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.


“Huge support” for halal certification, says Islamic Ministry

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ has claimed that the new halal certification program for local fish products is receiving “huge support” from local fish processing companies, the ministry has said yesterday.

Denying reports published in local news outlet Haveeru of a lack of support for the programme , the ministry said that issuing halal certificates for five different products from ‘Felivaru’ company is in it’s final stages.

The ministry also stated that “famous Maldivian fish processing companies such as MIFCO” are also in the process of submitting necessary documentation in order to acquire the halal certificate

Training of halal assurance officers to inspect factories has begun, and ministry teams have made visits to “successful” halal industry countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.

The Haveeru article in question – published yesterday – quoted Permanent Secretary of the Islamic Ministry Mohamed Didi as saying that Felivaru was the only company to have shown an interest in acquiring the certification.

Didi was reported as saying that the reason for this could be that such a certificate is not important for their export markets.

According to the article, a team from the ministry had travelled to the Felivaru fish processing factory to check if the process and ingredients used are ‘halal’, with Didi saying that certification would open doors to export Maldivian fish products to middle-eastern markets and would increase the value of such products.

After the EU declined to extend duty-free status on Maldivian fish exports last November, the government has been seeking alternative markets for Maldivian fish products.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon at the time said the decision was connected to Maldives’ reservations towards freedom of religion and other conventions before noting that the Maldives is “not running out of friends in the international community”.

Since then, the government has said it is analysing new markets for such as middle-eastern and Malaysian markets for Maldives fish exports.

Earlier this week, Vice President of the Maldives National Chamber Of Commerce and Industry Ismail Asif said that Maldivian fishermen intended to stage a protest against the EU’s trade policies.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Ministry’s ‘Fiqh Academy’ issued a fatwa this week stating that kosher meals, while halal, are inadvisable in Shariah. The ruling suggested that the import of such goods would “introduce and spread such a religious slogan of the Jews into an Islamic country like the Maldives”.


Fishing vessel splits in two mid-journey

A fishing vessel has split into two while it was out on a fishing trip with 15 fishermen on board on Thursday morning.

The 90 feet vessel, built from fibre, was towed to the island of Gemanafushi in Gaaf Alif Atoll with the aid of other boats later this morning.

None of the persons on board suffered any injuries, according to police reports.

Police stated that while they had received reports of the incident at 8am, the incident itself is believed to have taken place at approximately 6.30am. They stated that police had attended to the incident and worked to save the passengers with the assistance of the public.


MNDF searching for lost fishing boat

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) is searching for the fishing boat “Kanduroadhi” after it was reported missing 54 nautical miles east of Fahala in Thaa Atoll on Thursday around 8:00pm, reports Sun Online.

The MNDF described the missing boat at 75 feet long, dark blue on the sides and orange on top with a white shelter in the middle of the vessel.

Anyone with information on the missing vessel should contract the MNDF on 191 or 3395981.


EU refuses to extend duty-free status of Maldivian fish imports on human rights grounds

The European Union has declined to extend the duty-free status of imported fish from the Maldives, following the country’s failure to comply with international conventions concerning freedom of religion.

The Maldives exports 40 percent of its US$100 million fishing industry to the EU, its single largest export partner by value.

Until January 2014 those exports were duty-free under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) program, a non-reciprocal trade agreement extended to developing countries.

Maldives’ Fisheries Minister Ahmed Shafeeu said the government’s application for a year’s extension under the ‘GSP Plus’ program was declined as it had not ratified all 27 required international conventions.

“The Maldives has reservations to the freedom of religion component. Constitutionally we will not be able to remove these reservations,” Shafeeu said.

EU officials confirmed that the transitional period of trade concessions for the Maldives was due to expire as the Maldives from 2011 was not longer considered a developing country.

The Maldives applied for an extension under the ‘GSP+’ program, a unilateral trade concession of the EU given to a limited number of countries on the basis of good implementation of human rights are labor conventions, officials said, however did not qualify due to the country’s reservations to ICCPR on religious freedom and CEDAW concerning women’s rights.

Under the Maldivian constitution all citizens are required to be Sunni Muslim and the practice of other religions is criminalised. Customs authorities forbid the import of religious items and scan the baggage of tourists arriving at the airport, while politicians frequently use allegations of ‘consorting with missionaries’ as as a political attack.

Foreigner workers such as teachers accused of missionary activity have previously been sentenced but are more usually swiftly deported without trial.

The few Maldivians have publicly tested the religious citizenship provision have faced charges of apostasy, calls for the death penalty and religious counselling while incarcerated, while one journalist who publicly called for religious tolerance narrowly survived having his throat slit in July 2012.

Fisheries Minister Shafeeu warned that the sudden imposing of a 14-20 duty on fish imports would lose the Maldives its competitve advantage over the larger fishing fleets of nearby Sri Lanka and Thailand, and reduce profits to “a marginal value”.

Minister of Economic Affairs Ahmed Mohamed said that at average prices per kg Maldivian companies exporting to the EU would face a loss of US$1.66 per kg once duty was imposed.

“Internationally market price for fish fluctuates,” said Shafeeu. “In good times fish can fetch MVR 150 (US$10) a kilo, while sometimes this falls as low as MVR 45 (US$3) a kilo. Fishermen might not notice the impact [of the duty] immediately,” he said.

Most of the fish caught and exported in the Maldives is skipjack or yellowfin tuna, either processed and canned or sold fresh to overseas markets at a premium due to sustainable pole-and-line fishing techniques.

Shafeeu said the new duty was not unexpected as Maldivian fisheries had been given a three year extension of its duty-free status after graduating from the UN’s definition of a ‘least developed’ country to ‘middle income’ in 2011.

The lack of a year’s extension would force the fisheries industry to speed up exploration of other markets, he said.

“We have looked to the US where we also don’t have to pay duty, also the Russian market. With the Chinese market we have been able to get the health certification we require from them. But the US involves higher flight costs, and the highest value so far has been the EU,” he said.

While tourism is the Maldives’ largest economic sector, indirectly responsible for up to 70 percent of GDP and up to 90 percent of foreign exchange, fisheries is the country’s largest employer at over 40 percent.

The total fish catch has been declining each year since 2006 reaching 83.1 thousand metric tonnes in 2011, leading to fears about the impact of climate change and overfishing by better equipped fishing fleets on the borders of the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).


Dead dolphin found with puncture wound to head

A dolphin with a puncture wound to the head was found dead and stranded on Hoadedhdhoo Island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll yesterday morning (July 17).

In the early morning hours of Tuesday a Hoadedhdhoo resident discovered the dead dolphin on the west side of the island – which faces away from the interior of the atoll towards the open sea.

The dolphin showed no signs of life, but had sustained a visible puncture wound which was bleeding onto the hard, flat coral that surrounds the island like a buffer.

“I think fishing boat people injured it because its head was bleeding. The dolphin looked like its head had a puncture from a fishing hook,” a Hoadedhdhoo government official told Minivan News today (July 17) on condition of anonymity.

This incident could be a potential issue for the Maldives’ fishing industry, which is known for its environmentally sustainable pole and line method, where no nets are allowed, preventing bycatch which makes it ‘dolphin safe’.

The source said he believed the dolphin must have died recently because there was no foul odor coming from the body at the time it was discovered.

A white object in the dolphin’s mouth was a piece of coral probably put there by small children that had been playing near the body, the source explained.

The source noted that “not a lot” of fishing boats are seen off the coast of Hoadedhdhoo. However, large pods of dolphins have been observed in the channel slightly north of Hoadedhdhoo.

About five or six years ago a small dolphin was found dead on the same side of the island, however it did not appear to have sustained any injuries, another Hoadedhdhoo resident told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

Dolphins essential for Maldives’ ecosystem

Following the reported incident, Minivan News contacted the Maldives Marine Research Centre (MRC) to determine the species and age of the dead dolphin.

“From the characteristics of its body shape and erect dorsal fin, it appears to be a common spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris). They can be easily identified by a long slender beak with a black tip and black lips, while their bodies are mainly grey with three toned coloration,” MRC Assistant Research Officer Mariam Shidha told Minivan News today.

While it was difficult to determine the exact size of the deceased dolphin based on the photographs, it is “most likely to be an adult”, since adults range between 1.8 – 2.1 meters in size, while they mature at the size of 1.5 – 1.7 meters, explained Shidha.

“Dolphins are important to our ecosystem because they are apex (top level) predators which control the populations of fishes and squids to keep it all balanced,” Shidha emphasised.

She explained that stranding of cetacean species – a such as whales, dolphins, and porpoises – “do not happen that often” in Maldivian waters; at most two to three per year are reported.

“[Moreover,] in the Maldives its a very rare thing for a dolphin to be injured by a fishermen since they are not a bycatch of pole and line fisheries,” she said. “However, in the Pacific Ocean, fishermen sometimes purposefully catch dolphins as they use other [unsustainable] fishing methods in order to get to the yellowfin tunas that swim underneath dolphins.”

“The MRC has had no reports of such deliberate acts of abuse or harm to dolphins [in the Maldives],” said Shidha. However, any incidents of people harming dolphins or strandings should be reported to the MRC.

All dolphins and whales are protected under the Maldivian Law and almost all the species of dolphins found in Maldivian waters are listed in the IUCN’s red list of threatened species, noted Shidha.

The MRC is working to raise awareness about why dolphins are essential for the environment in the Maldives.

“We are educating the public on the importance of protecting these charismatic fauna which are so important for the functioning of the ecosystem,” emphasised Shidha. “Also we have held a Cetacean Symposium and outreach programs for school children.”

Fisheries Ministry

“When we find a [stranded] dolphin it’s important to know how it happened. However, I don’t know how we can investigate [in this case],” Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu told Minivan News today.

“The type of pole and line fishing we have [in the Maldives] is done in a way that doesn’t harm dolphins,” said Shafeeu. “We have not had reports of dolphins being caught, it’s very unlikely.”

“Although an accident or something can happen, in that case the dolphin should be released immediately,” he emphasised. “Catching dolphins in any way [intentional or unintentional] is not allowed by law.”

“Sometimes dolphins are found washed up on the shore [of an island]. In those cases the incident should be reported to the local island council,” explained Shafeeu. “[But] there is no specific regulation that requires island councils to report to national offices if an animal is found.”

“However, if there are concerns of malpractice or someone is known to be deliberately hurting an animal, then it should be reported [to the relevant authorities beyond the island level],” he added.

‘Dolphin safe’

Environmentally-friendly, sustainable pole and line fishing allows Maldives’ tuna to be certified as ‘dolphin safe’, enabling it to be sold as a “premium” product for the European and US markets.

The ‘dolphin safe’ certification is provided by the Earth Island Institute (EII), an international non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Earlier this year EII Associate Director Mark Berman explained to Minivan News that EII’s ‘dolphin safe’ policy requires that “no tuna company will deal in sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, whales, or their products. All efforts to minimise bycatch of these species is mandatory”.

A November 3, 2011 EII press statement read, “the Maldives tuna industry has adopted a policy to ensure that no dolphins are ever killed in tuna nets.”

“That Dolphin Safe standard is respected all over the world”, Dolphin Safe program Associate Director Mark Berman told Minivan News at the time. “Major tuna importing nations will not buy tuna from governments that harm dolphins.”

According to the EII website, the companies licensed with the dolphin-safe label must meet the following criteria:

  • No intentional chasing, netting or encirclement of dolphins during an entire tuna fishing trip;
  • No use of drift gill nets to catch tuna;
  • No accidental killing or serious injury to any dolphins during net sets;
  • No mixing of dolphin-safe and dolphin-deadly tuna in individual boat wells (for accidental kill of dolphins), or in processing or storage facilities;
  • Each trip in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) by vessels 400 gross tons and above must have an independent observer on board attesting to the compliance with points (1) through (4) above

Export revenue increase “very likely” after obtaining MSC certification: Minister of State for Fisheries and Agriculture

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.


Government to assist fisheries sector with HCFC-free refrigeration switch

The Maldives’ government is to assist the fishing industry in switching to alternative hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) free refrigeration technologies under a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the environment and fisheries ministries.

The MoU signed this week by Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu and Minister of State for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen will aim to phase out the use of HCFC refrigerants in the fishing sector by the end of the decade, according to local media.

The use of HCFC refrigerants has been linked to depletion of the ozone layer and as a result, is presently the subject of international treaties to curb such an impact.

under the MoU, Sun Online has reported that both ministries will target the introduction of HCFC-free technologies in the Maldives as well as introducing policies to support such efforts in line with the Montreal Protocol signed by the country back in 1989.

The Montreal Protocol calls for an end to HCFC usage by 2020 – a date that also coincides with the Maldives’ deadline for efforts to try becoming a carbon neutral economy.


Rainbow Warrior visiting Maldives as part of two month Indian Ocean tour

The Rainbow Warrior – flagship of environmental NGO Greenpeace – is visiting the Maldives as part of a two-month tour of the Indian Ocean.

“Greenpeace has come to the Indian Ocean in order to learn about fishing activities in the region, and to talk to communities, governments, officials and the tuna fishing industry, with the intention of working together to combat overfishing and to stop destructive and illegal fishing,” the international organisation stated.

During the vessel’s visit to the Maldives, the crew will document the pole and line fishery in the southern atoll, hold a one-day conference on sustainable tuna, involving political, fishing and commercial sectors joint monitoring and surveillance with the Maldivian coast guard in Maldivian waters. The vessel will be opened to school children in Laamu Gan.

Executive Secretary of the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF), Athif Shakoor, who is coordinating the Greenpeace visit, told Minivan News that the Rainbow Warrior’s visit was significant for the Maldives, as was the organisation’s endorsement of pole and line fishing methods.

“Pole and line fishing is more sustainable and central to employment in many communities,” he explained.

As a sustainable fishing method, pole and line fishing could be marketed as a premium brand and the higher prices passed to the fishermen, Shakoor said.

Minivan News has previously reported that retail premiums for pole and line-caught fish were being largely absorbed by the supermarket chains that sold them, leaving Maldivian fishermen to compete with the technologically-advanced and substantially less sustainable fishing vessels of other nations.

In October 2011, Minivan News reported concerns from fisheries authorities and industry that the country was effectively “under siege” by the vessels of other nations – particularly the French and Spanish – which had ringed the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with ‘Fish Aggregation Devices’ (FADS).

Fish such as tuna are naturally attracted to the floating object, such as a buoy, 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.

The local canning industry has also expressed concern about being unable to buy fish at a competitive price from local fishermen, who were instead selling their catch to canning conglomerates in Thailand, which were then labelling and exporting the product as a ‘Maldivian’ pole and line product with little oversight of the supply chain.

The Rainbow Warrior

The first Rainbow Warrior was bombed by French agents in 1987 while it was in New Zealand preparing to lead a flotilla of ships in protest against French nuclear testing. The explosion killed a Greenpeace photographer.

After two years of international arbitration the French government was ordered to pay Greenpeace US$8.159 million.

The second Rainbow Warrior vessel was commissioned in 1989. In 2005 the vessel ran aground on a coral reef in the Philippines while inspecting it for coral bleaching, and was ordered to pay US$7000 for the damage caused. Greenpeace paid the fine but claimed the Philippines government had given it outdated navigational charts.

The third – and current – Rainbow Warrior is 57. 92 metres in length, can accomodate 30 people, has a large conference room and helipad, and is powered by five sails with a backup diesel electric engine.