A fund to help shark fishermen find alternative livelihoods has been launched by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture on World Ocean’s Day, June 8th.
The fund was inaugurated less than a month before a total ban on shark fishing and export of shark products comes into effect on July 1.
The ministry had originally deferred the ban, citing the need to facilitate alternative livelihoods for the 200-odd shark fishermen and middlemen involved in the industry.
Money for the fund
“As we had not pre-planned for this ban, we hadn’t included it in our budget,” said Hussain Sinan, Senior Research Officer at the ministry.
Sinan said the urgent need to declare a total ban arose following a report from the Marine Research Center (MRC), which noted that the number of reef sharks sighted by divers had declined in recent years, that shark stocks were and vulnerable to exploitation due to their slow growth, late maturity and low fecundity.
“We had one year to prepare for this ban, and so we had discussed this with the fishermen involved,” says Sinan.
The ministry plans to raise money to fund the ban through NGOs and the tourism sector.
“The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has promised US$300,000 and some resorts have also pledged money,” he said, but declined to name those involved.
Influential lobby group the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) meanwhile said it is not aware of any resorts contributing to the fund. MATI’s Secretary General ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim says the group has heard of the fund but had not been approached by the ministry.
“Resorts might have been approached directly,” Sim speculated.
The fund to support an alternative livelihood for shark fishermen was a good idea, he suggested.
“We lobbied for a shark fishing ban five years ago, after which a moratorium was placed by the government banning shark fishing in areas close to the resorts.”
A study carried out in 1992 revealed that tourists paid a total of US$ 2.3 million for shark watching dives, while in the same year export of shark products earned a revenue of US$0.7 million.
“If they come to us and say this issue needs to be addressed, we will help of course,” Sim said, but maintained that MATI could only talk to resorts “as on financial issues [such as this] resorts will decide how they spend their money.”
Funding alternative livelihoods
“Shark fishing is not a year long activity, it lasts for about five months” Sinan explained, therefore fishermen already practiced another form of livelihood for the rest of the year like “reef fishing and yellowfin tuna fishing.”
The funds are going to be spent on training opportunities for fishermen, agricultural projects and to boost the “secondary livelihoods” of shark fishermen, he stated.
“It will not be distributed directly to fishermen,” he added. Already the ministry has received requests from islands to help them find markets to sell reef fish and help them to keep fish fresh for longer.
Fourteen islands to receive the fund have already been identified by the ministry.
“We are also floating the idea of buying back long line fishing gear from the fishermen – this way we can identify those involved also,” he said.
Each dhoni would be assessed separately, and owners compensated “taking into account the current market value and depreciation.”
Fisherman’s Union’s President Ibrahim Manik says the ministry has made no contact with the body.
Agreeing that sharks needed protection, he said the issue of compensating the shark fishermen was crucial.
He is supportive of how the money will be spent: “everyone wants money, but a one-off payment is not going to reap positive results in the long run.”
“Even if we were not included in the discussion stage, what the Fisheries Minister is saying is a good thing; the funds need to be spent in a sustainable manner,” Manik said.
However he points out the contradictory nature of announcing a shark ban while on the path to introducing long line.
“Let’s face it: sharks are going to be caught with long lining, and a lot of them are going to die,” Manik said.
Long lining was necessary if local fishermen were to survive, he said.
“Fishermen need to survive and right now we are suffering,” he said, adding that a lot of fishermen were questioning the logic of the ban.
“According to some estimates, there are about 300 Sri Lankan fishing boats that do long lining near the Maldives. They are killing sharks by the dozens, so does having a ban only in the Maldives help? We have no idea how they are going to implement this, but we support the move.”