Islamic Fishing Laws – Tanzania

TANZANIA: Fishermen say no to dynamite – using Islamic environmental principles

In 2000 the Muslim fishing communities of Pemba and Misali islands in Tanzania pledged to conserve Misali Island. Behind this Sacred Gift – given by both the Government of Zanzibar (as land manager and owner of all land and sea in Zanzibar), and the Misali fishing community (as traditional owners, managers and users of the area) – was an extraordinary story.

Misali Island is one of the most important turtle nesting sites in the Zanzibar archipelago and home to some of the most magnificent coral slopes in the western Indian Ocean. In the 1990s it was under severe threat from dynamite-fishing.

For the 1,600 or so fishermen who were traditional owners of the area, dynamite fishing seemed a blessing. Suddenly, instead of having to waste time looking for fish sites, they just dropped some explosives and there was plenty to eat.

What they did not know (and did not think was their business) was the terrible destruction they were doing, not just to the fragile reef ecosystem but also to their own long-term survival. Dynamite takes out young fish along with the mature ones, while traditional fishing leaves the young to slip through the nets and breed later. The explosion also destroys the very environment within which the fish live. In the long run, nobody benefits.

The question became how to help the fishermen understand the problems they were causing, and then stop them. It was the kind of environmental problem that many governments around the world are trying to address.

At first, the government and environmental agencies launched an education program. But few fishermen paid attention to government leaflets. Then dynamite fishing was officially banned. Despite the threat of gunboats the communities refused to accept the ban.

Then a startlingly simple solution was developed. The fishing villages of the East African coast are mostly Muslim, organized under a religious leadership of sheiks who have enormous authority in the communities. The basis of these fishing families’ lives is Islam, with its Qur’an, Shariah laws, and the traditions and customs of the faith.

In 1998, in a joint venture with ARC, CARE International, WWF International and the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science, the sheiks on Masali island came together to explore Islamic teachings about the appropriate use of God’s creation. From these studies the sheiks drew the conclusion that dynamite fishing was illegal according to Islam. They used Qur’anic texts such as “O children of Adam! … eat and drink: but waste not by excess for Allah loveth not the wasters” (Surah 7:31) or Sura 6:141: “…it is He [Allah] who produces gardens, both cultivated and wild…. Eat of their fruits when they bear fruit and pay their dues on the day of their harvest, and do not be profligate. He does not love the profligate.”

This Sacred Gift has already become a model for other Islamic fishing communities around the world.

This piece is taken from the website of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC).

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