The Horrors of Fishing With Dynamite

New York Times
4 February 2015

SAN FRANCISCO — Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson was diving off Borneo when she was struck without warning by shock waves.

“I could feel it in my chest — like a dull, booming sound,” she recalled in an interview. After surfacing, her group learned that fishermen had detonated explosives.

The incident, which occurred a year ago, was Ms. Vyvyan-Robinson’s first encounter with blast fishing, a highly destructive technique used in impoverished pockets of the world.

The blasts, often from dynamite, leave craters in coral reefs and kill far more fish than can be harvested, and in many places, the tourism industry serves as a powerful voice against blast fishing, which could scare divers and other visitors away. Some nations have successfully clamped down on the practice, which is generally illegal, but it continues in areas where explosives are available and people are desperate.

The effects of blast fishing can be horrifying. Ms. Vyvyan-Robinson, who wrote about her experiences for, describes finding waters littered with dead or struggling fish. Only a portion of the fish that are killed is retrieved because many sink to the bottom. Their air bladders, which help fish remain buoyant, and other internal organs can rupture.

Blast fishing is not new. It was introduced to many parts of the world by European armies, said Michel Bariche, an expert on Mediterranean marine issues at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

“During the First World War, soldiers used grenades to catch fish for a quick and fresh meal,” he said in an email. In Lebanon, for example, blast fishing spread after French soldiers demonstrated the technique.

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