Stop Fish Bombing

Stop Fish Bombing is a non-governmental organisation that aims to eradicate fish bombing, a destructive and illegal fishing practice that destroys coral reefs and surrounding marine life, using underwater detection technology.

The organization was formed in 2015 as a partnership between Teng Hoi; Shotspotter, a commercial gunshot detection system company in Silicon Valley; and Scubazoo, a media company based in Kota Kinabalu.  Learn more

By applying the ShotSpotter technology to underwater shock-waves, we have developed a system that detects explosions beneath water surface from a distance of up to 25 kilometers away. Within four to ten seconds, the location of the blast can be accurately pinpointed using global positioning system within a 20m margin. This real time position information provides solid evidence for convictions. Working together with governments and law enforcement, we can greatly improve operational efficiency of enforcement activities and legal processes. Such credible and affordable means should suppress and curb the destruction of unconstrained fish bombing.

In November 2016, we have successfully tested a prototype in Sabah with the support of Sabah Parks and Sabah Fisheries Department. Negotiations are ongoing to find a solution that will enable the development of the technology, related systems of enforcement and alternative income programs for fishermen that will turn the tide of this most destructive of fishing techniques. Following a successful proof of concept, we are working closely with Sabah Parks to place a pilot detection system in Tun Mustapha Park, a newly gazetted million-hectare marine protected area at the northern tip of Borneo. We hope to involve industry players such as dive operators and relevant government bodies to help fund the new technology.

Our Goals

  • Work with governments and law enforcement: new evidence, new techniques, and new law.
  • Grow a sensor network and then expand globally.
  • Invest in alternative incomes for blast fishermen.
  • Generate positive news story from Scubazoo TV productions, citizen science and education, driving sustainable aquaculture, and underwater camera service for tourists.

Published Articles on the Marine Pollution Bulletin

Teng Hoi’s pioneering research in the early 2000s confirmed that underwater explosions could be readily detected using hydrophones, and that sources of underwater noise could be filtered out. The research showed that there was a clear way forward to adapt Shotspotter’s infrastructure and systems to detect fish bombs using hydrophones.

We published two papers in 2003 and 2004 concerning the characterization of the acoustic signature of fish bombs and detailing the pilot of a direction-sensitive automated blast detection system, respectively.

WOODMAN, WILSON ET AL. (2003): ACOUSTIC CHARACTERISTICS OF FISH BOMBING: POTENTIAL TO DEVELOP AN AUTOMATED BLAST DETECTOR.

WOODMAN, WILSON ET AL. (2004): A DIRECTION-SENSITIVE UNDERWATER BLAST DETECTOR AND ITS APPLICATION FOR MANAGING BLAST FISHING.

Fish Bombing FAQ

What is fish bombing?
Fish bombing, also known as ‘dynamite fishing’, or ‘blast fishing’, is a destructive fishing practice that involves the use of homemade explosives to stun or kill fish for easy collection from the surface of the water. Homemade explosives are used utilizing a mixture of granular fertilizer, diesel or petrol and varying amounts of explosive gel, combined within a plastic bottle with detonator cap. 

What are the origins of fish bombing?
During the Second World War, a number of navy personnel operating in Asia made use of grenades to catch fish. The blast from a single grenade killed many fish, large and small, and the ones that floated to the surface were easily netted in quantity.  The technique of catching fish using underwater explosions quickly caught on with local fishermen as it is simple and ruthlessly efficient, at least as far as the time taken to catch the fish is concerned. 

In more peaceful times local fishermen learnt how to make their own explosives, or in some cases made use of caches of ordinance from military conflicts. Initially, the fishermen would target shallow coral reef areas, causing widespread damage to the coral structures that support the reef fish. As a consequence, fish populations rapidly declined in many areas and to maintain their catch fishermen moved on to fresh areas, further and further from their home villages.

Examples of significant blasting activity in recent times include the Spratleys, far offshore in the South China Sea and Dong Sha Atoll to the north. Large regions of once productive coral reefs have been decimated by the migration of blast fishing and although most countries have passed laws to prohibit it, the practice continues largely unchecked.

Read more about Hong Kong’s early fish bombing history

How does fish bombing kill?
The shock waves of sound from the explosive produce huge negative pressures that rip water and fleshy and membranes apart. Each blast completely reduces the reef to rubble within a few metres of the blast site, while killing all fish and most other organisms within a 15-20 m radius.

What are the impacts of fish bombing?
The oscillating gas bubble from the explosion results in the permanent destruction of a few square meters of coral reef habitat. Taken together the impact of continued bombing has reduced entire reefs to a shifting pile of rubble that may not recover for many decades. These reefs were not only home to a myriad of marine organisms including fish, but provided significant livelihood support and also formed an invaluable protective barrier offshore (protecting the land from heavy storms, tsuinamis and wave action).

Dynamite fishing has a profound impact on coral recruitment, as blasts remove all viable seed populations of corals. Scientists have stated that it may take coral reefs many decades to recover from the impacts of dynamite fishing, and some may never recover. The resulting decline in fish catch that most of coastal residents are currently experiencing is the result of the destruction of coral reefs, the most productive ecosystem in nearshore waters.

Apart from environmental damage, the practice has resulted in several deaths and some fishers losing their limbs.

Coral reefs form the basis of coastal and marine tourism, a valuable national income sector. Coral reefs around the globe provide services valued between US$172-375 billion annually. Reefs must be protected for economic sustainability.

Fish bomb damage, Timba Timba Island, Darvel Bay, Sabah.

Where is the blasting taking place?
Fish bombing is prevalent in Southeast Asia, especially in the Coral Triangle, located in the western Pacific Ocean, where the highest diversity of corals and reef species on the planet is found.

Why do fishermen resort to fish bombing methods?
Small-time fishermen find this method provides bigger yield in shorter time, and can be applied at any time of the day. Fish bombing is a quick process that requires no costly maintenance of fishing nets. However, this indiscriminate technique is also wasteful as many fish sink and are not collected. 

Whilst it is sometimes the case that artisinal fishermen are driven to such destructive techniques through poverty, much blast fishing activity is undertaken for profit. Even if the economy of coastal regions could be improved by governments or other agencies, there is a requirement for more effective enforcement of the law.

Why is it difficult to stop fish bombing?
Enforcement of anti-blast fishing regulations has proved to be difficult. Many of the fishing areas are remote and the blasts go unnoticed. Although blasts produce a lot of sound, it is trapped underwater and little escapes to reach the ears of the authorities. In addition, it is difficult to prove that a fisherman used blasting in a court of law, as the evidence – fish and explosives – are readily disposed of once the fisherman see a patrol boat coming. The Sabah Fisheries Department identifies between 60 and 80 cases of fishing bombing annually, but not many make it to court due to lack of evidence.

The technology developed by Stop Fish bombing is a powerful tool in the fight against fish blasters.

What is the solution?
Teng Hoi’s mission is to promote the use of underwater listening technology as a means of quantifying the blasting activity, hence raising awareness of the problem, as well as offering a means of targeting enforcement activities.

Stop Fish Bombing in the Media

Alternative Income Program

Stop Fish Bombing is in the process of developing an alternative income program for blast fishermen to transition to sustainable shrimp aquaculture at our partner farm. While fishermen can benefit from a more stable livelihood, we aim to farm other seafood products besides shrimp to actively support traceable organic seafood production. We encourage fishermen to put an end to the destructive practice of fish bombing and work with us in the protection of global resources. 

As it is so difficult to trace, it is likely that some of the bombed fish in Sabah end up as aquaculture feed. In order to completely eliminate fish bombing, Teng Hoi has joined efforts with Innawater and a local shrimp farm in Karambunai to address problems of the shrimp industry, which include unsustainable feed, disease, and effluent pollution. We have been conducting research for producing high protein shrimp feed that does not have any trace of bombed fish or wild fish. Other issues that have been crippling the local Sabah shrimp industry have been tackled using Innawater technology. Our shrimp farm will become truly sustainable in the near future and produce high quality shrimp with the help of transitioned blast fishermen.

Our goal is to not only eliminate fish bombing, but to also improve living conditions for fishermen and provide a safe and healthy seafood alternative for consumers.