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Dynamite fishing posing hazard ­ - Engineer

DYNAMITE FISHING, especially in proximity to bridges, could compromise the structure of the bridges, civil engineer and treasurer at the Jamaica Institute of Engineers (JIE) Len Kelly has confirmed.

Mr Kelly was responding to questions raised recently as to whether the Portmore Causeway bridge could be in danger after reported incidents by the marine police of continued illegal dynamite fishing near the area.

In the first dynamite fishing case for the year, the Marine police last Sunday arrested 35-year-old Alvan Boyd, a repeat offender, and 54-year-old Delroy Saddler who were seen in a skull boat in the vicinity of the Causeway with 22.5 kilograms (50lbs) of fish that were suspected to have been killed by dynamite.

Corporal Leroy Toban of the police marine division in Kingston confirmed that the Causeway was one of the problem areas with dynamite fishing currently, as mullets, the most attractive fish this season come from the Rio Cobre to settle in the Harbour and dynamiting ensures an easy, quick stash. Corporal Toban said that he has had recent instances, when after a bombing, with heavy trucks driving over the Causeway bridge, he has witnessed pieces of loose concrete falling.

"Years ago (1991) there was some rehabilitation done on the Causeway Bridge," Peter Wilson-Kelly, co-ordinator in the coastal zone management branch of the National Environment and Planning Agency(NEPA) said, "one of the reasons cited was the destruction of the structure caused by dynamiting." In late 1990, the bridge was closed by then construction minister O. D. Ramtallie after it was brought to his attention that the substructure had been weakened by a combination of corrosion, and the impact of dynamiting carried out by fishermen. It was reopened after rehabilitation in 1991.

FREQUENT AND HISTORIC

Mr Wilson-Kelly said that reports of dynamiting are "frequent and historic" and includes trouble spots like Kingston Harbour and the Port Royal Cays. He said that fellow boaters, the marine police and the coastguard report frequent dynamiting in these areas. Corporal Toban said there were 12 cases last year involving around two fishermen each time. The maximum fine for the offence is $100,000.

"The dynamite can cause the same seismic pressure akin to that of the vibration of an earthquake," JIE's Mr Kelly said, "this can compromise the structure of the bridge depending on how close the blast is." He added: "There's no doubt that if the dynamiting is near the piers(bridge support), there's going to be some damage."

Environmentalists are also concerned about the effect that dynamite fishing is having on marine life. The problem stems from the resounding shock wave that follows the blast that wipes out entire territories of marine life.

PREDOMINANT

"It's very predominant because they are guaranteed an easy stash," Corporal Toban said, "if, and when patrolling is done as routine, we can catch up to two offenders per day."

The other problem for the police lies in that the source of the dynamite, which can only be acquired legally to be used in industries like construction, is still not known.

"I don't know how they acqire it, but generally only departments like the public works are licensed," Corporal Toban said. "But from what we've seen and the reports we've had, they're sourcing it somehow."

The Wildlife and Fishing Industry Acts under which offenders are charged makes it illegal to hunt juvenile fish and allows fishermen to only use medium sized mesh so that young fish will be protected.

"The force of the dynamite is not selective in what it kills," Mr Wilson-Kelly said, "from the extremely young to the extremely large fish are killed, wiping out the next generation of producers."

The mass killing in any area destroys that spot of fish habitat forever, wiping out coral reefs that take years to grow and reducing the gains from the industry. Mr Wilson-Kelly said that the blast will "stun or kill anything in the vicinity."

"The destruction to the sea floor especially in shallow water is tremendous," Mr Wilson-Kelly said, "there's serious damage to fish and lobsters and any marine life."

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