The Fishermen’s Union has rejected Male’ City Council’s proposal to privatise the fish market on the grounds that the change would eliminate competition and complicate boat routines.
“We have to keep our system,” said union chairman Ibrahim Umar. “Privatising will make the operation too big.”
Umar said that 50 vessels currently come to Male’ each day to deliver fish, and that space is tight. Under the proposed plan, said Umar, fishermen would have fewer responsibilities in Male’s fish market but would be expected to make more frequent trips in and out of Male’s harbor.
“There isn’t room for that kind of traffic in the harbor. And there isn’t storage capacity for the extra fish that would be coming in,” said Umar.
According to Umar, the fish market currently enjoys a healthy level of competition.
“Every day the fishing is good, there is enough money, and there is even demand from other atolls for fish from Male’. Privatising the fish market will kill the competition because fishermen will have to sell at the same private rate. Bringing in more fish will also keep the price down, and there’s nowhere to keep it on Male’. We need to run this through the union,” he said.
Male’ Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali ‘Alibe’ Manik said the plan to privatise is an effort to comply with World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, Haveeru reports.
“When we hand over the fish market for management, the fishermen will just have to bring the fish to the market and hand it over to those in charge of management. That way it saves the fishermen time, allowing them to set off fishing faster,” he said.
For Umar, the advantages were unclear.
“How will fishermen get paid? It will take longer if they aren’t selling the fish themselves,” he observed.
Addressing the issue of facilities, however, Umar said that an earlier proposal to build a fish harbour in Hulhumale’ was being revisited by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, the Ministry of Transport and Hulhumale’ Development Corporation (HDC).
In 2009, plans to build a fish harbour on Hulhumale’ were sent to the National Planning Council. The harbour was intended to expand and expedite the fishing industry, and reduce the pressure on Male’s market.
When the National Planning Council rejected the plan, however, Umar said there was a breakdown in communication and trust. “They weren’t talking to us, I found out through the Fisheries Minister that they had rejected the plan. There was no communication with [the union] about the plan or the finances.”
Umar said the union was told there was a lack of funds, but claimed that the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) had set aside money for the harbour. “I don’t know what happened with that money, we never got an explanation.”
In 2006, IFAD approved a post-tsunami recovery program in agriculture and fisheries. IFAD currently classifies the program as ‘ongoing’.
Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Ibrahim Didi, said the earlier financial problems have been resolved and the ministry is currently working with HDC to construct a fish harbour.
Didi said expanding work space is integral to privatising the fish market, which is growing.
“There’s already plenty of demand for the fish,” said Didi. “Privatising it would bring significant benefits to fishermen. They will have more access to the harbors, necessities such as ice will arrive on time, and things will happen more quickly.”
Didi said development of Hulhumale’s fish harbour has priority, and plans for other fish harbours will be considered accordingly.
According to Didi, President Mohamed Nasheed’s plan will distribute fishing components such as ice, oil and parts to different interested parties. Didi said the approach would improve facilities.
“If the different components of the fishing industry are spread out among interested parties working with a commercial interest, then business will move very fast because there will be a real business interest.”
The City Council earlier told Haveeru that the goal of privatising the market was to improve selling procedures, not to increase profits. Representatives said the union’s response would affect planning.
Council representatives and officials familiar with the proposal had not responded to inquiries at time of press.