The ministry of fisheries, marine resources and agriculture is putting in place new regulations, incentives and technologies to allow the country’s traditional fisheries to grow.
What are the main challenges of the fishing industry in the Maldives today?
In order to grow our fishing industry, our fishing vessels need to explore deeper waters than they do now and fish for lengthier periods of time. However, the fishing fleet we currently have is not geared properly to fish in high seas for long periods. We need a technology-driven next generation fishing fleet, geared for multi-day high sea fishing. This fleet will not be government sponsored, but the state will help create the conditions for private fishing boat owners to upgrade their vessels and become more competitive in the industry. With vessels equipped with ice-making machines, for instance, we can relieve the burden of maintaining land-based ice factories and direct those resources to more productive activities. At a macro level, resources need to be managed more efficiently. Our exclusive fishing zone is divided into four areas where different companies were granted contracts to operate as fish purchasers or aggregators for exports. Some of these aggregating companies have not honored their contracts and currently half of these fishing zones are inactive. Today, only MIFCO and Horizon Fisheries operate as fish aggregators and processors. The fishing industry around the inactive zones nearly disappeared, as there was no one to purchase the fish. The infrastructure which these companies were supposed to contractually create was never developed, and the industry remains under-equipped. We are trying to find solutions to reactivate these areas, which might include bringing foreign investors.
How can you promote adding value to the country’s fish processing chain?
We need to increase our fish processing capacities. At the moment, a major portion of our fish is exported in raw and frozen state to Thailand, where it is packed. This way, we are kept off the value chain. We want to change that by adding more capacity on our islands, helping them to process more products than before. At the moment, our processing capacity stands at around 50,000 metric tons, exported with a declared value of US$120 million. Within the next 5 years, we should be able to process twice as much.
What other policies do you have planned for the sector?
We have been working with the World Bank on a few developments. For instance, we received US$13 million in funding to improve our maritime sector at various levels, particularly surveillance. We will deploy vessel-locating devices to oversee when and where our fleet is fishing. This will also allow us to collect extensive information on fish movement and the quantity collected and will help us detect infractions. The new fisheries law will be implemented soon, which will greatly improve our sector’s management. The other major area we have been focusing on is eco-culture development, in which we are investing US$8 million. To promote bait fishing, which is crucial to the sector, we are developing a multi-species hatchery. Furthermore, we are establishing the Maafushi Training Center, which will focus on human resource development, both in agriculture, fishing and environmental preservation.
What opportunities are there for other markets besides tuna?
We have researched the potential for other business sectors. We have opened up the market for diamondback squid fishing, which can potentially be very lucrative. People will have to be trained and certain equipment is still lacking, but we should easily expand in that market, as well as sea cucumber, for which a number of people have shown interest. Any fish and agricultural product we manage to produce locally represents a gain for the country and the people’s livelihoods. As we move to gather more data and stats, we will also be able to better direct the industry towards optimization.
What opportunities are there in agriculture?
When it comes to traditional agriculture, even though our land is fertile and we produce quite a few products, transport remains a challenge and local producers struggle to market their products. The government has offered incentives to producers, lifting any tax burdens, but now we want to help these producers in the next step, organizing them and helping them guarantee the consistency of supply that major buyers, like resorts, would demand. We want to be the bridge between producers and resorts, while continuing to promote sustainability in the sector.