CSC to challenge ruling on sick leave allowance

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has decided to challenge an Employment Tribunal ruling that established that the commission cannot deduct a civil servant’s service allowance for sick leave.

A CSC official told local media today that the commission will appeal the ruling at the High Court this week.

The tribunal last Wednesday ruled in favour of a senior project officer at the fisheries minister in a dispute with the commission. Naseef Mohamed had contended that the deduction of MVR66.76 from his service allowance in January when he called in sick for a day was arbitrary.

The tribunal ordered the commission to reimburse the deducted amount within 14 days.

The three members on the tribunal ruled unanimously that deducting the service allowance does not fit any of the circumstances specified in the Employment Act that allow deduction of salary or wage payments.

The commission reportedly began imposing pay cuts for sick days under new civil service regulations enacted in December.

All employees of the fisheries ministry have meanwhile signed a petition to permanent secretary Dr Abdulla Naseer seeking reimbursement of deductions from their service allowance.


Fisheries Ministry to set up stricter fines for turtle hunting

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has revealed today that it is working on setting up stricter fines of up to MVR10 million (US$650,000) for the illegal capture of turtles and tortoises.

Senior research officer Adam Ziyad told Haveeru that the regulation would allow the ministry to penalise offenders who illegally capture turtles and tortoises, adding that the regulation had been sent to the Attorney General’s Office for legal advice.

The government’s response came after local environmental NGOs Ecocare and Bluepeace condemned images circulating on social media showing a turtle being cut in half, demanding an immediate response.

Also speaking at the press conference today, Director Hussein Sinan said that current procedures required the police to file the cases as criminal offenses, leading to a court case which often does not yield results due to difficulties in obtaining testimony from offenders.

However, with the new regulation in place, the fisheries ministry would have the authority to punish the offenders.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, Bluepeace Executive Director Ali Rilwan said that the main obstruction to preventing such instances was poor coordination between the ministry of fisheries and the Environmental Protection Agency – a regulatory body under the Ministry of Environment and Energy.

According to the existing fisheries regulations, the “catching, fishing, collecting or killing” of sea turtles is illegal throughout the country. The collection of sea turtles and eggs is also illegal, but only in 14 of the country’s 1,192 islands.

Source: Haveeru


Fishing vessel fined MVR700,000 for illegal long line fishing

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has fined a fishing vessel MVR700,00 (US$45,000) for partaking in illegal long line fishing.

A press statement from the ministry stated that the vessel, though licensed to operate in the Maldives, was fishing inside the economic boundaries within which long line fishing is illegal.

The Maldives Fisheries Act states that long line fishing can only be done by license holders 100 miles offshore in areas under the jurisdiction of the Indian Ocean tuna commission.

The fisheries ministry also noted that the offending vessel only sunk the long line to a depth of 36 meters, while the regulation states the long line has to be sunk up to 60 meters.

The ministry said that ensuring that vessels operating in the country are following the due procedure is one of the main priorities of the ministry along with the National Coast Guard.

Fisheries minister Dr Mohamed Shainee has pledged to take stronger measures against illegal fishing than his predecessors.


Fisheries minister urges others to follow Maldives in banning shark fishing

Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee has urged participants of a one-day international workshop on ‘Conservation and Management of Shark Fisheries in Pakistan’ to follow in the footsteps of the Maldives and ban shark fishing.

Shainee inaugurated the conference at the Marriot Hotel in Karachi on Monday (September 15), which was organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) in collaboration with the Marine Fisheries Department of Pakistan.

“Shark fishing is completely banned in the Maldives in order to recover the declining population of sharks due to uncontrolled fishing methods,” Shainee was quoted as saying by the Express Tribune.

Shainee reportedly advised formulation of a ‘National Plan of Action’ regarding conservation and management of sharks in Pakistan.

According to Muhammad Moazzam Khan – former director-general of Marine Fisheries Department and WWF-Pakistan technical advisor – export of shark fins and meat from Pakistan declined from 50,000 tonnes in 1980 to 5,000 tonnes at present due to the decrease in shark population.

“Khan said that there are 144 shark species in Pakistan, adding that a few of them are endemic but their status is unknown. He said that the biology of about 35 species is regularly studied and there is an immediate need to declare at least some of the area as a shark sanctuary along the coast,” the Tribune reported.

“Hussain Sinan, of the Maldives Fisheries and Agriculture Ministry, discussed the ban on shark fishing in the Maldives and its impact on tourism. He claimed that shark population is increasing due to the ban in his country, adding that the same needs to be done in Pakistan.”

In 2012, the Maldives government assisted in a programme designed to retrain former shark fishermen in marine farming and aquaculture.


Fisheries ministry denies granting permission for Sri Lankan vessels to cross Maldivian waters

The fisheries ministry has denied rumours that the government has granted permission for Sri Lankan vessels to cross Maldivian territorial waters without prior authorisation.

In a press statement yesterday, the ministry assured that the government would not grant any request that could “have an adverse effect on Maldivian fishermen or the fisheries industry, the country’s independence and sovereignty, or the economy.”

Sri Lanka reportedly made the request at the sixth meeting of the Maldives-Sri Lanka Joint Commission on Tuesday (September 9). A delegation including Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Dr Mohamed Shiny, Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham, as well as senior officials from various government ministries departed to Colombo earlier this week to attend the meeting.

During an official state visit in January, President Abdulla Yameen agreed to “explore the possibility” of giving innocent passage to Sri Lankan fishing vessels through Maldivian waters under the UN Law of the Sea.


Fisheries ministry denies auditor general’s allegations of missing documents

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has denied allegations made by Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim in a letter to parliament’s public accounts committee.

Niyaz had informed the oversight committee that his office has been unable to complete the audit of the ministry for 2009 due to missing documents.

At a press conference today, Permanent Secretary Abdulla Naseer said all documents requested by the audit office were provided following a request on August 29, 2013. He added, however, that the ministry was unable to find six payment vouchers.

In addition, employees did not submit travel reports for 10 overseas trips in 2009, Naseer continued, which were among the documents the auditor general claimed were missing.

Meanwhile, in his letter, Niyaz told MPs that the audit office has decided to conduct a compliance audit of the ministry for 2009 in lieu of a full financial audit.


Fisheries ministry extends application period for loans

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has extended the application period for seeking loans from an MVR8.8 million (US$570,687) fisheries development programme to modernise fishing vessels.

According to local media outlet CNM, the ministry decided to extend the deadline after it expired on July 9 following a number of requests from fishermen.

The new deadline is September 14, the ministry announced, while 60 percent of the loans are earmarked for young fishermen. Details of the loans would be available at the ministry and Bank of Maldives branches across the country.


Addu City Council refutes Kooddoo claims over stalled fish cannery project

The Addu City Council has denied claims by Kooddoo Fisheries Maldives Ltd (KFML) that the company is waiting for the council to grant a plot of land to build a fish processing centre and a cold storage unit.

The government-owned company claimed in a press statement earlier this week that the council has not officially responded to a request for a plot of land in the Hithadhoo harbour area and that a dispute between the council and the Fisheries Ministry over ownership of the land was stalling the project.

Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainy had also claimed during minister’s question at a parliament sitting on June 30 that the council had refused to grant a plot of land.

However, the city council claimed in a counter statement on Monday (July 14) that an 861,113 square foot land north of the regional harbour was leased to Kooddoo on November 1, 2013 for a period of 50 years with no rent to be charged for the first two years.

Moreover, the council stated that Kooddoo obtained a US$4.4 million letter of credit and US$2 million overdraft demand loan from the Bank of Maldives after mortgaging the plot, which was registered under the council’s mortgage registry on November 7, 2013.

The council accused the company of attempting to mislead the public and create division and strife amongst the city’s “fraternal and united community”.

The stated purpose of the planned cold storage facility and fish cannery is to reduce the cost of purchasing fish from Addu City as the fish catch from the southernmost atoll had to be transported to Kooddoo’s main operation base in Gaaf Dhaal atoll.

In its statement, Kooddoo noted that the city council had leased a plot of land to a private company for a similar fisheries-related project, suggesting that fishermen in Addu City would benefit more if only one of the companies was allowed to make the investment.

Responding to the objection, the city council noted that a lease agreement for a 20,000 square feet plot of land with Sea Dynamics SUL was signed on October 10, 2013 – prior to leasing a different plot to Kooddoo – following a competitive bidding process.

The council noted that it did not have the legal authority or jurisdiction to reclaim the land after terminating the agreement and compensating the company.

Moreover, the council accused Kooddoo of being both “reluctant to work in a competitive environment” and “attempting to increase influence and power in business”.

Obstruction of the council’s efforts to create a competitive business environment for the benefit of Addu City fishermen was “unacceptable,” the council statement read.

Kooddoo’s objections also suggested that the company did not wish to conduct any business enterprise in Addu City, the statement added, accusing the company of exerting influence over the Fisheries Ministry to block approval for Sea Dynamics to begin its fisheries business.

“This council has always been working, and will continue to work, to provide broad opportunity for all businesses in an open and competitive environment and to ensure security and protection for entrepreneurs in various sectors,” the statement read.

The Addu City Council also attached copies of the lease agreements with Sea Dynamics and Kooddoo, letters exchanged with the Fisheries Ministry, and copies of mortgage agreements with the Bank of Maldives.

The Addu City Council is comprised exclusively of councillors from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Meanwhile, the audit report of Kooddoo for the financial year 2013 – made public earlier this month by the Auditor General’s Office – noted that the company was “not proceeding further with the cannery project.”

“Accordingly, the total capital work-in-progress shown as that of Addu cold storage facilities and cannery project amounting MVR20,121,839 are overstated by an undetermined amount and the results for the year overstated by the unrecognised impairment, respectively,” the report stated.


Fisheries ministry commences long line fishing training programme

The Fisheries Ministry has launched a training programme to teach long line fishing to youth in collaboration with the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO).

Briefing the press this morning aboard a vessel designed for long line fishing, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee said it was important for local fishermen to be active in all areas of the country to prevent encroachment by foreign vessels as the coastguard could not patrol the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“That would also reduce the illegal fishing from our waters. I believe with the [programme] starting today, our fishermen will go out further at sea, [which would] reduce the share of foreigners in long line fishing at present as much as possible, increase our productivity and create lots of new jobs for youth,” he said.

Long line fishing vessels travel 100 miles from the coast. In October 2011, Minivan News reported that the mass harvesting of fish stocks by foreign vessels was threatening the viability of the country’s tuna fishing industry.

Introducing long line fishing would lessen the dependency on one method of fishing, strengthen the industry’s resilience to external “shocks” and mitigate weakness of the fisheries industry, Dr Shainee said.

Long lining would also allow Maldivian fishermen to catch bigeye tuna, he added, which fetches a high price in the world market.

MIFCO Deputy Manager Ahmed Didi told reporters that the company’s target was to ensure that the youth who complete the training programme would have the capability to work in large yellowfin tuna fishing vessels “anywhere in the world”.

Ten fishermen from Haa Alif Hoarafushi were chosen for the first stage of the training programme, which was to be conducted by experts from MIFCO.

Dr Shainee also contended that long lining was the most environment-friendly method after the traditional pole and line fishing practiced in the country. The pole and line method has long made Maldivian tuna attractive to buyers from premium supermarkets in the UK and Europe.

Precautionary measures would be taken to reduce the impact on the environment, he added, explaining that new types of hooks were available to prevent by-catch of sharks and turtles.

In an interview with Minivan News last month, Dr Shainee noted that the fishing industry has felt the adverse effects of climate change caused by the rising temperature of surface waters.

If the surface water gets a bit hot, then the fish swims deeper. So we need to penetrate through that layer of the ocean to get access to the fish. That is why we have already introduced long line fishing. That is to diversify from just one way of fishing,” he explained.

“Again, we will be very vulnerable if we commit to just one form of fishery. It is a good sign that in terms of income, we are meeting expectations by value in yellowfin and skipjack fishery. So we already have diversified into two forms of fishing.”

Environmental concerns

The annual fish catch in the Maldives declined from approximately 185,000 tonnes of fish caught in 2006 to about 70,000 tonnes in 2011.

In early 2010, the steady decline prompted the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed to propose long lining as an alternative method.

In March 2010, the cabinet decided to allow long line fishing on the advice on the Fisheries Ministry.

Fishermen’s Union Chairman Ibrahim Manik told Minivan News at the time that “around 80 per cent of fishermen are against this new method, but the dire situation means there will be those who will adopt this.”

Manik said he expected Maldivian fishermen to be mindful of the ecological impact.

“Even now our fishermen will release any sharks they catch by mistake, so if our people do long lining they will be more careful,” he said.

An influential shark and marine conservation organisation from the UK, Bite Back, warned at the time that a boycott of long line tuna from the Maldives was a possibility if the government allowed long line fishing.

A year earlier, global retail giant Marks & Spencer announced it would no longer buy tuna that was not caught by pole and line.

However, director of private exporter Big Fish, Ali Riza, told Minivan News that the reaction of European consumers was hard to predict.

“It’s not us that overfished the waters, but now that it’s done, we are being told not to do what western countries had been doing,” he said at the time.

“We obviously can’t seal off our waters – fish are migratory. If we don’t do it others will overfish around us, so we might as well be the ones doing it.”