Bombs Away: Fishing with Explosives
A glass bottle, ammonium nitrate, and kerosene. These three simple items can make one of the most destructive methods of fishing: fish bombing, also known as blast fishing or dynamite fishing. Once its components are combined in the bottle, it is dropped into water, ensued by a muffled explosion. The underwater blast stuns any aquatic life within its radius, rupturing the swim bladders of fish, causing them to lose control over their buoyancy and most often resulting in their death. This makes it easy for the fishermen to catch up to 45kg of fish using only a single bomb.
Fish bombing is widely practiced in places such as coastal Africa; the Aegean Sea between the continents of Europe and Asia; and even as close to home as the Philippines and Sabah. A largely outlawed practice, it’s employed by illegal fishers encroaching in protected areas. As most of these fishers are not local, their presence and activities also threaten the resources of the local communities. As fish bombing is also an indication of other illegal activities, it poses potential harm to the inhabitants of affected areas. Due to the unstable nature of the homemade bombs, there have been instances of premature explosions which have been known to harm or even kill people.
This harmful form of fishing has disastrous consequences on the marine environment as well as the local islanders. Besides its main purpose of stunning and killing fish, it is incredibly indiscriminate, impacting any other creatures unlucky enough to be within the vicinity. Some of the most vulnerable organisms are the sensitive coral reefs, which, if caught in a blast, could be damaged beyond the point of recovery. Repeated explosions of course contribute to the continuous degradation of the entire ecosystem, which ruin their beauty and in turn affects tourism in the area. If you’d like to know more on the consequences of coral reef destruction, feel free to have a read of Coral Deforestation through Overfishing.
However, there is some good news. Conservation and environmental groups have been quick to organize programmes aimed at tackling this problem. In our very own Sabah, non-governmental groups such as WWF Malaysia and Reef Guardian currently manage active monitoring of reefs with the involvement of local communities and law enforcement authorities. Through their positive efforts consisting of education, vigilance, and teamwork, recorded incidents of fish bombing have been successfully reduced from 49 daily occurrences to only 10 between 2014 and 2019 in the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area. But even with this said, studied fish populations in affected areas have yet to show recovery.
Fish bombing is just one example of the unnecessarily harmful ways that are used to fuel the fishing industry. While it’s still an ongoing issue, the positive attention and collaboration between groups who care have yielded some very encouraging results. However, only these continued efforts, together with time, can truly tell if we are capable of saving our beloved coasts.