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MATHEW COPENHAGEN works as a freelance journalist, travelling all around the world to report on the more oddball stories that define our world. It was a slow news day.
Blast fishing, better known by its misleading misnomer "dynamite fishing", is the practice of using explosives to kill large groups of fish for easy collection. Although widely controversial, this practice has been done by countless thousands of fishermen across the world. Blast fishing has existed since the early 20th century, before World War I. Blast fishing, other than being highly dangerous, also results in the needless death of fishes and the destruction of fragile coral reef environments. Despite this, many people still use explosives to fish to support themselves or their families. Today, we get a small yet vital glimpse into the lives of some former blast fishers and people who have been affected by this practice, and hopefully better understand a personal view of this serious issue.
I met "Cletus", a 47 year old former dynamite fisher while researching the environmental effects of blast fishing across the world. He agreed to be interviewed under the condition that his anonymity would be secure. To ensure this, his name has been replaced with a pseudonym, specific location names have been redacted and other people's names replaced with nondescript aliases. Before the interview began, he led me to his modest cottage home, located several miles from a moderately sized city in the American South. He greeted me with some reservation and offered to serve me tea: I respectfully declined. "Cletus" is a man of modest tastes and modest proportions, but his face speaks of decades of hardships and trials. Now he works as a welder, fabricating metal parts for a shipping company. We performed the interview in his small yet tidy living room.
Cletus: It's a pleasure to speak to you, Mr...
Mathew: Copenhagen; pronounced København, please.
Cletus: Right, so... down to business then?
Mathew: Yes, yes. My bad. Tell us how you came to be a dynamite fisher. Was it all of sudden in your youth, or was it gradual, like pouring Mornay sauce on pasta?
Cletus: I'm not sure if this is part of the interview process, but what?
Mathew: Sorry. My apologies. Just ignore the last sentence.
Cletus: M'kay. My father, whose name, FERNANDO, was passed throughout the generations, taught me how to fish "efficiently", as he would call it in his thick southern drawl. We lived in a dirty backwoods west of [REDACTED], and barely anyone made a living there doing anything but fishing. We were but poor folk living off the bounty of the land, but my pa never did see the use in waiting hours on end to catch a fish. Mind you, we had to make a living off this, not some sort of summer retreat for rich folk. Killing the fishes quick and grabbing them by the handful was a lot more profitable, but we were still dirt poor. I am grateful that in my later years I've gained this beautiful house, a beautiful wife and two disgusting demon spawns of children, but back then, all I had was a shanty old house to call our own. I lived with twelve other brothers and sisters.
Cletus: Well, only nine after that malaria outbreak, but other than that, my life seemed swell.
Mathew: That must have been painful for you.
Cletus: It's okay. Don't worry about any trauma I could've got from that, I was three when they died. It hit my pa badly though, loved and cared for the three like they actually were his kin. I was six when my pa taught me to make my first improvised bomb. He did know how to make stuff go boom. Poor man.
Mathew: So... tell me about your father? And any other relatives you have, too? A mother perhaps, or a sick lovechild of some incestuous affair?
Cletus: I don't feel I am at liberty to disperse of any confidential information you're trying to fish out of me, the police already—
Mathew: Again, I am truly sorry. I just relapsed for a while. Tell me about your positive experiences with your father.
Cletus: Oh, I don't know. Talked about him so much already; it brings back some bad memories. You wouldn't mind if I talked about my childhood instead? And what does this have to do with dynamite fishing, anyway?
Mathew: It would be more than fine of you to talk about how you grew up. My news crew and I are all about exposing the personal parts of issues that affect our world. Issues that — ahem — "explore the interconnecting interactions of the people that live in our world. Issues that bring to light the plight of the common man." I rehearsed that all day. Sounds dramatic, no?
Cletus: Yes. Very much so. Now can I talk about my childhood?
Mathew: Of course. Of course. Take your time.
Cletus: Well... it all started when I was born. The circumstances that befallen my birth were very poor, and the doctor lady that visited us couldn't save my mama. Sadness was so much after her death, it hurt my pa bad. That dull ache that perches itself in one's chest and grows and grows till it's a part of you, that affected him his whole life, you know? Except it was less like an organ that contributes to the whole of the bodily function, and more like a parasite. Living under that pain, knowing I was the cause of my pa's hurt, it hurt me as well. I was still too young to understand completely, but I knew I caused that dull ache inside him. The family of ours, of which I was the fourteenth, was very poor to begin with. Other side of the rail tracks and everything. But after that dull ache-bug that got my pa inside started sucking on his view of the path of his life, he tried to flush it away with gallons of liquor. It got so bad that he started hitting himself with shards of glass and contacting ancient voodoo spirits, as my older brother RICKY thought he was, but after much consternation, he settled down eventually. No, we did not strike our fortunes rich and move to [REDACTED], but he tried to stay clean of the bottle. Eventually, he got to be a fisherman again, as were his ancestry before him, and made a very small income. And that's where the explosives came to play.
Mathew: So you were weighed down by your mother's death, which your father secretly blamed you for. How did that make you feel as a growing young child?
Cletus: Now, I thought we were talking about blast fishing here, at least partially, instead of going on about my life. I tried to keep my soliloquy here focused, instead of talking about mundane stuff like swimming and vandalizing neighbor's property, stuff like that that tends to be in dull people's autobiographies. I know your time is not nearly as important as mine, Mr Copenhagen, but shouldn't we be sticking to the, uh... subject at hand?
Mathew: How about you talk about your childhood, but only the parts that pertain to dynamite fishing?
Cletus: That seems like a reasonable compromise. Alright now, as I was saying, this part of my life was when explosives came to play. My father had begun using explosives to stun the trouts and mackerels that swam in the shores of the mighty [REDACTED], and was making a respectable income from the selling of these drop dead fishies. Mind you, "respectable" for us meant more than two nickels and a piece of lint stuck between one's toenails. Now onto the subject of my childhood, as it pertains to the blasting of fishes: all nine of us, as this was after that horrible horrible tragedy, had to pitch in in the family business of dynamite fishing. As I have said before, my father taught me, along with my other brothers and sisters, to make some makeshift bombs. Must've been mighty strange, attempting to teach a young boy the ways of bomb producing, but I didn't mind. Another thing that was mighty strange was how we called it dynamite fishing, which is a misnomer if I've ever seen one. Formula we used was Ammonium nitrate, which was found in fertilizer, diesel fuel and a special secret ingredient of my father's creation which I can't say; I am honor — and law — bound not to tell it. It's quite difficult to make a fertilizer bomb, since the ratios have to be just center in some golden proportion, or it won't go boom. I sure as flaming hell don't consider anyone having a normal childhood when the only parental bonding they got was their pa teaching them how to make an IED, but I remained happy and mostly mentally stable. After the business of bomb making was done, we would lob it at any large body of water and then rake in some floating scaly gold. We did this for years to the point that it was a steady routine of living in life. Dynamite fishing for me was as part of living as was breathing, talking or scavenging food from overflowing refuse.
Mathew: What made you stop?
Cletus: In the interest of remaining informative and letting a deep sorrow out of my heart, I shall tell.
Mathew: So, it was traumatic?
Cletus: Do you think seeing your pa's head get detached from his body at mach speed and propel itself towards your window as traumatic?
Mathew: I... would think so?
Cletus: 'Cus that's what the neighbors said. In reality, the tragedy that had befallen my father was not nearly as fantastical, the townsfolk are known for their embellishing of deaths and other curious gossip topics. It was merely a fuse in a boat that had fired prematurely. It went as well as expected. Coroner said that his face just got burned all over and that he was still alive when he tipped over the boat and drowned. I was at town with my siblings selling the fish we had caught yesterday when the incident happened. Came back home to see his waterlogged corpse drifting by the shore of the lake. I would describe to you the look of his face if not for the horrific burns.
Mathew: Sorry for your loss. It must be hard living with that memory everyday. How do you cope?
Cletus: Naw, that was thirty five years ago. I was twelve when it happened, and since then I have had an ample amount of time to cope and mourn. After the bomb incident, I was put under custody of the great state of [REDACTED]. I heard that my brother ROBERT escaped before the authorities could get him, and became an outlaw, but the rest of were us put in an orphanage and eventually adopted by this Bohemian couple from the North. Still, after all that's happened to me, I can still see the shimmering of that fine lake, and how the water would rise up like a great big mushroom when exploded and spray us all with fresh water and fishy entrails. In retrospect, my childhood wasn't the best a young Southern boy could have, but I lived to tell you about it. And praises to the Lord, that is enough.
Mathew: It's been a pleasure speaking to you, Mr. Cletus. I'd love to talk to you more, but I have to go: flight's in about an hour.
Cletus: That's a very to-the-point way of ending an interview, but I don't mind. Pleasure speaking to you too. You take care now.