The proceeds of illegal fishing in the Maldives

Fishing has always been a huge part of Maldivian life. Ever since people settled here, fishing has provided a source of food and income. Even after the industrialisation of the fishing sector in 1979, the Maldives maintained a strict policy ensuring sustainable fishing.

The main methods used are pole and line and hand line fishing. These methods ensure that the resource is not over utilised.

However there have always been illegal fishing activities conducted in the Maldivian economic exclusive zone (EEZ), an area of nearly a million square kilometres recognised internationally as Maldivian fishing territory.

The most recent case was reported October 2009, when two Iranian fishing vessels were apprehended by the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) coast guard. These two vessels carried a total of almost 60 tonnes of fish.

Currently all illegal fishermen apprehended by the MNDF are handed over to police for processing and fined between Rf100,000 to 1 million, according to Hussain Sinaan from the ministry of fisheries and agriculture.

The coast guard are left with the problem of what to do with the confiscated fish, he said, which can include high-value product such as shark fin.

“The MNDF will hold an auction to sell the fish, if they believe the fish will go bad,” he said, adding that the auctions are usually announced and open to the public.

The coast guard did not respond to enquiries from Minivan News as to how much confiscated fish has been sold at these auctions, whether the cargo is inspected for protected species, or where the proceeds go.

Recent regulations passed by the EU requires the licensing of vessels catching fish for the European export market, intended to reduce the amount of illegal fishing.