Minister of State for Fisheries and Agriculture Hussain Rasheed Hassan has revealed export prices for tuna are “very likely” to increase following the decision to award Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification to the Maldives’ pole-and-line skipjack fishery.
The certification was awarded on Monday (November 26), making it the first Indian Ocean tuna fishery to receive the certification.
The MSC ‘eco-label’ is said to provide consumers with the assurance that a product is traceable back to a certified and sustainable source.
According to Rasheed, many European supermarkets have committed to buying tuna caught in the Maldives until 2014, leading to hopes that the certification will bring further positive effects to the industry.
“There is a much better opportunity to sell abroad now, and despite our tuna already selling at a premium rate, I believe this certification will mean it is very likely that the prices will increase further.
“Consumers now have the assurance that our tuna has been caught using sustainable practice, and this has granted us unconditional access to European and American markets,” Rasheed added.
Tuna products are either canned or put into pouches for export, mainly to Europe where many retail and food service sector companies have made strong commitments to source sustainable seafood choices.
The pole and line method of fishing is widely regarded as a highly selective and low impact form of fishing, as the fish are caught individually as opposed to being caught in a net.
Approximately 25 per cent of skipjack tuna stocks caught in the Indian Ocean are done using the pole-and-line method, with the majority of these catches coming from the Maldives.
“Maldivians take pride in their skipjack pole-and-line fishery – a sustainable fishery that has thrived for over a millennium by catching tuna one by one,” Rasheed added.
The fishing industry is the country’s largest employer and the country’s second largest industry after tourism. The method of pole-and-line fishing attracts buyers from premium supermarkets in the UK and Europe.
Fishing and other related activities employ around 30 per cent of the country’s workforce, contributing over 15 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. In recent years, skipjack catches in the Maldives made up approximately 90,000 tonnes of their pole-and-line fishery.
Recently, the Finance Ministry forecast the GDP of the fisheries sector to decline by 1.3 percent in 2013, despite the industry’s productivity expected to rise by 9.7 percent in 2012.
The volume of fish catch has been steadily declining for the past seven years. While approximately 185,000 tonnes of fish were caught in 2006, the number dropped to about 70,000 tonnes in 2011.
During the past five years, the value of the nation’s fisheries industry declined from MVR 489 million (US$31.7 million) to MVR 321 million (US$20.8 million) with a corresponding fall of 3.3 percent of the economy to 1.1 percent in 2012.
In July 2011, the Maldives became a member of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), a body responsible for the regional management of tuna in the Indian Ocean. Later that year there was growing concern over falling fish stocks following the mass harvesting of fish by foreign fishing vessels just outside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
It was claimed that French and Spanish fishermen were using a method of fishing known as purse seining, whereby a vessel deploys a large net to encircle and capture entire schools of fish at once. Despite the method being very cost effective, there is also a tendency for it to pick up other species of marine life.
It was further claimed that foreign fishermen were using Fish Aggregation Devices (FADS). Fish such as tuna are said to be naturally attracted to the floating object, such as a buoy, that is typically fitted with a sonar device capable of determining the quantity of fish below, and a satellite uplink that communicates this to the nearby fishing vessel.
The vessel’s net does not discriminate between the predators and scavengers attracted by the target fish population around the FAD.
Despite the concern raised last year, Rasheed highlighted that the situation has since improved, adding that the fish stocks are not currently threatened in the Indian Ocean.
Rasheed did however highlight the need for an efficient management system to ensure sustainable fishing methods are practiced across the region.
“If vessels are catching too much tuna outside of the EEZ, it means there will be less for Maldivian fishermen to catch,” he added.
The Maldives pole and line skipjack fishery has been certified with eight conditions that must be met within the next five years to ensure the fishery is continuing to function at a sustainable level.