Illegal Use of ‘Blast Fishing’ Linked to Surge in Shark Sightings, States Lebanese Marine Expert

BEIRUT: The recent increase in shark sightings off the coast of Lebanon, which has sparked concerns and social media panic over potential attacks, is being attributed to an illegal fishing technique known as “blast fishing.” Resort authorities have responded by installing warning signs and advising swimmers to exercise caution in the water, following social media posts depicting sharks in proximity to popular beaches.

Video evidence has emerged showing the presence of these predators along the Sarafand-Zahrani shoreline in the south and near the Kaslik complex in Jounieh. Additionally, fishermen were captured on camera last Friday catching a small shark off Ouzai, located to the south of Beirut.

Mohammed Al-Sarji, a marine expert and spokesperson for the Lebanese branch of the global diving group Naui, stated in an interview with Arab News that he believes sharks are being lured close to the shore due to the use of illegal “blast fishing.” This method involves dropping explosives into shallow waters to rapidly stun and kill large quantities of fish, making it easier for sharks to compete with fishermen for their catch. Al-Sarji emphasized that this practice alters the behavior of sharks.

While Lebanon has not witnessed any fatal shark attacks, Al-Sarji cautioned that these predators still pose a threat if they mistake a human for their usual prey. He highlighted the dangers of blast fishing, noting that the commonly used explosive is unstable ammonium nitrate, similar to the substance that caused the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port in August 2020. The explosive mixture is combined with sawdust and placed in bags with fuses, which are then thrown into the water as close as 10 meters from the shore. The resulting explosion causes dead fish to float to the surface for collection and sale.

Al-Sarji revealed that two individuals lost their lives last year while preparing explosives, yet some fishermen continue to employ this method. He further pointed out that blast fishing has contributed to depleting fish populations in Lebanese waters, with species like the striped red mullet nearing extinction. “Our sea is now devoid of fish due to unsustainable fishing practices,” he lamented.

The Ministry of Agriculture acknowledged that sharks in Lebanese waters are generally non-aggressive unless provoked. It stressed the importance of these fish for maintaining marine ecosystems, stating that they have been a part of Lebanese waters for thousands of years, and Lebanon has a responsibility to protect them. The ministry urged fishermen and seafarers not to fear the presence of sharks but instead to safeguard their existence.

Lebanon’s fishing industry lacks regulation and is marked by chaos. While the Ministry of Agriculture estimates the number of fishermen at 8,000, Al-Sarji’s estimate is significantly higher, reaching 100,000 individuals. Al-Sarji emphasized that catching and killing sharks in the Mediterranean is illegal under an EU agreement aimed at preserving marine populations.

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