In April 2020, JoyNews carried a report on a fisherman from Akwidaa in the Western Region on admission at the Effia-Nkwanta Hospital in Takoradi who had an amputated hand and extensive wounds on the other hand and face.
He was bandaged in all the wounded places. When interviewed, the injured fisherman said he went fishing in March 2020 but was attacked by a shark resulting in the wounds he suffered. The fisherman even challenged anybody with contrary information to come forward with it.
Meanwhile, the doctor in charge of the victim, in an interview indicated that the multiple punctured wounds suffered by the fisherman could not be from shark [teeth] bites. His suspicion was that the wounds could have been caused by shrapnel from an explosive source, hence the scattering of the wounds all over his upper body, shoulders and face.
What then could have been the cause of the injuries of the fisherman who beyond the Effia-Nkwanta Hospital, had been referred to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra for further treatment?
Both sharks and explosives (dynamite) are associated with fishing, though the latter is prohibited for fishing. Sharks are fishes so they inhabit the sea and are part of the biodiversity of the oceans.
Sharks are very important creatures because they are high-order predators, characterised by low fecundity, slow growth, and late sexual maturity, and low capacity to recover when over-exploited.
All these place them in a vulnerable position and they have therefore been assigned among Protected, Threatened and Endangered (PTE) species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In Ghana, sharks form part of the landings of artisanal fishers in Tema, Shama, Dixcove and Axim. Despite the presence of some shark species in our waters, Ghana has not experienced any shark attack, according to an online report dating from 1900, compiled by sharkattackdata.com. There is also no official record of shark attacks in Ghanaian waters.
On the other hand, dynamite or explosives in general, though prohibited for fishing under the Fisheries Act, 2002 (Act 625) and Fisheries Regulations, 2010 (L.I. 1968), continue to be illegally used in Ghanaian waters including the sea. The use of dynamite for fishing by some recalcitrant fishermen in Ghana has been reported occasionally in the media, although this has been known in the fisheries sector for a long time, justifying its prohibition in fisheries legislation.
A recent report on the menace of explosives in fishing came from some fishers in Dixcove who drew attention to it in the Dixcove area (Ahanta West Municipality) in early 2019. The Fisheries Commission in Western Region held engagements on the issue with the Chief Fishermen from selected communities cited in the report to be where the alleged culprits had come from.
The Fisheries Enforcement Unit have also been conducting operations both on land and at sea aimed at deterring and stopping the use of such unauthorized and dangerous fishing methods. So far no one has been arrested for using explosives in fishing, which shows the extent to which the culprits go to conceal their nefarious operations.
It is important at this stage to find an answer to whether the fisherman’s wounds were caused by dynamite explosion or shark bites, in order to be able to provide adequate information for further actions towards appropriately securing the safety of the general public. It will also do well to prevent sharks from being erroneously blamed for dynamite incidents.
A shark attack would be presented by deep bite wounds and not as shrapnel wounds which would appear scattered on the body of the victim. Sharks attack by biting ferociously with their numerous jagged teeth set on powerful wide jaws. Further investigations should be conducted by the police even as the fisherman remains under medical care and scrutiny. So if what the fisherman in the report was saying were true, it should be followed up properly to understand what shark species was involved and the public cautioned appropriately.
As indicated already, sharks are vulnerable creatures and must be protected. There are about 489 shark species but only three are responsible for a double-digit number of fatal, unprovoked attacks on humans. These are the Great White, Tiger and Bull sharks. Every year, around 80 unprovoked shark attacks are reported worldwide. Ghana has not reported any shark attack for over 100 years. Shark attacks as reported in other countries such as South Africa, Australia and America are taken rather seriously and the general public is cautioned through public announcements and signage.
Dynamite is used in what is called blast fishing because it easily stuns and kills fish en-masse. Some fishermen have adopted its use because it enables them to obtain some fish caught in the midst of increasing effort, dwindling catches and low profits. It is, however, destructive because it is indiscriminate in killing fish, it disturbs the fish habitat, and when mishandled, accidents leading to serious injuries, fire, and fatalities may occur. Some fishing communities in Ghana are familiar with such incidents which have led to some members of the communities losing their limbs and even death, except that such incidents are usually muffled.
Serious injuries such as loss of limbs and death do not end with the victims only. Because fishermen are breadwinners of large-sized families, any such incidents tend to create a cascading negative effect on the immediate family and even extended family members and their fishing enterprises. Dynamite accidents do not only occur during fishing, but may also occur at abodes where they are stored.
It is alleged that fishermen obtain the explosives through fish traders who purchase them from dealers when they go to sell processed fish in certain markets. This situation also presents a high risk of explosion during transportation on ordinary passenger vehicles.
It is important that extractive industries authorised to use explosives ensure that their stocks of explosives are well protected from unscrupulous persons to prevent their being diverted for use in fishing.
In the midst of dwindling fish catches, some recalcitrant fishers will continue to find solace in rather dangerous and destructive methods like dynamite fishing. As was done in Jiquilisco Bay in El Salvador on the Pacific Coast, where dynamite fishing was rampant, artificial reefs should be created to serve as habitats for fish populations, and fishers encouraged to use hooks to fish them in a more environmentally-friendly manner.