EPA investigates pictures of alleged dolphin hunting

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched an investigation into images circulating on social media depicting five Maldivians posing for a picture while holding a dolphin.

EPA Director General Ibrahim Naeem said that the agency has found out the names of the individuals in the pictures, which he believes was taken in Faafu Atoll.

“This is a despicable event,” said Naeem. “We should not be touching these animals and should be trying to limit our interactions with them in order to preserve nature.”

He said he did not know whether the dolphin in the picture was released back in to the wild or was dead when the picture was taken.

The images have surfaced in the same week that the EPA launched a separate investigation into pictures showing the staff of a Maldivian safari boat and foreign tourists capturing endangered shark species.

Furamaana Travels – which operate the safari shown in the pictures – has told Minivan News that several protected species including sharks and sting rays were caught before being released back into the ocean after removing the lines and hooks.

However, the pictures prompted outrage as they appeared to show tourists and staff members posing for the camera while holding several of the animals.

Additionally, a 10 minute video showed how one shark was kept in one of the boat holds until it was deemed weak enough for the people to hold it for a picture.

“How would they know what they caught before they fish it out of the water?” asked a Furamaana staff member.

“As soon as it was discovered that endangered species were caught, the safari crew removed the hooks and line. They were released into the sea, unharmed.”

The EPA’s Naeem said today that it is necessary to take out the hook from a fish if it is accidentally caught on the line, in order to prevent infections and irreversible damage.

“However, we should be very careful as to how we do it,” he added.

Executive director at the environmental NGO Bluepeace Rilwan Ali commended the work being done by the EPA to protect the environment, and to bring perpetrators to justice.

“The EPA is proactively trying to take action regarding such issues,” said Rilwan. “Capturing such animals are illegal and adequate measures should be taken against them.”

Last month, local NGOs condemned images showing a turtle being cut in half for its eggs and meat, prompting the fisheries ministry to commence work on introducing stricter fines of up to MVR10 million (US$650,000) for illegal capture of turtles and tortoises.

Related to this story

Safari operators in online picture controversy deny shark fishing

Environmental NGOs call for action as images of turtle slaughter surface

Fisheries Ministry to set up stricter fines for turtle hunting


President considers access for Sri Lankan vessels, rejects US military deal

President Abdulla Yameen has agreed to “explore the possibility” of giving innocent passage to Sri Lankan fishing vessels through Maldivian waters under the UN Law of the Sea, the Sri Lankan government has said.

Yameen is currently on a three-day official state visit to the Maldives’ closest neighbour.

During the visit, the president is also reported to have revealed his decision to reject the US proposal for a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which some had feared would see the establishment of a US military base in the country.

“There have been discussions before… we are not going to pursue it,” Yameen was quoted as telling media in Colombo.

Minister at the President’s Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef has told media the agreement was rejected for fear of upsetting both Sri Lanka and India.

“We have told them that we can’t do it because both India and Sri Lanka are also not happy with it,” Shareef was quoted as saying.

An arrangement to allow the use of Maldivian waters for Sri Lankan vessels was made during President Mohamed Nasheed’s term, being met with harsh criticism from Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – the parent party of President Yameen’s  Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The issue was debated in the parliament at the time, with some MPs saying that the Maldives did not have the capacity to identify and stop foreign vessels fishing illegally fishing, and that such an agreement could further complicate monitoring of the economic zone.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, there should not be any fishing activities during an ‘innocent passage’ through territorial sea of a country.

Just two weeks after he concluded a visit to neighboring India, Yameen is now visiting Sri Lanka following an invitation from his counterpart Mahindha Rajapaksa. Official talks between the two leaders have focused on expanding trade relations between the two countries and bilateral cooperation at international level.

Strengthening cooperation in areas including banking, finance, fisheries, agriculture, tourism, education, health, defence, maritime and culture were also discussed.

During the talks the two countries agreed to expedite the exchange of prisoners and to explore the possibility of removing travel visa requirements.

President Yameen assured the Maldives’ support to Sri Lanka at international and regional forums of common membership, and highlighted the importance of working together at international level in dealing with issues of mutual concern.

President Rajapaksa assured Sri Lanka’s support for development programs in Maldives, and agreed to provide more placements for Maldivian students in Sri Lankan universities, as well as offering training facilities in professional institutions and defence training centres.

Meeting the Sri Lankan Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen, Yameen discussed the importance of reviving the Sri Lanka-Maldives Joint Economic Commission at the earliest opportunity. Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Dr Rajitah Senaratne also urged the Maldives to purchase boats from Sri Lanka.

Three agreements were signed between Maldives and Sri Lanka following the official talks – a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on combating Transnational Crime and Developing Police Cooperation between Sri Lanka and the Maldives, an MoU for Vocational Training and Skills Development between Sri Lanka and the Maldives and an MoU on Sports Cooperation between Sri Lanka and Maldives.


Greenpeace to conduct programme with coastguard to monitor illegal fishing

Greenpeace International has commenced a programme with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) coastguard to monitor illegal fishing in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEC), Oliver Knowles, Senior Oceans Campaigner of Greenpeace UK, said at a press conference in Male’ on Friday.

The Rainbow Warrior – flagship of environmental NGO Greenpeace – is currently 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.


Confusion over Sri Lankan fishing vessel traffic a political red herring: Zuhair

The government has confirmed that no specific agreement has been signed with Sri Lanka allowing Sri Lankan fishing vessels to cross Maldivian waters enroute to the Arabian Sea.

Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said yesterday that the only development of note with Sri Lanka’s External Minister was the release of seven fishing vessels detained by the Maldives on suspicion of illegal fishing.

The confusion was sparked after an article published on August 5 in Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror referred to a statement from the country’s External Minister Neomal Perera, claiming such an agreement existed so long as vessels gave 48 hours notice to the Ministry of External Affairs in Sri Lanka or the High Commission in the Maldives.

“[Local newspaper] Haveeru went to town when Fisheries Minister [Dr Ibrahim Didi] said no such agreement had been signed with Sri Lanka,” President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News today.

“The opposition seized it as an opportunity to whip up confusion and say the government had compromised the sovereignty of the Maldives – their latest favourite red herring.”

Zuhair said that on being informed by Haveeru that Sri Lankan’s External Minister had made such a statement, he had told the journalist that Sri Lankan fishing vessels – or the vessels of any nation – were already entitled to cross Maldivian waters as the Maldives was party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“The Maldives became party to it in 1982, became a signatory in 1994, and ratified it in 2000. It provides for ‘innocent passage’, and in the case of a fishing vessel requires that such gear be stowed,” Zuhair explained.

Article 17 of the convention states that “ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea”, while Article 24 further states that a state “shall not hamper the innocent passage of foreign ships through the territorial sea except in accordance with this Convention.”

‘Passage’ precludes activities such as research surveys, military exercises, “serious” pollution and fishing.

“This may have been taken from an erroneous observation from the Minister during his visit,” Zuhair said, “but the Daily Mirror story is broadly correct, and I told Haveeru that this was permission [Sri Lanka] continued to have. The embassy needs a system where authorities can ID the vessel [to combat illegal fishing].”

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture issued a statement yesterday strongly denying that the reported maritime agreement with Sri Lanka had been signed by the government.

While discussions about allowing passage for Sri Lankan fishing vessels through Maldivian waters had taken place on numerous occasions, “the Maldives has always said that foreign vessels could cross Maldivian seas only in accordance with Maldivian law.”

The press release explains that “innocent passage” was routinely granted for foreign vessels as the Maldives is signatory to the UN Convention on Law of the Sea but foreign fishing vessels without a license to operate in Maldivian waters are required to seek the ministry’s authorisation before entering the Maldives’ economic zone.

Moreover, the Ministry of Defence and National Security must be consulted before authorising passage for such vessels and the Fisheries Act “empowers the ministry to require monitoring systems in the vessels to locate its position through satellite.”

Parliament spent several hours yesterday debating the non-existent agreement with Sri Lanka, which led to a rare split in MDP ranks after MP Mohamed Musthafa vowed to submit a binding resolution demanding the government recall the ‘decision’ as “[Sri Lanka’s] intention is to steal our fish. I cannot just stand aside and watch while they take away our fish, which is the only source of natural resource we have in abundance. It is a right that has to be preserved for future generations.”

The issue quickly fell victim to the Maldives’ highly partisan politics, after head of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)’s fishing branch, Ali Solih, denounced the supposed agreement as “an insult to Maldivian fisherman” and “a dangerous deal,” as the Maldives did not have the capacity to monitor illegal fishing.

DRP MP Ali Saleem then proposed a motion without notice yesterday demanding that parliament “look into what is hidden behind this. Did you know that even if Sri Lankan fishing vessels traveling to the Arabian sea are carrying sharks or fish catch, there is no way to know because of this agreement signed yesterday?”

MDP Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa hit out at the opposition for labelling Sri Lanka as “thieves” in the pursuit of local political gain, and claimed the allegation was “very irresponsible”.

MDP MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed suggested during yesterday’s impromptu debate that “it would be better for us to find out accurate information on the matter”.

The Sri Lankan High Commission had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.


Ban on blue fin tuna could put pressure on Maldivian waters

Minister for State Economic Development Adhil Saleem has told Miadhu that the EU’s decision to back the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ban on blue fin tuna would increase pressure on Maldivian waters.

Saleem warned Coastguards needed to be careful in monitoring illegal foreign fishing vessels that might enter Maldivian waters to catch the blue fin tuna.

He said some fish which are common in the Maldives could face extinction if outer seas were not patrolled carefully.

Bunyaameen, Chairman of the Maldives Sea Product Processors Association, told Miadhu that the decrease in blue fin tuna would increase the value of Maldivian yellow fin tuna.

CITES has proposed a temporary ban on international sale of Atlantic blue fin tuna due to over-fishing and the low numbers of this species. The USA has also backed the ban, but Japan, where most blue fin tuna is eaten according to the BBC, is opposing the ban.

The motion needs a two-thirds majority to pass.


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.


New license will help stop illegal fishing

The ministry of fisheries and agriculture will introduce a new fishing licence aimed at reducing the amount of illegal fishing activity.

The new licenses are necessary to comply with European export legislation, said Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr Ibrahim Didi.

Under this regulation, only vessels holding a license issued by that country’s fishing governing body may export fish to the EU.

“The new license is only required for those needing to export fish to Europe. Fishing for the local market does not require you to have this,” he said.

Illegal fishing methods, such as drag net fishing, was a major problem for the Maldives said State Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr Hussain Rasheed.

“When the new regulation is passed, all exporters must have a paper trail of where their fish came from and who caught them,” he said.

“Without a license illegal fishing groups can’t sell, and once you take the market away they will stop,” predicted Rasheed.

Didi also said that it was important to stay ahead of the game by maintaining standards set by the EU.

“The EU will stop the export of fish into their borders if they feel countries are not complying with their regulations, as was the case with Malaysia and Indonesia,” he said.

Didi also addressed the issue of vessels operating with a expired safety certificates.

“The maximum fine a vessel can incur at the moment is Rf2000,” he said. “So there is a window for vessels to renew their certificates and operate under the regulations set by the ministry.”

Regulations set by the EU would only help local fishermen, he added, by preventing resources from being over-harvested.

The new regulation will take effect from 1 January 2010. In addition to the new license, all vessels will be required to have up to date health and safety certificates available from all atolls.