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April 2001 Vol. 27, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Blast fishing: Slim pickings, yet major damage

from the April, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

A week-long, international gathering of coral reef experts in Bali in October drew 1,500 scientists from 54 countries to discuss the condition of coral reefs, 25 percent of which have already been destroyed. The Environmental News Network reported that as the conference went on, blast fishermen across Indonesia set out every day in small boats with homemade bombs, fashioned from beer bottles and filled with fertilizer, kerosene and a simple fuse. They continued their regular practice of bombing shallow water above coral reefs and scooping up the fish that floated to the surface. Each bomb left a car-sized patch of flattened coral rubble, often in world-class dive sites. They knew that many environmental watchdogs who help rangers track down the bombers, would be away at the coral reef symposium.

In Indonesia, where blast fishing has degraded 75 percent of the reefs, laws are most often enforced when outside organizations help rangers and police. In Sulawesi, dive operators collect a voluntary $5/diver to fund reef patrols. Says marine biologist Mark Erdmann, who works as an adviser to the national park and with the North Sulawesi Watersports Association, “We pay approximately $200 to $300 for a two-day patrol and have gotten two big busts for bomb fishing. The local community actually supports it.”

Wondering how destructive illegal blast fishing actually is, two years ago scientists monitored two bomb fishermen in North Sulawesi. They collected all fish killed by two blasts, each from a kerosene-fertilizer bomb in a glass soda bottle. The fishermen threw one bomb into a school of fusiliers they could see 25 feet down. They threw the other at random over a reef slope nearly 100 feet deep.

The targeted blast killed 165 lbs. of fish (2,153 individuals), of which 154 lbs. were tiny fusiliers. The remaining 11 lbs. included parrotfish, bream, triggerfish, and squirrelfish. Less than 3 lbs. of the fish floated. While the two fishermen only made a profit of US $8.35, it was more than five times the average worker’s daily salary in Indonesia.

The random blast yielded 24 lbs. of fish (971 individuals). Less than 20 percent was marketable, so the fishermen lost about $4 after subtracting the cost of the bomb. Most of the fish were damsels (776 individuals weighing 13 lbs.) — and fusiliers (43 weighing 4.6 lbs.). Fifty or fewer wrasse, squirrelfish, triggerfish, butterflyfish, Moorish idols, bigeyes, and groupers were also killed. Most of the fish killed sank. Blast fishermen, who mainly free dive, can only collect a few.

For more information contact Helen E. Fox, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, Fax: 510-643-6264; e-mail: .

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