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Blown away

That dynamite fishing in the Philippines is not yet a thing of the past was made abundantly clear by a recent report that rare and endangered sea creatures had been killed as a result of the practice. The week before last, it was discovered that as many as 22 dwarf sperm whales and 21 dolphins had fallen victim to a fresh wave of dynamite fishing in the waters of the popular surfing destination of Siargao in Surigao.

It was Swiss-Italian marine biologist Gianni Boy Grifoni, quoting residents, who told a Inquirer Mindanao correspondent of the gruesome find. Grifoni said he had tried to save two badly wounded dwarf sperm whales in a Dapa Town beach resort, but was unsuccessful: the mother and its child died from stab wounds. Dynamite fishing kills whole schools of fish, but fishermen also use the blasts to stun larger marine mammals, which are then hacked with bolos as a coup de grace. Once collateral damage, these sea creatures are now targets as well.

Portions of the meat are sold in the wet markets; much of it is kept by the fishermen, mostly impoverished, for their own consumption. It's unfortunate that dwarf sperm whales were among the victims. Smaller than dolphins, they are rarely spotted; like dolphins, they are gentle creatures, butchered in the abattoir of commerce and circumstance.

Dynamite fishing - also known as blast fishing - destroys coral reefs as well. Corals take a lifetime to grow back. Each blast damages a reef and sets back its ability to sustain and protect the fish that seek shelter in it. And because of the largely improvised and volatile nature of the explosives used, the destruction extends to the fishermen themselves, with amputation or even death as the possible outcome. Maimed survivors are said to be a common sight in Siargao and elsewhere.

Indeed, dynamite fishing has been reported in many other areas in the country. It is seen to have caused various incidents of marine mammal stranding on beaches through the years. Dolphins suffer "acoustic trauma" from the blasts and wind up on land, where they die in such places as the coastline of Ilocos Norte. In 2007, 2,000 kilos of fish killed through dynamite fishing showed up at a Navotas fish market. At one point, it was estimated that fish caught using dynamite fishing made up 25 percent of the total catch.

All this is happening despite Republic Act No 8550, which was signed into law in 1998. Section 88 of the law states: "It shall be unlawful for any person to catch, take or gather or cause to be caught, taken or gathered, fish or any fishery species in Philippine waters with the use of electricity, explosives, noxious or poisonous substance such as sodium cyanide in the Philippine fishery areas, which will kill, stupefy, disable or render unconscious fish or fishery species."

The primary issue is enforcement. In Siargao, authorities were said to merely confiscate the illegal fishing paraphernalia and release the offenders out of pity. A resident put it simply: "The problem persists because no one gets punished."

Dynamite fishing has been mostly stamped out in the world save for pockets of activity in Southeast Asia and in Africa. In 2012, the Philippines' Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources declared an "all-out war" against dynamite fishing, saying that this illegal method was leading to a serious decline in fish catch. Concerned Filipinos have gotten into the act as well.

"Today, dynamite fishing off Siargao continues unabated," businessman and conservationist Jake Miranda wrote in an online post. "It is time to stop it, not for our sake but for [the sake of] our children and their children who have yet to enjoy the beauty and diversity of Siargao."


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