A controversial plan to permit long-line fishing in the Maldives has shocked environmentalists and concerned citizens. While the government tries to justify the plan saying it will increase the fish catch and provide a higher income for the fishermen, the plan would have grave implications on the environment and the tuna fishery in the Maldives.

For centuries, successive generations of Maldivian fishermen have practiced the traditional pole and line fishery, which has been hailed as an environment-friendly method. While the Maldivian fishermen abandoned sails on their boats in favour of mechanization, and while the size of the fishing boats has increased dramatically over the past two decades, pole and line fishery has remained the hallmark feature of a unique fishing culture.

The government’s plan to introduce long line fishing to the Maldives could grossly change the landscape of tuna fishery in the Maldives. Long line fishery is criticized worldwide for the merciless death of species such as sharks, turtles and seabirds, all caught unwanted as by-catch. It is ironic that this method of fishery, which could lead to the death of hundreds of sharks in the Maldivian waters, is to be introduced just as the Maldives is about to impose a ban of shark fishery in the country.

Pelagic long line fishery for tuna has its own environmental side-effects, especially in terms of unwanted catch of sharks and turtles.

“We are implementing a total ban and then starting something that is shark fishing by another name,” Ali Rilwan, the Executive Director of Bluepeace, told the local online newspaper Minivan News.

“And the larger problem is how we will be perceived; our fish export is marketed abroad as one that is caught through a dolphin and environmentally friendly method,” Rilwan said.

The environment-friendly label that the Maldivian exporters have so proudly displayed on their fish products would lose its status as the long line becomes a widespread fishing method in the country. The fears Bluepeace has on how long line fishery could destroy the reputation of Maldives seem to be shared by other environmental organisations. Bite Back, a marine conservation group from UK, has told Minivan News that there is a real possibility of a UK boycott of tuna products from the Maldives caught through long line.

Across Europe and in the developed countries, consumers are becoming more conscious about their spending habits, the food they eat and the ecological costs involved in the food production. Retailers and department stores are offering products that cater to this new trend.

“Marks & Spencer, a global retail giant, and one of the major buyers of Maldivian tuna, announced last year it would no longer buy tuna that is not caught by pole and line,” Minivan News reported.

The government of Maldives says it is introducing long line to compensate for the steady decline of fish catch during the past few years. It argues that the big fishing boats used in the Maldives are unfeasible for traditional pole and line fishing. Instead of keeping the boats idle and moored, it could take to the seas again through long line fishery, argues the government.

However, one of the reasons why the larger boats are unable to spend more days on the sea and catch large quantities of fish is the limited supply of ice. There are no adequate mechanisms available for fishermen to spend more days out on the sea without the fish getting decayed. Furthermore, a small catch is not economically feasible because the boat owners have to repay huge amounts to the commercial banks for the loans they obtained to build the boats. Without any development banks in the Maldives, the boat owners have to go for costly loans with high interest rates from the few commercial banks in the Maldives. A small fish catch is not attractive when they have to repay the huge loans.

The size of fishing boats has increased significantly over the past few decades. At first this was thought to be a positive trend, increasing the efficiency of the fishing industry. However, today most of the fishing boats are moored when the fish catch is low. In addition, people demand larger harbours to accommodate these larger fishing vessels. Constructing ‘cut and paste’ harbours in islands without doing proper Environmental Impact Assessments are one of the reasons why the Maldives is experiencing severe beach erosion.

Modifying the existing fishing vessels with sails, and frequent use of sails with engines could reduce operational costs and carbon footprint of fisheries. (Image digitally altered)

The government’s controversial plan to send the larger fishing boats back to the high seas with long line is flawed in many aspects. The plan has severe economic and social implications too. For centuries Maldivian fishermen have been owners of the industry. The fish catch or the income obtained from the catch was divided among the boat owners and fishermen. The fishermen were recognised as important stakeholders and the income from the fishery was distributed more equitably than any other profession in the country.

The government’s long line plan would make the fishermen employees in the fishing industry. Long line fishing would be dominated by a few wealthy and large companies. Even the large boats currently used for pole and line fishery would not be able to compete with much larger boats the big companies would use. If a transhipment port in Ihavandhippolhu could turn the fishermen into employees, the long line fishery could turn them into employees much easily. The fishery could also be dominated by foreign companies using their puppet or proxy Maldivian companies.

Long line fishery would ruin the reputation of the Maldives as a country practicing environment-friendly fishery and tarnish its image abroad. The publicity gained through the country’s cabinet having a meeting underwater last year could all be gone just like bubbles released by a scuba diver.



    March 11, 2010 @ 4:10 am

    […] A controversial plan to permit long-line fishing in the Maldives has shocked environmentalists and concerned citizens. While the government tries to justify the plan saying it will increase the fish catch and provide a higher income for the fishermen, the plan would have grave implications on the environment and the tuna fishery in the Maldives. Read more from environmental NGO BluePeace blog […]

  2. Verena said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 8:26 am

    Thank you for this important article. By hook or by crook, we have to stop long-line fishing from being implemented. Luckily, many Maldivian fishermen know that there’ll be something “fishy” about it and for the ones who don’t, they need proper awareness and clarification on the disadvantages of long-line fishing.
    If nothing helps, I’m ready to go on the street and protest. I’m not a fan of demonstrating, but if there is a public outcry over the sale of alcohol on inhabited islands, I would say a demo against long-line fishing is more than justified!!
    This will damage our economy drastically. The image of sustainable fisheries in Maldives will drop and it’s hard to get it back.

    Always appreciate Bluepeace’s dedication to environmental topics, carry on!

  3. Zaheena Rasheed said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 10:42 pm

    This article suggests access to ice would improve the situation. And that the high quality of Maldivian tuna should not be jeopardized, if it did then consumers would buy less of Maldivian tuna. and that it would have repercussions on the Maldivian image as an environment friendly country. Fishermen would become employees, disturbing the equitable relationship they had with their captains. And that big businesses would dominate the fishing industry.

    I don’t think there is enough evidence to back a lot of these claims, and some of the concerns such as labor relations can be regulated. But before calling for a complete ban on line-fishing, a proper cost-benefit analysis needs to be done.

    I am not for line fishing and am all about the environment. But from an economic perspective: what the hell are you going to do to increase productivity of the fishing industry? Maldives has very low productivity overall. We do not have a lot of local industries, and they aren’t diverse either- due to a lot of factors such as access to markets, an incredibly unskilled and small labor force etc. We need economic development, and sometimes that has to be at the expense of the environment, unfortunately.

  4. Ibrahim said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 10:56 am

    No one is calling for a ban on “line-fishing”. True no statistic, local fishermen are not given license to go on long-lining for tuna presently in the Maldives. I can not understand how complete ban on long line-fishing for tuna could be done when a type of fishery not even allowed in the Maldives for locals. If that the case, no statistics even to allow long-lining for tuna in the Maldives for locals.

    Access to cheap ice and reasonable interest to boat owners in repaying the commercial loans would defiantly be a big relief to the fishermen. This is a fact and none would dispute to this.

    Fishing vessels normally owned by our fishermen are not appropriate for long-lining for tuna, and you need big vessels. How could average fishermen build big vessels for long-lining for tuna when most fishermen find difficult to repay loans for their smaller vessels presently.

  5. aimina said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

    Flying the ‘environment friendly nation’ flag is something Maldivian politicians have been doing for some time.

    I do recall that the former president Gayyoom did a lot of air miles going round the world informing the international community about the environmental vulnerability of the Maldives. At home it’s a different story. His administration was quietly cooking up Hulhumale’ and Thilafushi among other smaller ‘incidents’ that were allowed to happen, such as the octopus of Reethi Rah and the umpteen island harbours which are now contributing to undermine the natural defenses of many islands.

    And now, president Nasheed invests time and energy to produce the biggest stunt so far to put Maldives on the ‘climate vulnerable’ map and commits to going carbon neutral. All this is eye candy to the international news media.

    So what has long line fishing to do with climate vulnerability?
    Not a lot perhaps.

    The point being that politicians are full of meaningless talk that sometimes impresses the international community and especially the media. It is indeed a huge ego-trip. At home, their complete disregard towards actual action on the so-called ‘environment friendly’ nation’s environment friendly commitments are usually seen and felt by the locals.

    If Marks and Spencers has any corporate integrity as a supplier of tuna which has been caught using dolphin friendly methods, then they should stay well clear of the Maldives if this indiscriminate long line fishing method is adopted here.

    At this rate, by the time we become ‘carbon neutral’, there won’t be any marine life left in our seas !!!

    In the Maldives, as is often the case elsewhere, politicians rarely walk the talk.

  6. Miyaru said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

    Bycatch and Finning Jeopardize Ocean Ecosystem Stability.
    Declining shark populations worldwide are further strained by losses to long line fishing. Tighter rules on finning and bycatch may help prevent loss of biodiversity.

  7. stopsharkfinning said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 6:02 pm

    Long lines are a huge threat to the survival of many species of shark. The vast majority of sharks caught by this method are killed only for their fins; the rest of their body is discarded as “bycatch” and thrown back into the sea. The practice of long lining is inextricably linked to finning. Long lining has been banned in a few specific areas such as the US Pacific coast because of its huge impact on ocean life, however in the vast majority of areas it is still legal and practiced routinely. Long lines have been accurately described as a “curtain of death” that catches any living creature unfortunate enough to bite a baited hook.

  8. Mohammed Koya said,

    August 5, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

    Long line is a passive fishing gear compared to Drift Gill netting and Purse seining etc. This gear is used mostly for capture of large pelagics or ground fishes. Due to the peculiar olfactory sense of sharks, they often constitute the major by-catch. However, the sharks, turtles and seabirds are not very common throughout the sea. They are limited to some location and depths viz, the sharks tend to be more near shallow sandy sea bottom, the turtles and birds can not dive to depths more than 100 meters generally etc. The old and experienced skippers could predict the yellowfin or big eye tuna grounds especially near the islands and the suitable time for capture with great precision. The yellowfin tuna is a high value species, a most sought after fish after the bluefin tuna in the Sashimi markets. Long lining is the best fishing method for capturing large sized yellowfin tuna from depths around 150m. Deep sea long lining basing oceanic islands like Maldivian islands does not require very big and industrial scale vessels as the fishing grounds are very nearby. Smaller boats can also set long lines of lesser magnitudes. Therefore, a total ban on yellowfin tuna long lining is uncalled for. Whereas it can be with clear policy aided restrictions of size of craft, number of hooks, area and depth of operation etc.

  9. Salma said,

    October 6, 2010 @ 3:32 pm

    some of us are “environmentalist” at heart but also sentinels of capitalism that recognize nothing but short-term “profit” at the risk of long-term environment degradation. how far can you go, how much can you change when you idolize and hero-worship blindly?

    next thing we know, these people will be justifying the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as rational, a human accident, and so what… a few birds and fish died and the Gulf is large enough for a few drops of oil?

  10. Badeeu said,

    June 24, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

    This is really good for us to recover our big loan, till last last yeah Yamin and his friends only allow to do long line fishing in Maldives costal zone but we are not allow, I really appreciate President Nasheed and his cabinet action regarding this issue.

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