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Blast Fishing Causes Marine Habitat Destruction In Tanzania

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A team of dolphins and whales researchers in Tanzania unintentionally discovered the rampant blast fishing practices in the African country. Blast fishing, also called dynamite fishing, uses explosives to kill large numbers of fish, making way for easier collection.

The destructive practice is usually illegal in many countries. Blast fishing kills large numbers of fish as well their natural habitat. The practice destroys the coral reefs along with other sea animals that live in them.

The research team listened to underwater recordings documented in March 2015 and heard around 10 blasts happening every day. In a meeting with the World Wildlife Fund, a member said he often hears as many as 50 blasts a day in his Dar es Salaam home. Dar es Salaam is a commercial port located on the country's Indian Ocean coast.

Blast Fishing In Tanzania

Dynamite fishing was introduced in the country in the 1960s. The practice was made illegal in the 1970s but still persisted. Apart from easier collection and bigger payload, mining in Tanzania also increased, which made dynamites easily available.

Blast fishing also affects tourism, which covers 17 percent of Tanzania's gross domestic product. Explosions kill the coral reefs and makes the underwater scene unsightly.

Efforts To Blast Dynamite Fishing

In June 2015, the Tanzanian government created the Multi-Agency Task Team to handle the increasing crimes that have taken its toll on the country's underwater wildlife.

"The focus will be to target the individuals and networks that control this illegal trade, bring them to justice, and seize any assets obtained through their crimes," said Magese Emmanuel Bulayi, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism's principal fisheries officer.

From 1997 to 2003, Tanzania's marine police and navy joined local programs to curb blast fishing. However, there were confusion on which department should enforce the law. The meager resources and light sentences given to blast fishing practitioners didn't help matters either. Tanzania's Fisheries Act of 2003 carries a minimum of five years in jail for blast fishing, however, it seems offenders rarely get the punishment, said marine conservationist Sue Wells.

Nearly two-thirds of Tanzania's coastline conceals coral reefs which are home to crab, fish and other marine species. These underwater homes also help in stabilizing the ocean's carbon dioxide levels. Coral reefs are abundant in shallow waters, which are also the areas prone to blast fishing.

"Some of these corals have been growing for decades," said World Wildlife Fund's marine conservation scientist Gabby Ahmadia. Damaged corals take decades to recover, while some never recover at all.

The research team also noted that some of the blasts killed dolphins, based on anecdotal evidence. The bottlenose dolphin is an endangered species found in Tanzania's waters.

Photo: Rod Waddington | Flickr

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