penalties imposed in the handful of recent convictions were all far below the legal minimum sentence. (Under the 2003 Fisheries Act of Tanzania minimum sentences are 5 years for dynamite fishing and 12 months for possession of explosives). This message of leniency against dynamiters has led to widespread cynicism and hesitation among villagers to turn in violators.2

To put an end to blast fishing, top level political will within the country and a collective zero-tolerance policy at all levels is needed. Importantly, donors and NGOs that support conservation work in Tanzania need to apply greater pressure for change, along with the international community as a whole.

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  1. Wells, S. Dynamite Fishing in Northern Tanzania–Pervasive, Problematic and yet Preventable. Marine Pollution Bulletin 58, 20-23 (2009). 

  2. Johansson, L. Start-up Organisation for Fishers Along the Coast of Kilwa, Lindi and Mtwara Districts in Southern Tanzania. (1998). http://srdis.ciesin.columbia.edu/cases/tanzania-011.html

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