In the past decades, fish has gone from being a food product that could be bought at a regional level to a raw commodity that is traded on the world markets. Modern equipment has made it possible to expand fishing fleets. European and Japanese fleets in particular have started plundering the high seas for luxury fish. Marine biodiversity is at risk from the fishing industry, especially the use of destructive fishing methods such as dynamite fishing. The FAO estimates that 70 percent of the world’s commercial fish stocks are depleted or overfished. It is a global exploitation with very local consequences.
Small-scale fishermen, like these in the Maldives, are most at risk from the depleting stocks
It is 11 a.m. in Molopolo, a village in the south of the Philippine island Leyte. Six fishermen, wearing scarves to protect themselves from the sun, are pulling their boats to shore, where women are waiting. They put their meagre catch of sardines into the women’s buckets and seek the shade of the coconut trees. Old Jonathan Nian Son looks at the sea, tired. He says that they only caught 20 kilos of fish despite being out at sea for seven hours. He might get the equivalent of 16 euros for the fish. That won’t even cover the cost of petrol.
There are some 35 million fishermen in the world today -- most of them are the coastal inhabitants of poor countries. An estimated 200 million jobs are directly linked with the fishing industry -- in processing, marketing and delivery. And overall, one billion people live from fishing. Experts are worried that a crisis, which has been in the making for over 20 years now, is about to escalate. Stocks are depleted, small fishermen cannot compete with commercial fishermen using modern fishing methods.
Those most at risk from the crisis are people living near the coastal waters of poor countries such as the Philippines. The coastal waters are extremely important for stabilising fish stocks in higher seas -- coral reefs, algae and mangroves provide the breeding ground for some 90 percent of the fish sold and eaten worldwide. William Saavedra, another fisherman in Molopolo, is angry. He complains that there are more and more commercial fishermen using the zone around Molopolo, which is supposed to be for local fishermen only.
He says the fish stocks in Leyte have decreased by 90 percent in the past 20 years. And he explains that small fishermen themselves have become thieves by using nets with narrow mesh and even more destructive fishing methods.
The detonation causes a big swell and there is a fountain-like movement. The German aquarium fish dealer, Thomas Heeger, says dynamite fishing is very common and very efficient: "We hear it constantly under the water. These small rum bottles are filled with ammonium nitrate, and then petrol and a detonator are put in. There’s an explosion and the fish can be seen everywhere within a radius of 30 metres. Their swim bladder is ruptured and they float to the surface. There are also big vats which can hold 10 to 15 kilos. They are for the pelagic fish, which are further out at sea and move in shoals. When the fishermen see the shoals they get there as fast as possible and throw one of these vats in."
The problem is that such explosions destroy everything within a significant radius -- crabs, young fish, corals. Now, 80 percent of the Philippines’ coral reefs are damaged and 80 percent of the mangroves have been cut down for wood.