ARUSHA, Tanzania, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) -- Sitting on a veranda of his grass-thatched house, Hemed Suleiman recalls how things were 30 years ago in the gas-rich Songo Songo Island, located 40 km off the coast of the southeastern Tanzania's District of Kilwa.
Suleiman, 54, recounts that in those good days, Songo Songo and the surrounding tiny islands were one of the quiet places with plenty of fish stock in the Indian Ocean.
But, now things have completely changed for the worse due to the ongoing dynamite/blast fishing, the practice of using explosives to stun or kill schools of fish for easy collection.
The illegal practice can be extremely destructive to the surrounding ecosystem, as the explosion often destroys the underlying habitat that supports the fish.
His worry is on how the current and future generation will be living without fishing as blast fishing threatens the survival of the fisheries sector.
The sector employs a large number of people in the island, where natural gas was recently discovered and is being pumped to Dar es Salaam for power generation, domestic and industrial use.
For years, Suleiman has been depending on fishing to meet his family basic needs, but now his fear is not on him but is for the younger generation, as illegal fishing methods, which destroy coral reefs, continue to rise, despite government's effort to rectify the situation.
The veteran fisherman describes what is happening in the sea as "detrimental" to the fishing industry in the second largest economy in East Africa.
The father of five also sees blast fishing as a "deadly" factor that might scare investors in the island and the entire district of Kilwa if nothing is taken on the ground to address it.
According to Suleiman, blast fishing is being caused by the fact that explosives are cheap and easily accessible to fishers as they are usually sourced from mining, demolition, and road construction enterprises or made at home from fertilizers and diesel.
One blast can lead to a catch of up to 400 kg of fish and a profit of 1,800 U.S. dollars in market sales, a lucrative short-term profit despite the long-term destruction left behind.
Bwangali Twaha of Kilwa Kisiwani in the district shares similar concerns, saying blasts are being heard in almost all the islands around Songo Songo, such as Pumbavu, Fanjove and Nyuni islands
Twaha urges responsible authorities to chip-in and rescues the situation, which he claims that "is going out of hand."
"We're not getting fish we used to get. This makes peoples' lives harder and harder because of a few people who want to get quick money," Twaha says.
Mzee Sultan A. Sultan of Kilwa Masoko describes blast fishing as a "serious" challenge facing the district, which is one of the leading areas for producing the best sardines in the east and central African region.
"Fishing is everything for people living in this area, and once we're failing to address dynamite fishing, peoples' lives will be jeopardized," he says, suggesting the need for the government to tighten the law governing the fisheries sector.
Songo Songo Ward Councilor, Saidi Mohamed says the island is a home to an extensive network of coral reefs whose biodiversity and beauty support major artisanal fishing and tourism industries.
"But, the ongoing devastating form of fishing ruins all these aspects," the 60-year-old man says.
The local leader views the ongoing trend as disastrous "as our children cannot engage in fishing anymore as almost all fishing grounds are gone..."
According to him, blast fishing was more heard this year, and in July more than 130 blasts were heard in the Indian Ocean per day and most of the blasts are being heard from the south of the island.
"This is the highest number since I was born. As residents in this area, we're worried and we several times reported the matter to the upper authorities but there are no serious steps taken to address the vice," Mohamed said.
Once blasted to rubble, corals take decades, even centuries to grow back, and some reefs will never come back due to rampant blasting.
"If this situation will be left unattended, fishing in this area will remain a history in five years to come," he says, adding that if nothing is done on the ground the sea will remain as a "swimming pool."
Kilwa District Fisheries Officer, Ahmadi Habibu admits that blast fishing is rampant in the entire coastline of Lindi and Mtwara region, despite the fact that it's against the law.
The official cites lack of resources, as the main reason derailing efforts aimed at curbing dynamite fishing in the area and the country at large.
Zablon Bugingo, Kilwa District Executive Director is aware of the challenge, saying: "The fight against illegal fishing is a serious battle that needs serious measures to address it."
He says the government is determined to end illegal fishing in the Indian Ocean for the sustainability of the fishing population and industry.
"To us, Indian Ocean is everything as it employs over 80 percent of the entire population in the district. So, it has been an important source of income and employment for millions of Tanzanians living along the coastline," Bugingo says." Enditem