On fishing and dynamite in Mtwara, Tanzania

When I joined the NEPSUS team of researchers in 2016, all with different academic and rich research backgrounds, I couldn’t hide my excitement and shared the news with a close workmate. The excitement further grew when I learnt that I would be part of a research work package on coastal resources, whose members would be conducting field research in Mtwara region, Tanzania. My joy at the prospect of conducting fieldwork in Mtwara was triggered by two basic factors. First, I had never been to Mtwara before; and second, I had heard from colleagues that the region was changing fast, offering an exciting prospect for a researcher.

The discovery of gas at Mnazi Bay, a planned expansion of the Mtwara port and the commissioning of the Dangote cement plant, had all been tipped to trigger economic growth in the region. Suddenly, the number of local flights to Mtwara increased, several lodges and guest houses mushroomed and the ‘hustle and bustle’ of Mtwara town became more noticeable. When our team paid the first field visit to Mtwara in February 2017, President John Pombe Magufuli care through town to inaugurate projects and speak in public. Presidential visits to the regions always attract large entourages and many visitors from nearby regions. Therefore, finding relatively affordable accommodation was challenging, but we eventually succeeded. During our second and third visits (in August 2017 and March 2018), however, we managed to find cheap and comfortable accommodation without any problem.

The Fieldwork Experience

Generally, and as expected, we met honest and welcoming residents. Having introduced ourselves as staff members of the University of Dar es Salaam, a prestigious and flagship higher learning institution in the country, we received great support from local residents. One of my other discovered excitement while in Mtwara has always been the easiness with which one can move around town. My most favorite mode of transport when not with the rest of the team is riding BodaBodas (motorbikes) and Bajaji (motorized tricycles). They are relatively cheap and since there is no heavy traffic in Mtwara town, moving from one location to another is relatively easy and fast. This relieve me of the usual headache one gets trying to negotiate the notorious traffic jams of Dar es Salaam. In fact, I never saw a single taxi during my stay in Mtwara. This was a startling finding to me!

Our team’s main research focus is on sustainability partnerships in coastal resources, mainly fish, corals and mangroves. We gathered data through key informant interviews, focus group discussions and field observation. A separate team collected data for a survey using the sophisticated Open Data Kit (ODK) software.

NEPSUS researchers posing for a group photo with some participants of FGD.

Posing for a photo with FGD participants

Observing a fish pond

At a fish auction

Crackdown on Illegal Fishing Practices in Mtwara

As recently as 2015, Mtwara region was named as one of the 16 mainland coastal districts and municipalities practicing blast (dynamite) fishing, and one of the top four hotspots (see “Can Dynamite Fishing Be Stopped in Tanzania?” The Citizen, Tuesday October, 2015). Dynamite fishing is one of the illegal fishing practices identified in Tanzania’s legal instruments guiding the fisheries sector. About nine pieces of legislation contain provisions and penalties applicable to the use of explosives, including dynamite to conduct fishing activities. Besides the use of dynamite as a way of killing fish, other illegal fishing practices include the use of illegal gear, such as under size mesh, monofilament nets, beach seines and other destructive gears.

Legal fishing gear used Mtwara

Key enabling factors for dynamite fishing are the “easy availability of cheap materials for making explosive devises, wealthy ‘god fathers’ who finance the operation and market the fish, lack of local marine resource ‘ownership’ i.e. in-operational BMUs [Beach Management Units], ineffective law-enforcement at the district level as a result of corruption of local magistrates and a lack of perception as to the seriousness of the crime, and lack of political will at all levels” (see Multi-Stakeholder Consultation for Anti-Dynamite Fishing Campaign Tanzania, April 2014, p. 4. www.cmsdata.iucn.org).

In the past, and particularly between 1999 and 2003, there were several initiatives by communities, government and donor-funded projects to curb the use of explosives. One of the initiatives which managed to at least reduce incidents of dynamite fishing was the Finnish government-funded project known as Rural Integrated Project Support (RIPS) Mtwara. Working closely with a local community-based umbrella organization (SHIRIKISHO) and local communities, RIPS set up a community based monitoring scheme which recorded significant success in curbing blast fishing. However, this achievement was short-lived. Reasons for unsustainability of initiatives similar to RIPS are multiple and well-documented: the weakening of collaborative efforts between the central government and local communities; too much reliance on donor funding, to the extent that projects close down or lose their initial impetus when donors leave or shift their focus to other sectors; and insufficient monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing activities (see “Regional Assessment of Fisheries Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Eastern Africa Region: Towards the formulation of the policy framework and reform strategy for fisheries and aquaculture in Africa, a report submitted to the African Union – Inter African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), December 2012, www.au-ibar.org/.../1925-regional-assessment-of-fisheries-issues-c... ).

Dynamite fishing resurfaced with such intensity that it alerted the authorities at the national level. On 7th September 2016, the Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan, announced that the central government would send a special force (Kikosi Maalum) that would be deployed to curb illegal fishing (see “Kikosi cha Kudhibiti Uvuvi Haramu Kutumwa Mtwara”, https://www.eatv/news).

Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan talking to Mtwara residents

The Need for Review of the Fisheries Legislation

For a national campaign on blast fishing to achieve the desired outcome, which is to put an end to this destructive fishing practice, the long-awaited review of the national fisheries legislation cannot be over-emphasized. The imperative to review the Fisheries Act No. 22 of 2003 and its regulations which were enacted in 2009, was meted out way back in 2015 at a seminar organized by the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) in Mtwara. Since then the Minister responsible for agriculture, livestock and fisheries development, Dr. Charles Tizeba, has repeatedly reiterated the urgency to make amendments of the Act in December 2016 (see “Minister orders arrest of criminals engaged in dynamite fishing”, DailyNews.co.tz, 20 December 2016), and again in March 2017 (see “Serikali kubadili sheria ya uvuvi” Mwananchi, Jumanne, 21 March 2017).

The impending review of the fisheries legislation is prompted by the need to adopt much stricter provisions on illegal fishing practices (not only blast fishing) by issuing significant penalties to culprits. According to the Minister, the government mulls penalties to be raised from the current 200,000 Tanzanian shillings to 5 million shillings, which should be imposed on offenders along with a six-month jail sentence. More interestingly, the Minister mooted the government interest to treat people convicted of illegal fishing practices as ‘economic saboteurs’, an offence that does not allow a suspect to be given bail in Tanzania.

Stamping out blast fishing is no longer business as usual

When our team arrived in Mtwara in March 2017, we learnt that in one of the villages we were researching a major crackdown to curb illegal fishing had just been carried out by the district authority, led by the District Commissioner. The DC minced no words in a public rally in that village when he announced the operation and ordered 31 individuals whom he deemed to be the ‘ring-leaders’ to surrender themselves and their banned fishing gear (see “Mkuu wa Wilaya alia na uvuvi haramu Mtwara”, MCL Digital, https://www.youtube.com).

Was there sufficient employment of a collaborative approach between the district authorities and local communities in carrying out the clampdown on dynamite fishing in Mtwara? More importantly, will the current success story be sustained? These are some of the issues to ponder, as another study that looked into fishers’ perceptions on the recurrence of dynamite fishing practices reported that ‘the views of almost 60% of key informants made it clear that as long as fishers feel criminalized and left behind in management and development plans, any efforts to persuade them to support a reduction of dynamite fishing are likely to encounter significant opposition and little commitment from community members’ (see Robert E. Katikiro and Jairos J. Mahenge, 2016. “Fishers’ Perceptions of the Recurrence of Dynamite Fishing Practices on the Coast of Tanzania”, Frontiers in Marine Science, Volume 3, Article 233, p.8).

Observed in recent years is a renewed hope and vigour to abolish dynamite fishing owing to an ongoing robust national campaign. This campaign has enlisted the support of various stakeholders, institutions and agencies, ranging from local communities, marine conservationists (such as the Tanzania Dynamite Fishing Monitoring Network), fisheries division, to the police and navy. A multi-stakeholder approach to this long-standing problem is a welcome move. Involvement of relevant parties brings to the table their various experiences which can be useful in charting out how best to tackle the problem. Cognizant of the benefits of employing a multi-pronged approach to blast fishing, the government set up a Multi-Agency Task Team (MATT) in June 2015. MATT, which is led by the police, is also composed of members from the Fisheries Division, Tanzania Forest Services, the Wildlife Division, Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services, and the Attorney General Chambers’ office. Besides focusing on fisheries governance management, monitoring and surveillance, MATT traces financiers and suppliers of dynamites. This is a much incisive approach that does not just end with the arrest of dynamiters. Apart from being motivated by availability of detonation materials, the lucrative short-term profits tend to lure blast fishers. It was once reported in 2009 that one blast could result to a fish catch of up to 150-400kgs, thus leading to earnings of between US $ 400 and $ 1800 market price (see S. Wells, “Dynamite fishing in northern Tanzania: pervasive, problematic and yet preventable”, Marine Pollution Bulleting, 58, no.1 (2009): 20-23).

Other initiatives which have been undertaken, and in my view ought to be sustained for the long-term success of the national crackdown on blast fishing, include awareness campaigns on ecological, economic, environmental and social impacts of dynamite fishing. Local communities need to be made aware of the association between blast fishing, coral reef destruction, low fish catch records and deteriorating livelihood conditions. The media is a useful tool in this case. Recent footage of destruction of illegal nets in public view has gone a long way to send a powerful message that authorities have now adopted a zero tolerance policy and there is noticeable political will to end this menace to marine resources and coastal livelihoods. Indeed, ‘the fight against blast fishing is no longer business as usua’ as stated by the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Daniel Nyambabe, at the two-day seminar in Mtwara in November 2015 (see Lucas Liganga, “Tanzania sets strategy to end chronic blast fishing”, The Citizen, November 29, 2015).

Already, authorities and local fishers have started to appreciate current efforts to end blast fishing. In 2015, the then Mtwara Urban District Commissioner, Fatma Salim Ally, noted that blast fishing was the norm of the day in 19 villages along the coast(see Lucas Liganga, “Tanzania sets strategy to end chronic blast fishing”, The Citizen, November 29, 2015). Two years later, some fishers in the Mtwara Mikindani municipality hailed the crackdown on blast fishing as they began to see increased fish catch (see channelten.co.tz, Youtube footage, April 21, 2017).

With political will both at the national and local levels, a visible zero tolerance policy with all stakeholders, amendments of the Fisheries Act, continuous awareness raising campaigns on dynamite fishing laws and destructive effects of illegal fishing practices as well as close cooperation between all the relevant agencies, we have ample reasons to sound optimistic that dynamite fishing will be made history, not only in Mtwara but in the whole country. Authorities have to ensure that there is no laxity in stamping out dynamite fishing, and in particular, see to it that dynamite fishers are no longer let scot-free after being netted with vivid evidence.

A simple way to sum up my fieldwork experience in Mtwara thus far is that it has been a balancing act between being a curious researcher in a fast-changing location, observing problematic issues and pondering on possible solutions, and enjoying my time as a first time visitor to a blossoming town. Mtwara, here I come again!

Awareness needed among fishermen about the link between blast fishing, coral reef destruction and low fish records to implement the government's zero tolerance strategy on dynamite fishing. Blog by @nepsus_research

#fishing #marinepark #Mtwara #Tanzania #dynamite #livelihoods

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