Blast fishing, or fishing with dynamite, is a real and well-documented activity that is still prevalent in some parts of the world today, even if it sounds more like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. The technique always has a devastating effect on local aquatic ecosystems, which is very bad news for the numerous fish and marine animals that live in lakes and oceans.
The exact beginnings of blast fishing are shrouded in mystery, although it appears to have gained popularity in the decades after the invention of dynamite in 1867. Alfred Nobel, better known now for the Nobel Prizes, was known as the merchant of death during his lifetime. Even if someone has likely used homemade or improvised explosives for fishing before dynamite was invented, the invention of a commercially available, generally safe-to-use, and cheap explosive opened it up to a wider audience.
Although there were probably many earlier references to blast fishing, the earliest one that came to light was an 1894 story in the New York Democratic Herald about a man’s arrest for the crime:
- After damaging fish in one of the lakes at Binnewater with dynamite, John Tickwich was detained at Binnewater. He was bringing hundreds of dead fish onto his boat after just detonating a bunch of cartridges when he was taken into custody.
- The Albany State Game Protectors will hear the case involving the detainee.
- The offense carries a five-year prison sentence.
The prohibition of blast fishing in Hong Kong is another early mention of the practice. The government requested that fishermen cease blast fishing in 1898 and that the fishermen take it upon themselves to enforce the rule. “The practice of fishing using dynamite is unnecessarily destructive and contrary to the spirit of true sport,” the governor told fishermen in a statement.
Little appears to have changed in response to this plea, so in 1903 the Hong Kong authorities took matters into their own hands and officially outlawed blast fishing.
Wars 1 and 2 caused blast fishing’s popularity to skyrocket over the globe, even though national governments seemed to realize it was a horrible idea from the get-go. Locals noticed and mimicked the practice of using explosives in fishing that soldiers from both sides of the war made considerable use of while stationed abroad. It is said that Japanese soldiers stationed in the Pacific during WWII distributed hand grenades to locals so that they might use them as fishing lures. In exchange, the natives had to give the soldiers a cut of any fish they caught.
Many islanders in the Pacific have extraordinary skills in handling explosives because of this. With this information in hand, they were able to create their improvised fishing bombs from the many abandoned explosives. Palau is a small island nation where, up until the 1960s, people still dug up vast stockpiles of undetonated WWII explosives from homes. The idea was that the compounds inside or the explosives themselves could be used for fishing in the future.
Used munitions from World War II became scarce, so islanders resorted to commercially available explosives or, in the case of small-scale fishermen, made their own out of materials they could find. As an example, according to Abdul Karim Laing, a former blast fisherman, all it takes to construct a highly successful fishing explosion is a small amount of fertilizer, gasoline, matchsticks, and a beer bottle.
However, as you might expect, these homemade explosives can be rather dangerous, and fishing in this manner often results in terrible effects for both marine animals and, on rare occasions, the humans engaged in the activity.
For example, Mwanya Sleiman, a Tanzanian blast fisherman turned outspoken critic of the practice, lost both hands in an explosion that occurred when he was attempting to light a homemade explosive. His motive was just the money I obtained from selling the fish; he had no idea of the impact it would have on himself or the underwater environment. That was his fishing method.
In Tanzania, for example, blast fishing is illegal because of the damage it does to the country’s tourist economy and the precipitous fall in fish populations that follows.
The Laws Around The World On Dynamite Fishing
Dynamite fishing is illegal under Republic Act No. 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. The law prohibits destructive fishing methods, including the use of explosives, due to their detrimental impact on marine ecosystems.
Tanzania has outlawed blast fishing due to its severe consequences on marine life and the country’s tourism industry. The practice is illegal under the country’s fisheries regulations.
In Indonesia, dynamite fishing, known as “blast fishing,” is banned under Law No. 31 of 2004 concerning Fisheries. The law prohibits destructive fishing methods, imposing penalties on those caught engaging in blast fishing.
Blast fishing is strictly prohibited in Thailand under the Fisheries Act of 1947. The law condemns the use of explosives in fishing due to its devastating effects on marine biodiversity.
Malaysia has stringent laws against blast fishing. The Fisheries Act 1985 explicitly prohibits the use of explosives or poisons to catch fish, imposing severe penalties on offenders.
Vietnam’s Law on Fisheries strictly prohibits blast fishing or any method that harms marine resources. Engaging in dynamite fishing is illegal and subject to legal repercussions.
In Kenya, dynamite fishing is illegal under the Fisheries Act of 1989. The law prohibits destructive fishing methods, including the use of explosives, to protect marine ecosystems.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea has laws against blast fishing, considering it an illegal and harmful practice. The Fisheries Management Act criminalizes the use of explosives for fishing.
Greece strictly prohibits dynamite fishing under its Fisheries Act. The use of explosives in fishing is illegal and punishable by law due to its destructive impact on marine life.
Brazil’s Environmental Crimes Law (Law No. 9605/98) prohibits blast fishing as a criminal offense. The law imposes penalties on individuals involved in using explosives for fishing purposes, aiming to preserve marine biodiversity.
- Dynamite fishing’s roots trace back to the early 20th century in Malaysia, where it was initially used for fishing purposes but later recognized for its destructive impact on marine life.
- During World War II, various military forces actively trained locals in blast fishing to sustain themselves. This practice inadvertently spread the technique across different regions.
- Dynamite fishing doesn’t just kill fish; it devastates coral reefs. The shockwave from the explosion can destroy fragile coral structures, impacting the entire ecosystem.
- The use of explosives doesn’t discriminate. Endangered species, often non-targeted, suffer significant casualties due to blast fishing, further endangering their populations.
- In some regions, poverty and lack of alternative livelihoods drive individuals toward blast fishing despite being aware of its destructive nature. It becomes a desperate means of survival.
- Even after a blast fishing incident, the damage extends far beyond the immediate explosion. The ecosystem may take years or decades to recover fully, if at all.
- Blast fishing often occurs in critical fish breeding areas, destroying spawning grounds and disrupting the natural cycle of fish reproduction.
- The indiscriminate nature of dynamite fishing doesn’t allow for selective harvesting. This leads to a significant imbalance in fish population dynamics, affecting various species.
- Apart from the physical damage caused by explosions, chemicals from explosives can leach into the water, causing pollution that further harms marine life and ecosystems.
- Engaging in blast fishing poses severe risks to the health of fishermen. Handling explosives, often homemade, without proper training or safety measures, can result in injuries or fatalities.
The underwater saga of dynamite fishing may sound like a fishy tale straight out of an action movie, but truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. From historical roots to unintended military legacies, dynamite’s stint as a fish-catching tool rocked coral reefs, endangered species, and even unsuspecting fishermen’s lives. Its shockwaves echoed through time, leaving scars on ecosystems and fish populations, a reminder of the havoc reckless practices can wreak.