The state of Montenegrin illegal blast-fishing

by ilesterm on November 22, 2016 - 5:42pm

For this second blog post, I chose a short documentary by VICE INTL on the world of illegal blast-fishing in Montenegro, explaining the social, economic and environmental causes and effects of an undeniably destructive trade. In spite of this fact, it is perfectly understandable why fishermen resort to blast-fishing methods. In an interview with an anonymous blast-fisherman, or nobelite, they stated that using just 3-4 blast caps (with 50-60g of dynamite each) secures about 300-400 kilos of fish and a profit of €1500. The explosives can be industrial, army-made, TNT or homemade using dynamite, duct tape, lead and a fuse. According to Mirko, a former nobelite, it is the state’s complicity that leads to the vicious cycle of dependency on the illegal industry of blast-fishing. He says that young people have no other alternative source of income. Consequences of blast-fishing range from being arrested, if caught, to loss of limb or death of the fishermen or any bystanders, if throwing the bomb goes awry. The sentence is usually a month’s jail time, or the confiscation of the catch from that instance of blast-fishing, but it is hardly ever enacted. Not only is there friction between nobelites, divers, and law enforcement, but the local commercial fishermen at Boka Bay also vehemently oppose blast-fishing activities. When interviewed, these fishermen emphasised how dangerous the bombs are even to highly capable divers, and the extensive damage caused to the marine environment. However, they did agree that the strict regulations against blast-fishing can be sidestepped with the ‘right’ connections. Recently, blast-fishing has significantly decreased due to a sharp decline in fish populations.

This story relates to material and discursive power over a flow resource, and the consequences of ineffective resource management by the state. The lax attitude of the state and the public toward blast-fishing is an example of how ideas and education can affect the environment (or discursive power). As a common pool resource, the sea has fundamental economic value held in its fish populations and Montenegro is a relatively ‘young’ country coping with the legacy of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the effects of the 2008 recession. Thusly, economic progression is prioritised far beyond the maintenance of an ideological or biological construction of nature. This is reflected in a lack of effective prosecution for the crime of blast-fishing, and an eventual shock and imbalance in the ecosystem causing a decline in fish populations.

Skilful resource management practiced by the state generates its legitimacy through five actions. These are management of common pool resources; acting as supreme arbiter of different claims and contestations; invention of income for the state and elites; maintenance of employment for its population; and development of a national belonging and identity. These logics are authorised by and construct the state. In this case, the Montenegrin government and law enforcement are inefficiently managing the resource, producing animosity and power imbalances as the five logics are not created and continued. The conflicts here are value, interest and behavioural based. For example, commercial fishermen distrust the state due to their corruption regarding blast-fishing activities (behavioural conflict), but the wealthy elite profit most from the blast-fishermen fish hauls (interest conflict), yet it is appreciated that a balance must be struck between intrinsic and economic value of the sea (value conflict).




Searching For Montenegro's Illegal Blast Fishermen. 2016. Video. VICE Serbia: VICE INTL.



Good afternoon, very insightful post. I never knew blast fishing was a method until I read your blog. You did a great job at organizing your thoughts and providing effective evidence extracted from the paper. I would have liked to have read a little more on the method of blast fishing and how it's done (you did give very brief explanation of what it is but didn't go very in depth). Just a little bit more background would really help send the message at how harmful and problematic this fishing method is.

To add, I have learned in other classes that young countries or developing countries frequently have trouble with employment regulation which leads to a lot of illegal activity. From what I have read and my previous knowledge, it seems to me that this problem really really encompass social, economic and environmental issues like you mentioned. This may also suggest that even bigger changes may be needed in order to address this problem. Bigger changes meaning improvement in government roles and involvement, improvement in employment and social stability and finally improvement in law enforcement. Unfortunately, it seems like all of these factors need to be addressed before the society is willing to alter this type of fishing.