Tanzania is the only country in Africa where dynamite fishing still occurs on a large scale. This illegal practice is extremely destructive to the surrounding ecosystem, as the explosion often destroys the coral reef and local habitat that supports the fish.
Hyasint Wariro, Senior Marine Technician in the Fisheries Division, has been in the forefront of the battle to safeguard safeguard fisheries and coral reefs for future generations. Illegal fisheries includes using nets with small mesh size, using chemicals for killing fish and illegal gear such as spear guns and in particular, dynamite.
“I was in-charge of Law Enforcement against illegal fisheries in Tanga,”, notes Wariro in an interview given to Anne Outwater of the Tanzania Sunday News . “The biggest problem in Tanga is dynamite. There can be up to 60-100 blasts per day”.
Destruction of coral reefs but also fisheries
“Dynamite fishermen prefer to go to the reefs where there are many fish and corals. When the fishermen go out with their boats, one of them will don SCUBA gear and go underneath the water looking for schools of fish, ” explains Wariro. “Then he will come back to the boat, prepare, light, and throw the dynamite right into the school of fish. He will wait for 5-6 minutes, go down and collect what is there. But the estimated amount that he can collect is only about 20%. The rest gets washed away. The worst thing is that the dynamite breaks all the corals. The area becomes an empty hole.”
Wariro shows the joint of his finger and says “It could take a coral 50 years to grow to this size – and then it is destroyed in a moment.”
Damaged coral reefs from blast fishing lead to instant declines in fish species diversity and quantity. The long-term impact associated with blast fishing is that there is no natural recovery of the reefs.
One reason for the prevalence of blast fishing is that explosives are cheap and easily accessible to fishers. Dynamite is usually sourced from mining, demolition, and road construction enterprises.
Dynamite enters Tanzania legally, usually in big shipments for legitimate uses. But there is no strict regulation of dynamite and it is illegally sold.
“The fishermen are just poor people,” Wariro says. “Sometimes they cannot even pay for the dynamite – they get the dynamite and then give a portion of the fish afterwards to the person who provided it. The only people really getting rich are the people selling dynamite.”
Lack of law enforcement
Wariro explains “Tanzania has good laws, Acts and regulations. These regulations say that a person caught dynamite fishing should go to jail for five years. Although anybody can possess dynamite they are not supposed to have it within water areas or around the water. “
As a Fisheries official Wariro went door to door, gave workshops and organised community meetings to educate people. After that he visited the fishermen again and gave them a warning.
“I told them if, after two weeks, they continued to use dynamite for fishing they would be arrested. “, says Wariro. “I arrested for prosecution more than 200 people for dynamite fishing, to the point that they went to court. Their fishing gear, their boat, themselves were impounded.”
Worldwide Wildlife Fund reports that during those years at least 48 cases of dynamite fishing were opened in the Tanga courts. Of these, only 4 cases resulted in jail sentences, despite the fact that this is the minimum penalty under the Fisheries Act of 2003.
More than half the cases were dismissed from court due to non‐presentation of prosecution files. In a third of cases defendants were convicted but released with effectively no sentence; either a suspended sentence or a very minor fine of less than TZS 50,000 (ca. 30 US$). Corruption is likely to be behind all these cases.
“The people who are breaking the law become angry at Fisheries officials who confiscate their boats, their gear, and themselves. These people are not in jail, they are walking around’, says Wariro.
“If you send him to jail – it will take three years to complete the case and it will be dismissed, or the sentence will be very light: TZS. 10,000-20,000 (ca 6-12 US$).”
He continues, “Usually I am wearing a helmet while driving my motorcycle. But that day in April 2011 I was riding a bicycle and that is when they came with acid. They were looking for me for six months. The one day I was not wearing a helmet…..”
Wariro lost an eye. His ear is damaged. The skin of his face is rougher, his mouth is slightly tougher. He has kelated scars on his chest. He suffered four operations at Muhimbili National Hospital. “I didn’t expect such a thing to happen.”
He knows who threw the acid on his face: a dynamite seller, and a dynamite fisher.” They are still walking around Tanga town. And the dynamite fishing continues.”
To put an end to dynamite fishing in Tanzania, top level political will within the country and a collective zero-tolerance policy at all levels is needed.
“If we are serious, we must educate the village leaders, the leaders of the wards, districts, and regions.” States Wariro. “And the courts have to uphold the law”.
The Tanzanian road agency TANROADS and the cement and construction companies using explosives are indirectly responsible for this situation. Also the World Bank, which from 2006-2012 provided over 60 million US$ for a Marine and Coastal Environmental Management Program (MACEMP) that did not address the dynamite fishing problem, though this is rampant all along the Tanzanian coast.
Corruption and political laxity are ruining the biodiversity and productivity of the fisheries sector, leading to growing poverty of coastal fishing communities and damaging marine ecotourism.