Maldives world’s most vulnerable country to climate-change related impacts on food security

The Maldives is the world’s most vulnerable country to the food-security related impacts of climate change, a new report has found.

According to ‘Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World’, produced by global ocean protection NGO Oceana, the Maldives ranks alongside Togo and Comoros as the most vulnerable to climate-change related food security threats, due to its near total reliance on fish for protein.

The rankings were calculated by combining each nation’s exposure to climate change and ocean acidification, dependence on and consumption of fish and seafood, and level of adaptive capacity based on socioeconomic factors.

“Many of the high-ranking nations based on climate change indicators are located in the tropics and low latitudes,” the report notes.

“This reflects the general trend that fish species are predicted to be migrating toward the poles as water temperatures continue to rise. Tropical countries are the most dependent on coral reef fisheries which are severely threatened.

“Island and coastal nations depend more heavily on fish for protein, especially the poorest nations, increasing their vulnerability. Many of the poorest places are already struggling with hunger issues which will be made worse with high population growth rates and limited additional options for food.”

Half the protein consumed in the Maldives is derived from fish, the report observed, and besides providing direct food protein, countries such as the Maldives also benefited from marine tourism jobs associated with coral reefs and marine life.

“This multi-billion dollar industry could also be threatened by climate change. Therefore, further assessments should incorporate the risks to food security that come from losses in income due to the disappearance of fisheries and tourism related jobs. Local changes to marine resources from ocean acidification and climate change could ripple up through the global economy,” the report found.

‘So long and thanks for all the fish’

Minivan News has earlier reported on the decline of the fishing industry in the Maldives due to an array of factors, notably high-tech and efficient purse seiner vessels from other nations ringing the country’s exclusive economic zone. The traditional – and sustainable – pole and line method used by Maldivian fishermen has left them unable to compete with GPS enabled, sonar-equipped fish aggregation devices of these vessels.

Local fisheries have also been affected by market impacts, particularly the move by major fisheries companies in the Maldives to ship tuna to Thailand for canning and processing despite the presence of local factories – many tins sold locally in shops now have ‘packed in Thailand’ on the label.

Former head of the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO), Adhil Saleem, previously informed Minivan News that changing sea surface temperatures due to climate change were also driving fish deeper, reducing the stocks within reach of the traditional pole and line method.

“Our [pole and line] method only works near the surface,” he said. “But with changes in weather and sea temperature, fish will not surface.”

According to figures from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), tuna fishing is the second largest export earner at US$52 million and the country’s largest employer at 40 percent, but in the last three years contributed only 2 percent of the country’s GDP, dwarfed by the tourism industry. Catches meanwhile declined eight percent in 2011.


Fisheries ministry to act against fishermen employing foreigners

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has threatened action against anyone found guilty of involving foreign nationals in the fishing sector, report Sun Online.

A statement from the Ministry is said to have described reports of foreign nationals working as crew, as well as in other functions, on fishing operations undertaken within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The Fisheries Act of the Maldives prohibits foreigners from fishing within the EEZ, defined as the area extending 75 miles from the outer reef of the atolls, even if they are working in conjunction with Maldivians.


Comment: The Maldives will not survive just on fish and tourists

The world is watching how Dhivehin are struggling to shape up their future by fighting seriously to give up their banana republic and become a player in the big league of democracy.

This is not an easy task, as we in Europe, heirs from ex-fascist countries, know. Changing a system and a mindset requires effort, dignity, time and a strong will to not want to go back in time. Democracy maybe is not perfect but it is by far the best and the most respectful ruling system we can have in a globalised world.

A democratic party system, that necessarily goes hand by hand with respect for the law, is the way to up the value of a country by giving its citizens a determinant role and thus use all the existing potential in the country.

It is clear that under a dictatorship regime this is not feasible. Dictators, like all authoritarian and nepotistic rulers, have only one main goal: become the owners of the country and sponsors of the body and soul of their people, thus owning their life by shaping up slavery either physically or psychosocially, just like old fashioned little kings. The Maldives has already had enough of this.

It is not easy to move from dictatorship to freedom as, like the dog that has been beaten for years, people when free from the hand of the master will tend to go wild and think that anything is possible. That is not democracy. Certainly a coup d’état is not democracy. Dictatorship always gives a false feeling of peace not because there is real peace but because the leash is on, permanently struggling people’s throat.

It is not possible to develop a country in a state of permanent harassment even if disguised of social peace. The core indicators of a country willing to develop are: work for all, freedom, law and respect for people, culture, health and intellectual development. At the moment Maldives lacks from all these in one way or another.

The Maldives – with a basic income from fish (sea resources) and tourism (food will always be an asset, nut tourism is a volatile business), will not be able to develop without offering more to the world. Strategies might be to attract different casts of tourists, with more or less money, but still, tourism is a fairly young industry in the country – only 30 years old. So far so good, however, it cannot be seen as the permanent chicken of the golden eggs. One day the chicken will get old and no more eggs will enter into the basket.

The Maldives, to survive in years to come, needs to offer added value beyond sea protein and nice sunny water bungalows, and it is a fact that in the present industrial and commercial world panorama that is not possible without an evolution of the Dhivehi society. The Maldives is condemned to develop, yes or yes. There is no way back.

The leash, sort of saying, cannot be on anymore and needs to be released unless the population wants to go back in time. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

In a global market, a country is no longer free, certainly neither from a production-commercial point of view nor from a political one as the world has become small, and it will be even smaller in 30 years’ time with supersonic jets and the communication generation. The only way to progress is by enhancing the development of society, opening up the creativity that will lead to discover new resources, give added value to the world and play accordingly.

Maldives is today in a cross roads, and its people need to take a decision on where to go. The possibilities are not that many, I’m afraid.

The author lives in Spain, has a business and marketing degree from ESADE, is the CEO of an international management coach company and a former owner of a Maldives private company.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Maldivian fishing crew arrested on sodomy charges

A Maldivian fishing crew including five men and a minor have been arrested on charges of sodomy.

According to a police media official, the men were arrested on Saturday following reports that they were committing acts of sexual misconduct on the boat.

“We summoned the boat to dock at Villingilli in Gaaf Alif Atoll on Saturday while they were out fishing. They were all arrested upon their return and are now kept under Villigilli police station custody,” the official said.

As the investigation is ongoing, the official declined to reveal the identity of the crew and where the boat is from. “All we can confirm is that they are all Maldivian and one is a minor,” the official added.

According to a report on Raajje TV, the captain of the yellow fin tuna fishing dhoni filmed the five crew members in the act and reported it to police.

Under the 1968 penal code, homosexuality is punishable by either a fine, up to ten years in jail, banishment for 9-12 months or 10-30 lashes.

In 2009 a group of seven men, including an imam, were arrested on Maalhos in Alif Alif Atoll Maalhos after photos and videos emerged of the seven engaged in homosexual activity.

Besides the imam, the pornographic videos featured a mosque caretaker, a carpenter and another man the islanders claimed was mentally unstable. Three of the suspects were married with children, while another was a second, retired imam.


Coconuts and sea cucumbers main course for Maldives agriculture

President Mohamed Nasheed recognised World Food Day this week by inaugurating the Coconut Planting Programme in Noonu Ken’dhikulhudhoo and diving for sea cucumbers off the island.

Recalling his 2009 underwater cabinet meeting, which drew international attention to the topic of climate change, the President’s dive honored an initiative for sustainable aquaculture in the Maldives.

For the past two years, a researcher known as Kandholhudhoo Dombe has harvested sea cucumbers in Ken’dhikulhudhoo lake and sold them on the international market, namely to Singapore and Hong Kong, MP for the area, Ahmed Easa, told Minivan News.

“Dombe did research on sea cucumbers 20 years back, and finally, over the last few years the research has become successful,” said Easa. “We are exporting quite a lot of these, and I believe that with the government’s support we have a good opportunity to develop agriculture in the Maldives.”

Sea cucumbers are bottom-dwelling animals enjoyed most commonly in Asian countries. The species is said to have nutritional and pharmaceutical values.

The government yesterday signed a contract establishing a formal cooperative relationship between Masmeeru Investments and the Noonu Ken’dhikulhudhoo island council. Under the agreement, the lake will be used for 20 years to harvest sea cucumbers, although the lease price will be re-negotiated with the community every five years.

The project comes at no cost to the community, and Dombe is responsible for any environmental or legal damages incurred. Dombe is also required to contribute a minimum of Rf 50,000 (US$3200) annually towards community projects on the island.

The contract has also opened up job opportunities. Easa said that new staffing needs will provide between 10 and 20 jobs for locals seeking employment.

“The government wants to do this properly. Currently, the community is receiving Rf 4-5 million (US$260,000-325,000) in profits annually from the project. It’s time to invest more, and we want to protect both sides,” Easa said.

Approximately 6 tons of Maldivian sea cucumbers with a value of US$12 million are exported annually. They are currently selling for between US$130-$150 per kilogram on the international market. Locally, one cucumber sells for Rf3.

All in the timing

Easa said the initiative comes at an important time for the Maldivain economy. Although leading economic contributor tourism is expanding, the Maldives’ most profitable export industry, fishing, is entering troubled waters.

In an interview with Minivan News, Felivaru’s Deputy General Manager Mohamed Waheed observed that the Maldivian tuna catch has fallen from “very high” figures in 2005-2006 “to now less than it was in 1995-1996.”

“The main thing is that the pattern of fishing changed,” Waheed said at the time. “May to August is the low season, but we can usually still catch fish in the southern waters of the country. But this season it did not happen – we had hardly any fish in the north, and very little in the south.”

Competition from the foreign market is also cutting into local fishing profits. While fresh local fish costs between Rf18-20, the same fish tinned abroad and imported back to the Maldives costs Rf11.

Noting the struggles of the fishing industry, Easa called agriculture the next big economic contributor.

“Tourism and fishing are declining, we need another way to provide income. Sea cucumbers have a bright future. All you have to do is drop the seeds in a lagoon or a lake and let them grow for eight to twelve months,” he said.

During the events on Ken’dhikulhudhoo, President Nasheed noted that the government plans to open the fisheries sector, especially the aquaculture and mari-culture fisheries, for investors. He observed that the Maldives was “wasteful by neglecting the potential use of various products of the palm tree,” and needed to capitalise on its natural and man-made resources to meet daily requirements and generate income-boosting activity.

Overcoming obstacles

The US State Department’s profile of the Maldives notes that agriculture makes up a mere two percent of the nation’s GDP, and that the soil has traditionally supported only subsistence crops such as coconut, banana, breadfruit, papayas, mangoes, taro, betel, chilies, sweet potatoes, and onions.

The report also observes that the 2004 tsunami contaminated many groundwater reserves with salt water. The U. S. government recently contributed US$7.1 million towards improving water systems in Lhaviyani Hinnavaru and Haa alif Dhihdhoo islands.

According to Easa, hydroponic methods may overcome these obstacles.

“The government is doing a good job of informing the community on how to grow products in different systems,” he said. “At yesterday’s festivities, there were stalls instructing locals on how to grow vegetables and fruits at home using these methods.”

Organic farming methods could also yield positive positive results. Island Organics Maldives Pvt. Ltd., which was founded in 2007, supports the Maldives’ first organic farm on Baa Maarikilu.

Company founder Shahida Zubair told Minivan News that the farm uses local resources to fertilise crops by composting shredded leaves, branches and coconut husk, manure from chicken, seaweed from Thulhaadhoo and Hithaadhoo, and kitchen waste.

“We have been trying over four years to fertilise our poor soil organically and now we are successful because the soil is beginning to be alive with micro-organisms and mycorrhizal fungi and earthworms,” she said. Zubair indicated that the soil results can be achieved elsewhere and will improve crop growth.

The President also attended celebrations in Thoddoo of Alifu Alifu Atoll, where he inaugurated the tele-medicine unit at the Thoddoo Health Centre, and helped lay the foundation for new classrooms at Alifu Alifu Thoddoo School.


So long and thanks for all the fish: the decline of the Maldivian fishing industry

The viability of the Maldivian tuna fishing industry is being threatened by the mass harvesting of fish stocks by foreign fishing vessels just outside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Minivan News has learned.

Fishing is the Maldives’ second largest industry after tourism, and the country’s largest employer. The sustainability of centuries-old ‘pole and line’ fishing methods is not only considered a source of national pride, but also attracts buyers from premium supermarkets in the UK and Europe.

“We have noticed a decline in skipjack tuna due to the operation of purse seniers, mainly French and Spanish, along our EEZ,” Fisheries Minister Dr Ibrahim Didi tells Minivan News. “We have heard they are using FADS (Fish Aggregation Devices) across a very big area.”

Purse seining is a fishing method whereby a vessel deploys an enormous net to encircle and capture entire schools of fish at once. The method is very cost effective but indiscriminate, and generates a large amount of bycatch.

It is particularly efficient used in conjunction with 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.

“Nothing escapes,” says Solah Mohamed, Head of Production for the Maldives’ Felivaru fish cannery, which was opened in 1982 in collaboration with a Japanese company.

“Just outside the Maldivian EEZ are thousands of FADS, with sonar and live tracking systems. There are so many deployed that the natural migration of the skipjack is changing,” he says. “Fish that are supposed to migrate into Maldivian waters are being stopped because so many FADS are deployed.”

Solah claims the FADs are deployed by purse seines belonging “mainly to Spain, France and Japan, and also Iran.”

The Maldivian fishing fleet is simply unable to compete due to its reliance on pole and line fishing methods, says Solah, “one of the most sustainable methods of fishing.”

“The issue is that purse seines have become so efficient – and their sizes are becoming huge – as large as 100-400 tons. They say the sonar detects dolphins, but I don’t think it sounds very effective. Sharks, dolphins, turtles – they take everything. I doubt they can be bothered to sort it all out before pulling it on board.”

The under-resourced Maldivian coastguard is unable to monitor the vastness of the Maldivian EEZ, and local fishermen rarely go beyond the 100 nautical miles (the EEZ is 200 miles).

However the issue is not one of legality or of policing capacity. Many vessels at least in the EU fleet are fitted with vessel tracking devices ensuring they do not stray into Maldivian waters. But in international waters, almost anything goes – and seeking to hold foreign countries to account for over-exploitation is near impossible.

“We may as well be under siege,” a senior government source told Minivan News, of the ring of vessels surrounding the country.

Officially, the government is more diplomatic. “This is happening on the high seas and not in our EEZ, so there is very little we can do to raise our concerns,” says Fisheries Minister Dr Ibrahim Didi.

“Purse seiners are operating without limitation in the Indian Ocean near our EEZ, and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) has not taken any measures against it.

“Since we became a full member of the IOTC we have tried to raise the issue and talk with neighbouring countries to take a joint stand. But the IOTC is dominated by European countries.”

Solah from Felivaru has observed the same problem: “We are just becoming a full member, but Japan, Spain and France are big players in the Commission. I have been to one of their conferences and I feel that their voices are heard more than those of the coastal islands. They have more expertise and they can put forward more resolutions, more numbers – we simply don’t have the expertise to beat them.”

A fish aggregation device, or FAD

Last gasps of the tuna catch

Meanwhile, the pole and line catch in the Maldives is in decline.

Felivaru’s Deputy General Manager Mohamed Waheed observes that the Maldivian tuna catch has fallen from “very high” figures in 2005-2006 “to now less than it was in 1995-1996.”

“The main thing is that the pattern of fishing changed. May to August is the low season, but we can usually still catch fish in the southern waters of the country. But this season it did not happen – we had hardly any fish in the north, and very little in the south.”

The foreign purse seines have not reported a declining catch, notes Solah.

“In commercial fishing we talk about ‘catch’ and ‘effort’,” he explains. “The Maldivian catch is going down but according to the IOTC, the purse seine catch is stable. This means the purse seines have hugely increased their effort.”

Value-adding means employment

Felivaru buys fish from local fishermen, canning, labelling and adding value to the commodity prior to export. The company has high demand for its product from upmarket UK supermarkets such as Waitrose, but has been forced to scale down its production lines because it just cannot buy enough fish.

“We are now processing 15 tonnes per day. We can go up to 50 tonnes if we can get the fish – but our cannery has had to scale down because we don’t get enough,” says Solah.

That has impacted employment: “At the beginning of 2008 we employed 1100 employees,” says Waheed. “Four years later we’re down to half that – 550 workers. And all these people are going to lose their jobs when the fisheries collapse.”

“Maybe tourism brings the most money to the country, but fisheries still provides most of the jobs. It accounts for more than half the employment of the entire country,” he explains.

A question of economics

Former head of the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO), Adhil Saleem, now the country’s Transport Minister, attributes the decline in local fisheries to the industry’s struggle to meet global pressures and remain competitive.

He espouses a pragmatic, free market view. Marketing the Maldives’ pole and line fishing as a premium ‘eco’ brand pleases environmentalists and looks fine on paper, he explains, “But our gains in the market are eaten up by the supermarkets, because they are the only outlets marketing the product. ‘Maldivian fishermen saving the world’ does not fetch a premium, because as much as they talk about it, the world is not prepared to pay for eco-friendly fishing.”

Saleem contends that small rises in ocean surface temperatures due to climate change are driving fish deeper, further reducing the stocks within reach of the traditional pole and line method.

“Our method only works near the surface,” he says. “But with changes in weather and sea temperature, fish will not surface.”

“At the same time, look at the way we fish – most countries do multi-day trips, sticking with the same school of fish until it is fished out. Our fishermen fish for bait early in the morning, and then in the afternoon if they are lucky they find a school of tuna, fish it and then leave. The next day they make a wild guess as to where it has gone, and hope they get lucky.

“I also get the feeling that because of the high price we get, our fishermen are not putting in their best efforts. At Rf 25-30 (US$1.6-2) a kilogram, in the south it’s not uncommon for a fisherman to be on Rf 11,000 (US$720) a month. The mentality is: ‘I have enough for today, so I can relax. I don’t need to think about tomorrow.’”

Saleem believes the Maldives will eventually have no choice but to begin purse seining, augmenting traditional fishing know-how with technology such as aerial surveys to share with local fishermen sightings of birds circling the schools.

“The Maldives can certify pole and line fishing, while simultaneously conducting purse seining,” he says. “We need field officers to go on board and teach multi-day fishing techniques, such as using lights at night to catch squid and reef fish so that when they come back they have something to sell.”

Thailand tramples Maldives canning industry

As for Felivaru, the Maldives has to come to terms with the fact that it now competes in a global marketplace, and that maintaining such a level of industry is not economically competitive, Saleem suggests.

“If [Felivaru] is unable to compete in the global market it would be better to do something else. Do we ask why Airbus has not built a manufacturing plant in the Maldives? If [fish canning] is a matter of national pride, then so is having a nuclear plant.”

Based on an island in the north of the Maldives, Felivaru is faced with the high logistical costs of feeding and accommodating large numbers of staff, which other canneries in South Asia do not have to contend with.

“The main problem is that Felivaru is an old factory, and secondly the labour cost in the Maldives is very high compared to Sri Lanka or even Thailand,” adds the Fisheries Minister, Dr Didi.

“There is also a problem of quantity and [consistent supply]. If they are running a factory they require a certain amount of fish per day, which is not economic or feasible as the pole and line method means our fishing is seasonal. Felivaru has four production lines, but I doubt they have ever used more than 1-2 lines because not enough fish is available.”

Saleem adds that the Felivaru cannery “has expanded in the north, while the fish are in the south. It would be better for them to operate in Galle in Sri Lanka where they would not have pay the extra costs such as accommodation.”

The outsourced model has been embraced by Felivaru’s competitor, Kooddoo Fisheries, which now exports pole and line tuna caught in the Maldives to the Thai Union cannery in Thailand for processing and export to UK supermarkets such as Sainbury’s and Marks & Spencer (M&S). Kooddoo also buys cheaper purse seines-caught tuna, then processes and sells it to the Maldivian market at a cheaper price point, undercutting Felivaru. The company has recently opened a shop in Male’ and launched a marketing blitz.

“In Male’ we can buy fish caught one-by-one in an eco-friendly manner for Rf 18-19 (US$1.2). We can also buy an imported can of the same fish caught with purse seines for Rf 11 (US$0.70),” says Saleem.

“Instead we should eat the Rf 11 tin and export the Rf 19 tin to increase the amount of foreign currency available. The Maldives, Japan and India are not bothered about pole and line – it is only fashionable in Europe.”

Felivaru’s Solah complains that this approach forces the cannery to compete for the dwindling supply of fish with companies that are simply exporting the raw commodity without adding value.

“The government should be encouraging the fisheries industry to remain in the Maldives, because if the fish stay it means jobs and wealth stay in the country,” Solah argues.

“It is really sad to see the label on these cans that reads ‘Maldivian pole and line tuna’, complete with a picture of a Maldivian island, next to ‘Packed in Thailand’. Who is checking how much the Maldives supplies, compared to how many cans come out of Thailand? They can buy 1000 tons of Maldivian pole and line fish, and supply 2000 tons of Maldivian ‘pole and line fish’ to UK supermarkets. There is no regulatory board monitoring them.”

Saleem argues that Felivaru “cannot expect fish to be sold to it at a subsidised rate. Kooddoo is exporting because the price is better. The companies would not export if Felivaru was prepared to pay world market rates – they just wouldn’t, because of the increased cost of shipping.”

Solah concedes that the Thai Union cannery can afford to pay more for unprocessed fish, even including transport costs, because of the operation’s economies of scale, cheaper labour and lower overheads.

“People are willing to pay more for a premium pole and line product, but currently there is no disincentive to export unprocessed fish,” he says. “Government policy should be to add value while the fish is in the country, and to make sure there is enough fish available to run the factories inside the country at full capacity before exporting it.”

Maldives pole and line tuna, packed in Thailand

Sustainability sells, says Sainsbury’s

Minivan News contacted Sainsbury’s supermarket in the UK, which sells the Thai-processed product marketed as Maldivian pole and line tuna.

“The pole and line method is recognised as the most responsible fishing method for catching tuna mainly as a result of minimising bycatch in the fishery,” explained Sainsbury’s Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager, Ally Dingwall.

Media coverage around the issue of sustainability in fisheries meant it was “increasing in the public consciousness in the UK,” she said.

“The Maldives is associated with a pristine environment and clear, clean waters which deliver great quality tuna, and this is clearly attractive to consumers.”

The supermarket regularly audited its supply chain and was able to trace its products to the capture vessel via the batch code, she said.

“Sainsbury’s have had tuna products packed in the Maldives in the past but encountered logistical difficulties in supply. We are reviewing the situation at present with a view to recommencing an element of our supply from Maldivian canneries,” Dingwall explained. “Our suppliers of products such as sandwiches and sushi which contain tuna as an ingredient are already sourcing pouched, pole and line caught tuna from Maldivian processing establishments.”

Yet while the Maldivian fishing industry grapples with the pressures of climate change, globalisation and appeasing Big Grocery, the ring of foreign purse seines sieging the country’s EEZ are, according to the IOTC, scooping up tuna to the tune of US$2-3 billion a year.

“By catching fish one by one we are using a bucket to scoop from the well, while the rest of the world is pumping,” says Saleem. “It is going to finish – and we will not have got our share of the catch.”

On this, Solah agrees.

“If the Indian Ocean fisheries collapse, the European, Japanese, Chinese and Iranian vessels can go to other oceans. But what can we do? This is the only industry we know. We have to negotiate and beg other countries to please stop, because this is killing us.”


Game fishing fun today, smart tomorrow

“It’s not about fishing for today, it’s about fishing for tomorrow.”

Committee Member for Maldives Game Fishing Association (MGFA) Tiffany Bond said its upcoming Maldives Game Fishing Challenge, in association with Dhiraagu, will involve locals and tourists in a tradition-based water sport while supporting conservation efforts.

“The competition is a big introductory way for local and international anglers to fish alongside each other, sharing expertise and learning more about the big fish that are out there. We look forward to providing an equal playing field for all involved,” said Bond.

The tournament features tag-and-release fishing, wherein captured fish are ‘tagged’ by inserting a narrow identification tube into the shoulder area before being released into the sea. The method supports fish conservation efforts worldwide.

The tournament will take place from November 9-12 in and around North and South Male’ and Vaavu atolls. Targeted species include marlin, sailfish, yellowfin, big eye, dog tooth tuna and wahoo. Line classes used will be 20, 30, 50 and 80 pounds, with minimum weights on all classes.

The International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) has endorsed the competition as an IFA Offshore World Championship Qualifying Event.

Fishing is the Maldives’ only export, and an integral part of its culture and heritage.

Noting that the Maldives is 99 percent water, Bond said it was “extraordinary” that big game fishing had not previously been introduced on a large scale. She suggested that the oversight was due to the Maldives’ tradition of “fishing for now, and usually catching smaller fish locally with dhonis and small lines. We would like to add to that tradition by introducing the conservation-friendly sport of big game fishing.”

Several resorts in the country offer game fishing as an excursion, however the practice of tag-and-release remains largely unknown.

Bond said that while these resorts have the sporting equipment their crews are often unfamiliar with methods such as how to handle a fish “to give it an optimum chance at life after release,” said Bond.

Growth of the sport is expected to add to the Maldives’ large tourism economy. “The Maldives is a unique place for game fishing because it can appeal to the angler and the angler’s wife. While the angler goes fishing, there are lots of things for the wife and family to enjoy as well. In many ways, it’s another feather in the tourism hat,” said Bond.

MGFA Vice President Ahmed Nazeer said game fishing would 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 at a press conference today.

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.”

MGFA aims to develop conservation efforts and contribute to local charities. Bond said the association intends to collaborate with the Male’ Marine Research Center, and hopes to unite other conservation operations into a robust cooperative effort.

Under one plan, some of the fish caught will be kept for information gathering purposes and then sold on the fish market. The profits will go to a local charity, which has not yet been selected.

Bond noted in an interview that renowned Australian marine scientist Dr. Julian Pepperell had previously approached the Maldivian government with an interest in developing conservation programs. His inquiries allegedly solicited no response. Bond noted that Pepperell is keen to work with MGFA in the near future.

MGFA anticipates hosting 80 competitors for the event, which is open to local and international anglers. Participants and crew will be trained in the technique and advantage of tag-and-release fishing, and prizes will be awarded to the categories angler, team and boat. Registration fees are US$650, and may be submitted at the MGFA website.


Garbage floats freely from “impatient” boats

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has blamed a surge of garbage floating in Thilafushi lagoon on “impatient” trash boats; trash which is now flowing into the sea.

In 2009, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that 330 tons of waste are transported in Thilafushi island for processing. Thilafushi is commonly known as ‘garbage island’.

Head of the EPA, Ibrahim Naeem, said a “huge amount of garbage” has been collecting in the ocean, due partly to a change in tides. Speaking to Minivan News today, Naeem did not want to say whether the trash was coming from resort boats, but did say the problem “involves everyone”.

“The mechanism for waste collection and disposal needs to be improved,” he said. “The EPA has to do some work on the matter, and the people who are bringing in the garbage and contributing to its buildup also need to take responsibility.”

Naeem said the EPA had photographs and names of several boats that had been dumping garbage into the sea. The agency is now investigating 10 cases.

Naeem said legal action will be taken against boats caught dumping garbage, which would affect fishing and tourism, two of the country’s largest economic contributors.

Yet there are signs that both the garbage and a lack of regulation may already be affecting tourism. In a recent interview with Minivan News, French tourist Marie Kivers noted a lack of waste bins on Male and Guraidhoo.

It’s funny because we who live abroad think that Male’ will be an example for the world about pollution and everything, since global warming is important here. But when you see the inhabitants in the Maldives, they put anything into the sea,” she said.

Some boat captains have claimed that boats from islands, safaris and resorts dump garbage into the lagoon instead of anchoring near Thilafushi, reports Haveeru. An earlier rule stating that garbage had to be dumped before six in the evening likely contributed to the rushed habit.

Reports indicate that the waste exceeds the capacity of Thilafushi. Naeem says some boats are getting impatient.

“The facility at Thilafushi is designed so that only two or three boats can dock and dump at a time,” said Naeem. “If the waste is not removed from the area, however, or the boats take a while, other boats won’t be able to get in and dump their waste.”

The EPA has said that arrangements are being made to ensure that waste is only dumped on the island under the supervision of a council employee – a thing earlier practiced, reports Haveeru. An official also said that boats traveling to Thilafushi will be charged according to waste weight.

Thilafushi is currently the only island designed for waste disposal in the Maldives. Naeem told Minivan News that there are plans for a new site to be developed in Raa Atoll.


Profits grow, crime drops this Ramandan

The President’s Office has announced that fishermen’s income has been increasing steadily over the past few months, while the price of fish has remained constant.

President Mohamed Nasheed said the government aims to support income growth for fishermen, and provided there are no changes to the industry’s current operations, profit levels will be maintained.

Speaking in his weekly radio address, the President further stated that retailers have reporters higher profits this Ramadan than in recent years. He noted that market prices have been controlled, and said the Maldivian economy was moving in the right direction.

Crime ratings have dropped in the past few months, and violent crime rates are notably low, the President claimed.