THINK OF THESE: Thunder under the sea

Since there is a law, I thought dynamite fishing would be a thing of the past.  But I was wrong.

While reading the website, I came across a news report in Iloilo City that two fishermen were “sued for violation of Section 92 of Republic Act 10654 after they were caught using improvised explosives in gathering fish.”

Among those that were seized from there were “shafting, propeller, ruder, improvised air compressor, compressor tank, two rolls of air compressor hose, three scope nets, improvised clippers, and other paraphernalia,” the report said.

Like other outlawed fishing methods, dyna mite fishing is indeed still rampant.  The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), a line agency of the Department of Agriculture, said that on a single day an average of 10,000 blasts occur in various parts of the country.

Perhaps it may come as a surprise that dynamite fishing in the Philippines is well documented.  In fact, it was mentioned in the book, “Storm of Steel,” the memoir of German officer Ernst Jünger’s experiences on the Western Front during the First World War.

According to Gregg Yan, communication officer of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WW), dynamite fishing – also known as blast fishing – became rampant in the Philippines after the Second World War.

“American soldiers would sometimes lob grenades into shoals of fish, providing local fishing communities with a lucrative new means of instantly increasing their catches,” Yan wrote.

Unfortunately, dynamite fishing is an incredibly destructive practice.  “These days, blast fishermen use powdered ammonium nitrate (usually from fertilizer), kerosene and small pebbles, which are packed inside a glass bottle and covered with a blasting cap,” Yan wrote.  “New designs integrate long metal rods which absorb sound and act as sinkers.”

The impact underwater is devastating.  “A single blast’s shockwave typically travels at about 1500 meters per second (the length of 15 football fields), killing or maiming every fish in range and often liquefying their internal organs,” Yan wrote.  “The fish are then collected either by divers using hookah air compressors where an on board engine pumps air through a garden hose, or using nets.”

Researchers believe that destructive fishing practices like blast fishing are one of the biggest threats to the coral reef ecosystems. “Coral reefs that may have taken thousands of years to grow are reduced to rubble in a matter of seconds, obscured by wafting clouds of silt,” Yan wrote.

An estimated 10-15 per cent of the total fisheries come from coral reefs. About 80-90 per cent of the income of small island communities comes from fisheries. “Coral reef fish yields range from 20 to 25 metric tons per square kilometer per year for healthy reefs,” says Dr. Angel C. Alcala, former environment secretary.

“Dynamite fishing has contributed to massive destruction of Southeast Asian coral reefs over the past 20 years,” deplored the Endangered Special International. “Large blasted areas are very slow to recover because corals have difficulty establishing on loose or sandy substrate.”

That’s not all.  “The damaged coral reefs from blast fishing lead to instant declines in fish species wealth and quantity,” Wikipedia reports.  “Explosives used in blast fishing not only kill fish but also destroy coral skeletons, creating unbalanced coral rubble. The elimination of the fish also eliminates the resilience of the coral reefs to climate change, further hindering their recovery.”

Several studies have shown that single blasts cause reefs to recover over 5-10 years, while widespread blasting, as often practiced, “transforms these biodiverse ecosystems into continuous unstable rubble.”

But what is even more appalling is the loss of human lives.  “Dynamite fishing is prohibited in the Philippines, but many Filipino fishers still use homemade bombs,” Yan wrote. “Some fishermen lose limbs and sometimes even the sight in one or both eyes due to bombs exploding prematurely.”

But despite all these, fishermen are still doing it and the government seems to have had little success in stemming the practice.  The reason is that some fishermen use some tricks so they cannot be caught by authorities.  Among these are the following:

  • Blasting artificial reefs (ARs) which have become effective fish aggregating devices.  In most instances, ARs – which are designed to increase fish population in degraded coastal area – are blasted beyond repair;
  • Piggybacking on the operation of commercial fishermen.  By tailing the big boys of the industry who use sophisticated equipment, the explosive experts are able to track down schools of fish which they blast away before the other side could even cast their cumbersome net; and
  • Employing local residents to gather the blasted fish.  In areas protected by some authorities, the blast fishers explode and run, leaving the task of collecting the dead fish to trusted local contacts.  This arrangement enables them to minimize brushes with law enforcers.

“Dynamite fishing is an inhumane way of fishing,” someone wrote.  “It is an effective way for fishermen get a lot of fish fast and simple.  By having the abundance of fish to sell, the fishermen slowly get out of the poverty cycle.  Most local Filipino fishermen do not realize that by destroying the coral reefs, they destroy the homes of the fish, resulting in less area to fish.”