DYNAMITE fishing is taking its toll on the eastern coastline of Tanga. Latest reports from the coast of the Tanga Coelacanth Marine Park, the Maziwe Island Marine Reserve and all along much of the 800 kilometres eastern coastline from Tanga down to Mtwara region in the south, incidents of dynamite fishing have increased significantly over the last decade.
Local residents now count between six to eight blasts a day in many areas along the coast but efforts by people witnessing the blasts in calling the Marine Park Management or Patrol Unit, are proving futile as not much is being achieved amidst reports of lack of political will to fight the vice.
"This issue is politically sensitive as fishermen report that politicians know about the dynamite fishing, going on under their nose, but do nothing to stop this destructive fishing method. There is an urgent need for political will of the highest government officials to stop this destructive fishing method before more damage is done," said Marie Fjordside Lauridsen, a Policy Officer with Tanga Tourism Network Association.
Ms Lauridsen said Tanzania remains one of the few countries in Africa where dynamite fishing still poses a serious threat to marine life and to tourists scuba-diving and snorkeling. Dynamite fishing is extremely harmful. Each blast kills all fish and other living organisms within a 20 metre radius and completely destroys the coral reef habitat.
As only three per cent of killed organisms are harvested, it is also the most wasteful fishing method. According to one report it can, however, be profitable, as at new sites one major blast can lead to a catch of up to 150 to 400 kg of fish (a profit of 400 dollars to 1000 dollars in market sales), which is a lucrative short-term profit, despite the long-term destruction caused. "Such blasts leave few fish behind for other fishermen using legal fishing gear, who lose their livelihoods eventually.
In spite of this, local fishermen are too scared to report the known perpetrators of the vice to authorities and claim that these individuals employed by, or enjoy protection from, certain local government officials and other politically well-connected bigwigs," she argued.
Conservations experts, hotel and tourism business stakeholders are increasingly voicing concern over the growing incidents of illegal fishing prevailing on the north eastern coastline of the country where the government has already announced plans to gazette a bigger part of Tanga city to become a marine protected area.
In fact, Minister for Fisheries and Livestock Development, Dr Mathayo David Mathayo is planning to table the 1994 Marine Park Act for review so that acts of sabotage against breeding ground for fish in major rivers, lakes and along the eastern coastline, are contained. Dr Mathayo said amendment of the act will seek to protect fish's breeding ground against acts of sabotage including dynamite fishing.
"We want to protect this country's future for our children and make sure that maximum legal cushioning is backing these efforts," Dr Mathayo said recently. Tanga's eastern coastline which is notorious for dynamite fishing has had a few cases brought to courts of law although none has been sent to jail so far.
Most cases were closed because files either went missing, which means crucial evidence disappearing or the culprits got minimal fines far below the legally prescribed sanctions. Culprits, who escape jail terms, threaten those who reported them back in the villages and in one example, a patrol officer, trying to do his job properly ended with acid thrown in his face, leaving him blind in one eye and permanently scarred for life.
"This man is still waiting for compensation, or at least a medal for bravery," argued Lauridsen. Dynamite fishing is also extremely dangerous for scuba- divers and just a week ago, two German scuba divers had their hearing damaged and were almost blown out off the water during a blast which causes grave concerns about the security of tourists and the future for tourism while healthy and beautiful coral reefs are reduced to lifeless rubble.
But support against the vice is not only an adult business because even the very young boys and girls' whose future is at risk, are also taking action. One of them is a young school-boy, Ryan Ogg, who recently raised 3m/- from a charity walk he had organized in Dar es Salaam to help with conservation work.
Ryan arranged a sponsored walk against dynamite fishing last October in the city which brought together many adults and his peers to raise money which will help to save the precious coral reefs off the coast of Tanzania. As part of a school project for Dar es Salaam Yacht Club junior members and keen diving enthusiast, Ryan organized the charity walk also to publicise the issue of dynamite fishing along the coast and the destruction that it has caused so far.
As Dr Mathayo moves to table the Marine Park Act amendment bill and the gazetting of Tanga city as part of a marine park in 2009, there is strong support from environmental activists and tourism stakeholders along the coastline. An American environmental expert who visited Tanga recently warned against rampant cases of dynamite fishing at Maziwe island close to Pangani River in Tanga Region, which is destroying coral reefs.
Oregon-based Lewis & Clark College Tropical marine biologist, Dr Kenneth Clifton said during his last visit to the country, he observed that the area had 400 different species of fish and countless species of invertebrates. "As a Tropical marine biologist, who has studied coral reef fishes around the world for more than 30 years, I find Maziwe's reefs to be vibrant and healthy," he wrote in a scholarly article published by the college's website.
Dr Clifton pointed out that given the important role that coral reefs play in promoting biodiversity as well as providing an invaluable resource for humans, the Maziwe reef system is one of the country's greatest national treasures. "I must share some alarm concerning the increased fishing activity and destructive harvesting practices I observed during my most recent visit. Despite Maziwe's protected status as a marine reserve, I noted fishing boats and net use on Maziwe's reefs each of the four days I visited the reef," he wrote.
While Dr Mathayo contemplates to ensure that tough legal protection is provided against the illegal fishing culprits, impunity seems to reign high with widespread corruption blamed for cases coming to conclusion before judgment. According to Tanga-based Fisheries Law Enforcement Unit, a total of 59 cases involving dynamite fishing were filed by police between 2006 and this year but only 30 were brought before courts in Muheza and Tanga city.
Records show that seven dynamite fishing cases were dismissed after their files went missing during the period under review. The judiciary was, also singled out as another stumbling block in the fight against illegal fishing practices as justices impose mild penalties on convicted culprits contrary to the laws.