The Maldives Game Fishing Association (MGFA) held an awards and presentation dinner at Bandos Island Resort on Saturday night.
Marlin, tuna, wahu and sailfish were weighed, tagged and released before points were awarded. One tuna was not weighed, because as crews were pulling it out of the water for weighing a shark came by and bit it in half. The head was brought to the weigh station, which ended in a clean crescent-shaped bite.
Samples of sailfish were sent off to be tested, some caught fish were used for DNA testing, other fish were donated to locals as food. The largest specimen was a 50 kilogram sailfish.
While fishing is a niche market in the Maldives, one travel operator noted that angling was one of the UK’s most popular sports and a potential drawcard for the Maldives.
Champion angler Ahmed Zamir, from the Meeru Team which earned 400 points, said the event was challenging because the allocated fishing area was very small.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to show the integrity and honesty of a fisherman. I had to show the class of line that I used to catch my fish. The whole point was honesty,” he said.
The champion team will be invited to the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA)’s World Championship
IGFA representative at the event, Mario Tagliante, said the event inaugural event showed promise in the Maldives, but said “We were expecting more international response, and response from resorts. But we started our planning process quite late. Next time we’ll be more prepared – we have a year. We’ll get a much better response in 2012.”
MGFA Committee Member Tiffany Bond said the event had helped train people to follow international regulations.
“The challenge also brings more research, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Maldivian fish. Many participants, especially locals, were not familiar with the processes, such as tag and release, and after training for this challenge they are now more familiar with the procedures,” she said.
Chief Judge Bob Lowe said the judging process went well, although he noted that it was difficult to get everyone to use the same criteria.
“This is the first step, I think the event will grow and grow, eventually become one of the world’s major game fishing tournaments,” he predicted.
He explained that the tag-and-release method was valuable because it allowed monitoring of stocks and fish movements: “We’ve found that fish are moving all over, to Mexico and Hawaii and around the Atlantic, and sometimes further north.”
During the reception Minivan News spoke to Larry Zurloff, a Canadian currently living in the Maldives, who explained how he had designed and built a boat several years ago in conjunction with a local fisherman from Thaa Atoll, Mustafa Mohamed.
The pair incorporated a traditional fishing dhoni design with sport fishing facilities. When it is not being used by Larry, Mustafa uses the vessel to fish for his family. Zurloff spent seven days on the boat as part of a team, but mostly caught only smaller fish and scored zero.
“It was great to see friends, meet new people, and for everybody to get together in one spot,” he said.
He also noted that it was good to use the event to raise awareness of tag and release methods, especially for large bill fish: “There’s so little known about fish here, and big fish are decreasing in number each year. I think this could build awareness for tag and release. And it’s a great way to also make some money for the tourism industry.”
He speculated that increasing boat traffic was affecting fish populations nearer to human population centers, and driving up prices since fishermen needed to go further to find fish.
Mustafa didn’t have a clear response to the tag and release practice, and seemed unconvinced of the idea of fishing in order to release the fish. and said it was new.
Larry said suggested that the money in game fishing could divert fishermen from commercial exploitation of stock.
During the launch ceremony in September, MGFA Vice President Ahmed Nazeer said that game fishing had the potential to attract a new tourism demographic.
“The competitors and fishermen we see are not likely to be the average romantic vacationers or honeymooners, but serious competitive sportsmen,” he said.
Nazeer said the specific nature of the sport would attract long-anglers from the United States, a country which is not highly represented in tourist arrivals.
He further indicated that the tournament was in line with global trends. “The approach to game fishing is increasingly popular abroad. If we see significant improvement with sustainable sports fishing, we will take steps to develop a long-term commitment to the sport in the Maldives.