The Malé Fish Market, upon a cursory glance, seems unremarkable. Yet, it is anything but. This is one of the last markets in the world where each fish on display – up to the 35-kilogram catch of the day – has been painstakingly caught by pole and line, one by one. These toils add up to more than just the fruits of a fisherman’s daily labor, but rather the unhampered heritage of one of the world’s most eco-conscious fisheries, which today flourishes across the Maldives.
While the rest of the Indian Ocean has succumbed to less sustainable fishing practices, the Maldives has proudly stood its ground. “Our fishermen are like hunters, catching fish one by one, while seine fishermen just drag a net through the sea, scooping up all marine life indiscriminately,” says Adley Ismail, CEO of the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Co Ltd (MIFCO). As a result, the Maldives has emerged as a counterweight to an unsustainable shift, a role that, unfortunately for the ocean, few can compete with. “Today, the Maldives is the only Marine Stewardship Council-certified country that’s exclusively pole and line,” says Ismail, referring to the London-based seafood eco-label. “This has been instinctual for us because our lives are so attached to the sea.”
“Naturally sustainable” fish
While pole-and-line fishing creates no bycatch and doesn’t harm marine life, the method is more costly than less sustainable net fishing. Buyers, therefore, value the story behind the can, rather than just the fish. “MIFCO offers ‘naturally sustainable’ fish products because our fishermen catch them in the most naturally sustainable manner,” says Ismail. “Hotels often mention on their menus how their steaks are sourced from a sustainable farm; this could be done with our tuna, as well,” he muses. “This concept has already been implemented in Europe,” continues Ismail.
“Today, we are planning to invest in two more processing plants,” he says, adding that chilled yellow fin tuna can be processed within 48 hours of catch, and that MIFCO is planning a new store in the Middle East. “Above all, our customers can proudly enjoy fish while knowing that they have contributed to the continuity of a responsible supply chain,” Ismail assures.