Fishing beneath a tropical sun can test the wits and ingenuity of the finest fishermen, who must balance time spent on active grounds with time needed to keep catches fresh. As an exclusively pole-and-line fishing nation, the Maldives plays a similar balancing act in governing these fisheries: how to modernize vessels and processing while maintaining fishermen’s long-held traditions.
Utilizing part of a recent $160 million loan from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and the Saudi Fund for Development, the Maldives will be able to continue safeguarding their age-old, pole-and-line practices. “We plan to [use funds to] provide ice machines for fishing vessels and construct two new fish processing factories in the south where there are good fishing grounds,” says Mohamed Shainee, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture.
The installation of ice-making machines, in particular, would bestow “control to the fishermen rather to a land facility,” says Shainee, as fishermen would be able to stay longer on fishing grounds and not return frequently to fetch ice.
Ensuring ice availability in a tropical fishing nation is vital; without adequate ice, fish freshness suffers, and so do prices. This is why the Maldivian government began a campaign to construct ice-making factories in each of the 26 atolls, a campaign that will conclude later this year. In bigger fishing atolls like Gaafu Alif Atoll, there are already about seven or nine ice plants,” says Shainee. Of the 1,500 registered vessels in the Maldives, he adds, pole-and-line still represent 65% of skipjack tuna fishing, and 55% of yellowfin tuna.
As eco-minded as Maldivian fishermen may be, they can hardly ebb overfishing without broader help. Tuna is a migratory species, and thus fishing norms have to be applied regionally if stocks are to be maintained. “We cannot make tuna fisheries sustainable by only attending to our waters, because tuna travels,” says Shainee. “We must employ an ecosystem-based approach for conservation.” This approach is meted out at the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), where the Maldives has championed several policies to conserve tuna.
“Yellowfin tuna stock has gone down and therefore a quota has been imposed, a resolution that the Maldives was part of in the IOTC,” beams Shainee. “Now, this quota is being implemented for skipjack tuna, as well,” he continues, adding that the Maldives has also formed a contingency plan for tuna stock depletion, what he calls a “world first.”
In the Maldives, a country that is 99% water, prosperity is predicated upon its people’s ability to live in harmony with the ocean. “About 20% of the workforce in the Maldives is created by the fishing industry,” says Shainee.
“For us, fisheries are not merely a business; they are a way of life. That’s why we must craft a sustainable fishing industry,” he asserts.