When asked if the couple if distributing the food on the occasion of the upcoming Islamic month of Ramadan, the first lady’s secretary Fathimath Rahma told Minivan News there was no particular occasion.
The gifts were bought on the couple’s own funds, she said.
One family reported receiving five kilos of rice, one kilo of dates and five cans of tuna, while another reported receiving 20 kilos of rice, one kilo of dates and six cans of tuna. They welcomed the gift from the president and the first lady.
An eyewitness at the IGMH said he saw the first lady handing out envelopes with money to the patients at IGMH.
“When I asked them what the envelope was, they gave it to me and I saw the envelope said it was from the couple and contained MVR1,000,” he said.
But Rahma dismissed rumours the first lady had distributed money to the sick at the IGMH.
“The first lady only visited the patients there, she did not hand them any envelopes,” she said.
With additional reporting by Daniel Bosley and Ismail Humaam Hamid
Splitting the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company Limited (MIFCO) into three competing companies was a “mistreatment of state resources”, says a report from the auditor general.
MIFCO was divided into three companies in 2010, with the introduction of Kooddoo Fisheries Maldives Limited and Felivaru Fisheries Maldives, before President Abdulla Yameen reversed the decision last year.
“Even after the split the main business of these three companies [MIFCO, Felivaru and Koodoo] was the buying and selling of fish which resulted in competition amongst each other,” the audit report read.
With regards to the financial impact of the move, the report’s figures suggest that the overall profits of the state-owned fisheries business was not significantly affected.
“After the split in 2010, MIFCO’s losses amounted to 4.1 million rufiyaa [US$265,888] in 2011 and 2012 and Felivaru Fisheries Maldives operated at a loss of 19.26 million rufiyaa [US$1.2 million],” the audit report read.
“However, Koodoo Fisheries had a profit of 88.8 million rufiyaa [US$5.7 million] in this period,” it continued.
Founded by the state in 1993 for the purposes of buying and selling fish, MIFCO had made a net accumulated loss of MVR317.4 before the split, while all three companies were seen to have a total profit of MVR65.4 million in 2011 and 2012.
The audit report said that numerous faults had occurred in the splitting of MIFCO, citing several mistakes made by the Ministry of Finance and Treasury.
“While not providing an alternative to conduct business [Finance Ministry demanded] MIFCO pay the entire overdraft, which amounts to 70.56 million rufiyaa. The National Planning Council had planned how to divide MIFCO’s fleets amongst the three companies, but the finance ministry did not follow,” the report stated.
The dividing of physical assets between the three companies was not carried out properly, resulting in financial losses and even the breaking down of some equipment, read the report.
Auditor General Hassan Ziyaath recommended that the transfer of physical assets between companies be done according to “accounting principles”, and that a more thorough analysis of the impact on stakeholders be made before any similar decisions in the future
Ziyath concluded by saying that the restructuring of a company’s physical assets should be accompanied by a report demonstrating the potential impact on state income.
Fish exports make up the 98 percent of the Maldives’ exports, of which MIFCO is the leading exporter.
Authorities have said there have been no reported casualties following a fire at a fish processing plant on the island of Hinmafushi in Kaafu Atoll today.
Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News that no one had been seriously hurt in the blaze, which had been brought under control by fire-fighters earlier today. Colonel Raheem added that the suspected cause of the fire was presently unknown.
The Maldives Police Service also confirmed that it had not been informed of any casualties as a result of the fire. However, Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said he could not provide further details on the incident at present as investigations were continuing.
According to local media, the factory, which is used to process fish products such as yellow fin tuna, was severely damaged during today’s blaze, resulting in the site being declared inoperable.
The Sun Online news service reported that authorities had first been notified of the fire this morning, with Hinmafushi Council President Shaan Ibrahim claiming that diesel barrels in the nearby area were believed to have been the cause of the blaze.
The councillor was reported as claiming that islanders, as well as local police and staff from a nearby resort, had attempted to try and control the fire before MNDF officers arrived about an hour after the blaze had been reported.
The factory itself is operated by a company called Maldives Quality Seafood Pvt Ltd.
Attempts by Minivan News to contact the company through details provided on its website were unsuccessful at time of press.
The Civil Court has sent summons to Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MPs Ali Azim and Mohamed Nashiz, regarding a case concerning unpaid loans taken by Funaddoo Tuna Products from the Bank of Maldives in which the pair were the guarantors.
Both Nashiz and Azim were ordered to produce themselves to the Civil Court at 2:45pm tomorrow.
In 2010, the Civil Court and the High Court ordered the company to repay a loan of MVR 117 million (US$7.6 million) taken from the Bank of Maldives. The Civil Court’s ruling stated that the guarantors are also responsible for the loan.
The case has now been submitted to the Civil Court as the company failed to follow the court ruling to pay within a term of one year.
MP Azim alleged that President Waheed Hassan and other senior members of the executive had approached him, offering to cancel the court summons if he agreed to vote for the secret balloting in a way they preferred.
Azim alleged that in addition to Waheed, his Political Advisor Ahmed Thaufeeq and Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza had called him and made similar statements.
MP Riza subsequently voted in favour of the secret ballots. He told local newspaper ‘Haveeru’ that he was “not a fugitive” and would be at the court tomorrow.
A ruling against the MPs would disqualify both from their seat at the parliament as the constitution states that any MP with a decreed debt not paid according to court order will be disqualified.
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.
President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has said he intends to begin resuming the payment of subsidies to fishermen within days. The President added that he would try to provide fish at better prices by increasing the promotion of pole and line fishing in other countries.
President’s Office spokesman Abbas Adil Riza has said that the money was badly needed as the industry was in “real economic trouble,” despite the government coming under pressure to cut state expenditure.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu said that the subsidy had not been paid at all in 2011. He added that this year’s subsidies this year had not been reserved exclusively for fuel, with funding being set aside for measures to encourage investment in ice plants – for which there was apparently a high demand.
Shafeeu also spoke of the ministry’s plans, unrelated to these particular subsidies, to improve access to loans to encourage investment in the industry.
“In terms of the economics of the sector, since 2006 we have seen a decline in fish numbers. In terms of total exports, it has gone down. There are many factors – a lot of them to do with management of the budget. Also there are risks due to the world economic crisis,” said Shafeeu.
The local industry is also thought to have been affected by the mass harvesting of fish stocks by foreign vessels in and around Maldivian waters. Traditional pole and line techniques struggle to compete with the more sophisticated technology and less environmentally considerate practices used by some competitors.
Deputy Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Ali Solih explained that the proposed subsidies amounted to Rf100 million for the year, and would be disbursed once approval came from the Majlis. He added that the current members of the ministry had been working towards this goal since assuming their posts.
The use of the traditional pole and line method being encouraged in the president’s speech have been used in the Maldives for millennia and are an important feature of the industry which has long prided itself on its sustainable practices.
The previous government, however, felt it necessary to look into greater opportunities for the use of long line fishing techniques. It argued that, despite the greater risks of harming protected species, the technique offered far greater economic opportunities for a struggling industry.
A research officer at the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture at the time argued that long line fishing vessels did not have to travel as far as pole and line ships, lowering fuel costs and so making operations more viable economically.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed, speaking at the opening of the Majlis 2010 session that it was not feasible to burn fuel and engage in pole and line fishing in big vessels. He claimed at the time that experts had advised him it would be more profitable to use those vessels for group long-line fishing.
Fisheries Minister Shafeeu said that the ministry would seek to continue this policy of providing varied opportunities to local fishermen. He said that pole and line fishing remained the most “prominent” method used in the Maldives, but said that “diversification is something [that is] required”.
A feature of this approach has been seen in the granting of long-line licenses within the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) exclusively to Maldivian businesses. In April 2010, foreign licences for long lining were terminated by the government.
The long-line fishing method appears as something of a double edged sword for the industry. While the method offers the potential for better harvests of species that subsist in deeper waters such as Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna, it is also alleged to potentially harm the marketability of Maldivian marine produce.
Shafeeu noted that the number of skipjack tuna exports, most commonly caught using the pole and line method had dropped “significantly” although the industry had been able to sustain the numbers of Yellowfin being caught.
Many chains such as Marks and Spencer in the UK place great value on purchasing tuna caught using the traditional economically friendly pole and line method. The marine conservation group Bite Back, in 2010, expressed its belief that the use of long line methods in the Maldives could result in a UK boycott of its tuna products.
Depleted financial stocks
The Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) last year took the Finance Ministry and the Fisheries Ministry to court over the failure to pay fuel subsidies to fishermen.
In a similar case yesterday, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) announced its decision to repay money withheld from government employees during the previous government’s attempts at enforcing austerity measures in 2010.
Abbas remarked that due to a Civil Court ruling on this issue, the Rf443.7 million owed to civil servants was now a “legally compulsory payment.”
This financial commitment comes at a time when the government faces a widening budget deficit, argued by Finance Minister Abdullah Jihad to stand at Rf2 billion, based on current rates of spending.
As part of its new austerity measures, the People’s Majlis has been re-examining the Aasandha health care scheme in an attempt to rein in state overspending. Thorig Ali Luthfee of the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) recently told the Majlis’ Financial Committee that the scheme was likely to spend more than double its allocated budget this year, according to Sun Online.
Were the government able to tame this overspend, it could expect to save around Rf500million. Minivan News was unable to contact Finance Minister Jihad or Ahmed Nazim, head of the Majlis’ Financial Committee, regarding further attempts to cut spending at the time of going to press.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) told the people’s Majlis earlier this month that a failure to reduce spending could have disastrous consequences for the Maldivian economy if it results in the depletion of its foreign currency reserves.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Maldivian authorities say they are ready to join the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) despite initial reluctance, as a changing agricultural situation within local waters requires a more active role in outlining possible quotas and regulations.
Hussain Rasheed Hassan, Minister of State for Fisheries and Agriculture told Minivan News that with the Maldives currently responsible for fishing between a quarter to a fifth of the Indian Ocean’s skipjack tuna catch, the country was now waiting for parliamentary approval to join the tuna commission, which serves as an intergovernmental agricultural organisation.
Having spent two years collaborating with the IOTC regarding possible membership into the group, Hassan claimed that the move was not in contradiction to planned aims of selling more sustainable fish supplies or outlawing harvesting species such as sharks. Instead he claimed it reflected wider aims to work under guidelines set out in an EU initiative to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).
“In the past, we have been very reluctant to become a member of the IOTC, I guess for a number of reasons,” he said. “One [reason] is that we were afraid that by becoming a member, the IOTC will dictate how much fish [the Maldives] can harvest.
As a major stakeholder in supplying skipjack tuna from the Indian Ocean, the state minister claimed that there had in the past been fears that becoming a full IOTC would allow other to enforce quotas on the size of the Maldives’ catch of the fish leading to some hesitation by government in acting in this way.
However, Hassan claimed that the situation has changed very much of late in regards to capturing Indian Ocean tuna, particularly in terms of species such as yellowfin that he said were considered to be at stake throughout the region.
“Our hand line fishermen are targeting these fish. But in the Indian Ocean as a whole, these species are considered overexploited. There was talk that we should have a fish quota for that and we want to be included in these discussions and decision making,” he said. “If we are outside this process we will not be able to say what we want and we will not be able to influence the decision making process of the IOTC. That is not a very good position for the Maldives.”
Hassan claimed that the obtaining membership to the IOTC was also a key requirement of meeting the European IUU regulations, which he said were being sought by major import markets for tuna like the EU and demand cooperation with regional fisheries management organisations.
“It is a market demand really. A lot of our buyers are telling us that we are a major player and should become a member of the IOTC,” he added. “They want us to ensure management measures are put in place and they want us to have a more proactive role in the organisation.”
Just last year, the Maldives government had courted threats from some conservation groups that the country’s fisheries faced being boycotted by certain major UK retailers over a decision to adopt long line fishing alongside the perceived environmentally friendly, yet lower yield, pole and line methods.
The use of the long line system has itself continued to divide opinion with groups like the Maldives Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claiming last March that there were both “good and bad implications” to adopting the practice.
“It is obvious that long line fishing will definitely catch some un-targeted fishes, like sharks and turtles,” EPA director Ibrahim Naeem said at the time.
Senior Research Officer at the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Hussein Sinan, said at the time that long line fishing was “far better for targeting yellowfin and bigeye tuna.”
Hassan claimed that a key interest of the government in looking to long line methods was to try and ensure that the 15,000 to 16,000 people estimated to be employed directly within the fisheries sector remained employed. The state minister added that it was therefore vital to ensure that effective management was put in place around the region to ensure sustainable prospects for fishing.
“We have been a pole and line fishing nation for at least a thousand years, so we cannot afford to give up our interest in this fishing and our culture. So we have got to maintain this for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Unless we can provide alternative and better employment opportunities for people we must remain a significant fishing nation.”
In order to provide the best price from fishermen, Hassan said that adding value to fish being caught in the country was not just linked to processing, but also in the quality of the produce from the way it has been caught.
“There may be an environmental value that you can add to it. I believe that having a sustainable pole and line fishery we are adding value [to the sector],” he said. “There is a huge demand for pole and line fish in the European market, especially the UK. For canned tuna there is a huge demand for pole and line fish and the reason is that the UK buyers have seen how sustainable and environmentally friendly the way we are catching it is. It is small scale and has very insignificant impact on the environment.”
Hassan said that although the government was limited in the amount of financial support it could offer fishermen to help try and manage more sustainable and added value fishing, the Maldives was at the same time working to introduce long line fishing through licensing agreements.
According to the state minister, these agreements have already led to foreign long line fishing in the Maldives being stopped last April.
While Hassan said that there was after this point no legal foreign fishing using long line methods in the country, he added there had also been a loss of opportunity for local business, where fish was being caught on licence and then processed and exported.
“What we are trying to do – and it is in the government manifesto – is to try and encourage the private sector to establish a local long line fleet. So the government is not buying vessels and supplying them, but we are encouraging private parties to acquire oats and start a long line operation,” he said.
Foreigners would therefore continue to be allowed to work on fishing vessels in the country under contract, but the boats themselves would required to be Maldivian owned and managed.
As part of this wider long line pledge, Hassan claimed that authorities were calling on a number of measures to try and prevent creatures that are not allowed to be caught and harvested such as sharks being taken from the seas by accident.
The state minister said that long line fishermen were purposefully being made to aim below 60 metres under the water where sharks and other outlawed creatures were not so abundant and would ensure that the practices were being monitored as required under international standards.
“We are very confident that this will mitigate the by catch issues and we will change regulations if necisary based on the outcomes and results of our long line fishing,” he said. “we are a relatively resource poor country. There is a huge potential under the [60 metre] thermaclime, which is yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna that right now we are not targeting through hand and line fishing.”