‘Blast fishing’ thrives in Libya’s chaos

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A Libyan fishmonger speaks with a customer at the Fish market in Tripoli on August 4, 2018. (AFP)
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A Libyan fishmonger displays the catch of the day at the Fish market in Tripoli on August 4, 2018. Residents of Tripoli's seafront wake up most weekends to loud blasts: fishermen casting dynamite to maximise their catch with impunity and oblivious of the damage they are causing to marine life. / AFP / Mahmud TURKIA
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A Libyan fisherman prepares his net before heading out to sea in the town of Qarabuli on the Mediterranean coast, 60 kilometres (35 miles) east of the capital Tripoli on August 4, 2018. (AFP)
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A Libyan man buys fish from a fishmonger at the Fish market in Tripoli on August 4, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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‘Blast fishing’ thrives in Libya’s chaos

  • There is still hope as long as some good fishermen respect the trade and go out at night with nets
  • The practice has its critics, including marine biologists, fishermen, and even religious leaders

TRIPOLI: Residents of Tripoli’s seafront wake up most weekends to loud blasts: fishermen using dynamite to maximize their catch, regardless of the damage they are causing to marine life.
Dynamite fishing, or “blast fishing,” has flourished — with impunity — since Libya’s 2011 uprising that left the country awash with weapons and explosives.
The Mediterranean country has since descended into chaos and violence, with two rival administrations struggling to impose the law and a myriad of militias vying for control of its oil wealth.
As a result, protecting fish stock and the environment are not a priority for the authorities, experts and officials say.
Haytham Ali, a newly-married teacher, lives less than 50 meters (yards) from the beach in the capital’s residential suburb of Hay Al-Andalous.
“My wife and I enjoy the peace and quiet of Friday mornings in our garden by the sea, but the explosions... as early as 7 am remind us of all that is wrong in this country,” he said.
Mariam, a 64-year-old widow, said the blasts frighten her grandchildren when they come to visit her home near the water.
“My whole house and my old windows shake with every blast... and I have to reassure my grandchildren that it’s only people fishing, not NATO bombs all over again,” she said, referring to the uprising that was backed by the Western alliance.
Dynamite fishing and the use of explosives without a permit are both officially against the law, but dynamite fishermen appear to be immune.
They even post anonymous videos online of sea water being propelled high into the sky and dozens of dazed or dead fish left behind on the surface.
“We hear (the blasts) but no one can do anything about it,” said Bannour Abu Kahal, head of the fisheries department in Garaboulli, east of Tripoli.

Some marine biologists, fishermen and fishmongers, and even religious leaders have tried to speak out against blast fishing but to no avail.
Using dynamite to catch fish “depletes the fish stock in the sea,” said Mokhtar, a fishmonger in central Tripoli, who declined to give his surname.
“This practice is not correct or healthy for the consumer” because it stuns the fish and shreds its skin, he said.
The explosives, known as “gelatine” in Libya, “kills the fish, the fish roe, larvae and sea plants,” said Fathi Al-Zaytuni, a fishmonger who uses nets for his catch.
The explosive devices used in Libya are mostly home-made and have caused dozens of deaths and injuries, according to media reports.
Lana news agency reported in March that three men from the same family died in a blast in the eastern city of Sirte as they were preparing bombs for blast fishing.

Sheikh Sadek Al-Ghariani, the country’s disputed top religious figure, has also waded into the controversy.
“If this type of fishing is banned by laws that regulate fishing, or if it is prejudicial to man and the environment, then it should not be practiced,” he said in a fatwa, religious edict, issued in 2013.
Abu Kahal, the fishing director in Garaboulli, urged “concerned authorities, especially the coast guard, to do their job and put an end to this kind of fishing.”
On a warm and humid August evening, retired fisherman Abdelrazag Al-Bahri, 72, sat at Tripoli port counting the few fishing boats heading out to sea to catch sardines.
“There is still hope as long as some good fishermen respect the trade” and go out at night to haul a catch the traditional way with nets, he said.
He said traditional fishing in Libya had mostly been the work of Egyptians and Tunisians but they had fled the country, with few Libyans now willing to replace them.


Soviet-era motorcycle sidecars add to Cuba’s retro appeal

Updated 21 March 2019
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Soviet-era motorcycle sidecars add to Cuba’s retro appeal

  • Ranging from rusting relics to the pampered and the pristine, hundreds of old motorcycle sidecars rattle through the streets of Havana

HAVANA: Cuba’s love affair with 1950s-era American cars is still intact, but the communist-run island also has a lingering attachment to a stalwart of Soviet-era leftovers, the motorcycle sidecar.
Ranging from rusting relics to the pampered and the pristine, hundreds of old motorcycle sidecars rattle through the streets of Havana.
The retro appeal gets a lot of attention from tourists “but here it’s common, normal,” says Enrique Oropesa Valdez.
Valdez should know. The 59-year old makes a living as an instructor teaching people how to handle the sidecar in Havana’s traffic, where riders seem able to squeeze the machines through the narrowest of gaps.
And they’ve built up an intense loyalty among the mend-and-make do Cubans.
“They’re very practical,” according to Alejandro Prohenza Hernandez, a restaurateur who says his pampered red 30-year-old Jawa 350 is like a second child.
Cheaper and more practical than the gas-guzzling, shark-finned US behemoths, the bikes are used for anything from the family runabout to trucking goods and workers’ materials.
“A lot of foreigners really like to take photos of it,” says Hernandez. “I don’t know, I think they see it as something from another time.”
Cuba lags several decades behind the rest of the world due to a crippling US embargo, so the makers’ badges on the ubiquitous sidecars speak of a bygone world.
Names like Jawa from the former Czechoslovakia and MZ from the former East Germany, as well as antiquated Russian Urals, Dniepers and Jupiters.
Havana’s military acquired them from big brother Moscow at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and 70s, for use by state factories and farms. Over the years, they gradually filtered down to the general public.
That’s how Jose Antonio Ceoane Nunez, 46, found his bright red Jupiter 3.
“When the Cuban government bought sidecars from the Russians in 1981, it was for state-owned companies,” he said.
Later, the companies “sold them on to the most deserving employees,” he said. His father, who worked for a state body, passed the bike on to him.
“Even if the sidecar gets old. I’ll never sell it because it’s what I use to move around. It’s my means of transport in Cuba, and there aren’t many other options,” said Nunez.
Valdez himself has a cherished green 1977 Ural.
“I like it a lot, firstly because it’s the means of transport for my family, and secondly because it’s a source of income.”
And it costs less than a car, still out of reach of many Cubans.
Settled on the island with his Cuban wife, 38-year-old Frenchman Philippe Ruiz didn’t realize at first how ubiquitous the motorcycle sidecar was.
“When I began to be interested, I suddenly realized that I was seeing 50 to 100 a day!”
Renovating a house at the time, he saw that many sidecars were being used to transport building equipment.
Through an advert on the Internet, he bought a blue 1979 Ural a few months ago for 6,500 euros.
“It’s a year older than me and in worse shape,” he said. “Soon he had to strip the bike down and “start repairing everything.”
With few spare parts available in Cuba, “people have to bring them in from abroad,” which slows down repairs.
But he has no regrets. An experienced motorcyclist, he’s discovered a whole new side to his passion by riding the Russian machine.
“It’s very funny, it’s a big change from the bike because we cannot turn the same way, we can’t lean, so you have to relearn everything but it’s nice.”
“It’s especially nice with the family because you can put a child in the sidecar, my wife behind, and suitcases,” he said.
In future he hopes to take advantage of the interest in the old bikes to rent it out.
“I think it will be a bit of a change from all the convertibles here.”