Underwater blasts are commonly heard at almost all dive sites within Sabah. In Mabul, close to Sipadan, there is a police post and two dive resorts yet blast fishing was heard underwater up to 15x per hour with a normal background level of 2-3 blasts per hour. This blasting rate was common at most locations sampled (see figure at right).
Deeper blasts at 8-12m or blasts positioned under a coral head create very little disturbance to the surface of the water and make no sound in the air so while the sound is very loud underwater the blasts are hard to detect from above.
Obviously blast fishing detection and regulation is not the whole answer for sustainable use of fish reef resources. When the fishers cannot catch fish with sustainable methods, no amount of incentives or regulation will stop them using whatever methods are available to catch food for their families.
Many scientists and resource managers believe that to reduce blast fishing we have to find alternative income sources that are generally applicable to coastal communities.
WHEN FISHERS CANNOT CATCH FISH WITH SUSTAINABLE METHODS, NO REGULATION WILL STOP THEM FROM BLASTING.
A brief consideration of the alternatives rapidly eliminates many possible income sources as being too localised to be applicable to a circum- tropical problem.
|x||Market based incentives will not be successful until there is a market rather than simple personal survival.|
|x||Natural reef regeneration is too slow for coastal communities who need to survive while the damaged reefs recover.|
|x||Most conventional aquaculture is too expensive or requires protected waters to be suitable for more than a few locations.|
Specialist aquaculture such as clams or sea horses are a part of the answer since they do appear to offer a localised affordable solution. Seaweed culture has developed in Sabah as an alternative to full time fishing but with requirements for calm, protected areas, this is not suitable for many locations.
The Fisheries Department Sabah has come up with an Aquaculture master plan which will guide some of these developments but there is no structural plan to improve enforcement of the Fisheries Laws. The general lack of funds, staff and facilities for enforcement, coupled with the lack of knowledge and awareness combined with the shortage of political will at all levels, means that the destruction will continue for the foreseeable future