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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Illegal fishing thrives in country’s coastal strip

18th February 2012

Amidst public outcry from fish consumers who seem to be concerned by the escalating prices of the commodity in markets, illegal fishing continues to dominate the fishing industry, particularly along the coastal strip…

The crime, commonplace within the entire 800km coastline, stretches from Tanga, moving southwards to Kilwa.

Contrary to expectations of sections of people that there is future in the industry in view of government efforts to step up strategies aimed at elimination of the vice, what is actually happening is quite the opposite.

“The prevailing strategies in place, have no impact on perpetrators of the vice because people who were supposed to control and bring to book those engaged in the crime, are themselves major players.” said a retired senior government official.

The official, a resident of Tongoni ward in the city, talking on condition of anonymity, said it was futile for the government to expect elimination of illegal fishing, a vice which has persisted for over four decades when morals within its own officers was quite different compared to the time when they were first employed.

“At least, the way I see it, the future is bleak, unless the officials assigned to control illegal fishing stop colluding with perpetrators of the vice, “ he warned.

Incidents of dynamite fishing, particularly, is now frighteningly on the increase along the fishing villages on the coastline.

Impeccable reports have it that a single blast is capable of capturing a haul which can fill five or seven dhows – depending on the site where the dynamite was ignited.

“Blasts carried out in deep seas are more harmful to fish population, because a part from destroying coral reefs ,most of the fish blasted are not collected because once the illegal fishermen have filled their dhow, they leave the particular area, leaving a large portion of killed fish floating in the water,” according to Salehe Mwinyikombo, a seasoned fisherman residing at Mwarongo village, Tongoni ward in the city.

“Patrol boats are suitable equipment for combating illegal fishing. But they can only produce the desired outcome if its operators have clean morals,” he said, adding that at present, some unscrupulous government officials expected to deter the bandits from their illegal acts are best informers of the crime busters.

“What happens is the bandits, most of them financially well off, are provided with up to date information with regards to patrol schedules so that they refrain from operating during patrol days.”

The situation with regard to illegal fishing activities is precarious, with some people, fishing stakeholders, believing that the vice has a well planned network involving some fisheries officials, police and courts of law.

It is not easy to control the vice because people involved in the sophisticated operation are individuals with financial muscle. Arrest one of the perpetrators today and tomorrow, you see him on the streets a completely innocent individual.”

Some residents living at Kigombe and Mwarongo, the two neighbouring villages, claim that notorious villages where dynamite fishing is rife is Mungura, Tongoni, Mwaboza and Kichalikani.

“At Kigombe, it is difficult to come across dynamite fishing activities. After all, we were the only village doing patrol under the Tanga Coastal Zone Conservation and Development Programme before the project wund up business a few years ago,” said Yunus Omari, a resident of Kigombe, on the Tanga – Pangani road.

But it was at Kigombe that a government owned patrol boat under the Tanga Cilicate Marine Park (TCMP) was crudely set on fire by unscrupulous bandits at odd hours of the night about two months ago.

The boat, a two engine vessel with 60 hose power each, was enchored along the sea shore, near the Park’s offices.

“It is true that the boat was set on fire by unknown bandits,but I can’t say for sure where they came from. This is a matter subject to investigation by polices’,confirmed Hassan Kalombo,a fisheries officer in the Tanga regional secretariat.

He said “ It is through luck- that the boat engine was not involved, since it is always removed when the patrol boat is not in operation.”

Kalombo said in an interview that the body of the boat was not burnt, having been under water.

“Those who say the perpetrators are not among the villagers of Kigombe ,know what they are talking about, but what I can tell you is that bandits from any of the other villages can not operate without the collusion of people living the affected area”, asserted Kalombo.

“That was purely sabotage done by illwishers.”

When a team of National Environemental Managerment Council (NEMC) officials,accompanied by police from Tanga city arrived at Kigombe, they witnessed over ten dhows parked outside the Marine park.

“The dhows you saw near the Park’s office, had been seized by patrol officials after their owners had abandoned them on fear of arrest and so they ran away,” said Kalombo.

The dhows owners were suspected to be those operating by using banned fishing nets which are common among small scale fishermen.

“The arm of the law only reaches the small timers. Those who can not afford sophisticated fishing year, including dynamites. Otherwise, the big timers will never be touched,” quipped a 35 year old fisherman at Kigombe.

Whereas courts of law have been blamed for meting out sentences which do not, in any way, deter the alleged culprits, the judicial officials on their part, attribute failure to met heavy punishment to alleged offenders to lack of credible evidence.

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