Blast fishing

Blast fishing is highly destructive and illegal. Dynamite or other types of explosives are used to send shock-waves through the water, stunning or killing fish which are then collected and sold. The blasts destroy the habitat, killing marine creatures indiscriminately, reducing future catches, affecting food security and the livelihoods of fishing communities.

Blast fishing usually occurs over coral reefs, shattering the coral and destroying these biodiversity hotspots for decades to come – it is thought that it may take more than a century before reefs return to normal. It’s also dangerous; devices sometimes explode prematurely, causing serious injuries and deaths.

Blast fishing occurs in over 40 countries worldwide. In Africa it has been particularly problematic in Tanzania, destroying Tanzania’s coral reefs and all the benefits they provide, and threatening the country’s international tourism industry as destroyed reefs and the danger of explosions drive tourists away.

However, the problem is far more complex than it appears on the surface. A Multi-Agency Task Team (MATT), formed in 2015 to tackle blast fishing and other environmental crimes uncovered a complex criminal network of organised crime syndicates involved, not just in blast fishing, but in illegal drug trafficking, prostitution and human trafficking, gun running, and wildlife and timber smuggling, often linked to businesses and high-profile individuals.

The MATT has addressed many of the factors that contributed to the prevalence of blast fishing in Tanzania:

  • the low cost and easy accessibility of explosives from the mining and construction industries,
  • the relatively easy methods of making home-made explosives from common ingredients,
  • the income potential; each blast may catch as much as 400 kg of fish, worth up to US$ 1 800.
  • poverty and unemployment, and a lack of alternative income opportunities,
  • an outdated and inadequate legal framework with ineffective penalties,
  • the low rate of enforcement and prosecutions, aggravated by corruption, bribery and intimidation of both officials and fishers.

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One in four fish in Africa is caught illegally, this threatens the sustainability of fish stocks, damages the ecosystem and deprives governments of income and people of livelihoods.

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