Fishing is a major industry in the Maldives and a leading export-earner. Skipjack and yellowfin tuna are caught in large quantities. One of the most profitable category of fishes is bonito. Before the development of the tourist industry, fishing was the predominate economic activity, employer and source of export earnings — and still is very significant in all these categories. In 2000, fishing employed about 20 percent of the national workforce and still was the main employer. Now it is the second largest source of foreign exchange after tourism. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Annual per capita consumption of fish and shell-fish in the mid-1990s in the Maldives averaged 175.5 kilograms (386.9 pounds, live weight equivalent), more than any country in the world. Rose Prince wrote in The Telegraph: “Tuna itself is revered by the Maldivian people. Skipjack is eaten with every meal, either salted and dried (known as 'Maldives fish’) or curried. It is the islands’ only plentiful source of animal protein, and along with coconut one of the few foods the country produces. The 1,192 islands of the Maldives amount to only about 180 square miles of land, little of which can be cultivated. Most of the islands’ food is imported.[Source: Rose Prince, The Telegraph, March 11, 2010]

The government established the Maldives Fishing Corporation in 1979 to exploit and manage the country's vast fisheries resource. In the 1980s, fishing accounted for 25 percent of jobs, 16 percent of the GNP and 75 percent of exports. At that time Maldivian President Gayoom said: "Fishing is the lifeblood of our nation; it is inborn in us. From the soil on which we live, to the sea around us, it remains an integral part of our existence. Fishing and our country, and its people, are one and shall remain inseparable forever."

In the late 2000s, fishing employed about 11 percent of the labor force and the fisheries industry, including fish processing, contributed about 7 percent of GDP (gross national product. In 2003, at total of 155,415 tons — valued at $76.4 million that year — was exported. Due to a big drop in the fish catch, fishing only 4.5 percent of GDP in 2007. However, international tuna prices increased that year, increasing export earnings to about $100 million. Most of the production of about 115,000 metric tons in 2007 was skipjack tuna. More than 60 percent of it was exported, mainly to Sri Lanka, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the European Union. Fresh, chilled, frozen, dried, salted, and canned tuna accounted for about 90 percent of all marine product exports in the mid 2000s. The fish catch in 1993 was 89,900 metric tons:[Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook 2009, Gale; “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

The use of nets is illegal in the Maldives. All fishing is supposed to done by line. This is done in part to curtail overfishing. There is a fishing season. Shell gathering is also an important activity in the Maldives, with large quantities of cowries exported for use as ornaments. Several rare shell species are also collected. Cowry shells used to used as money in many parts of the world, mostly in ancient and medieval times, and the Maldives was one of the main suppliers.

Commercial Fish Caught in Maldivian Waters

The Maldivian waters are filled with aquatic life and thousands of species of fish, including snapper, squirrel fish, and parrot fish and large pelagic fish such as grouper, giant trevally, and several types of tuna.

The main catch in the Maldives are skipjack and yellowfin tuna. Most canned tuna and the grilled tuna and tuna salads served in restaurants uses skipjack and yellowfin tuna. Annual Marine exports in the 1990s: frozen shipjack (9,800 metric tons); canned tuna (4,800 metric tons); salted dried skipjack (1,600 metric tons); fish meal (2,400 metric tons); dried skipjack (3,500 metric tons).

Skipjack tuna reach lengths of two and three feet. The fish live in tropical and subtropical waters. One of the most heavily fished of all fishes, they are found in huge schools near the surface that are scooped up with purse seine nets and caught with hooks and lines. Globally, skipjack tuna stock are still healthy.

Yellowfin tuna is widely consumed in Japan in sashimi and sushi. Around 20,000 to 38,000 tons of the annual catch of 100,000 to 150,000 tons of the fish caught in central and western Pacific is consumed in Japan. Because overfishing of the fish is regarded as a serious problem fishing experts have called for a 30 percent reduction of the yellowfin tuna catch globally,

Bonitos and tuna have traditionally been the most lucrative fish to catch. They are caught by pole-and-line and trolling-line from sailboats and motorized wooden boats, Bonito is a name given to various species of medium-sized, predatory fish in the Scombridae family. Bonito most commonly refers to species in the genus Sarda, including the Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda) and the Pacific bonito (Sarda chiliensis lineolata). Bonito can generally refer to any of various scombroid fish related to, but smaller than, tuna. Pacific and Atlantic bonito meat has a firm texture and a darkish color. The bonito has a moderate fat content. The meat of young or small bonito can be of lighter color, close to that of skipjack tuna, and is sometimes used as a cheaper substitute of skipjack, especially for canning purposes. Bonito may not be marketed as tuna in all countries. [Source: Wikipedia]

In Japanese cuisine, bonito refers to the skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), which, in Japan, is called by its local name, katsuo. Katsuo is used extensively in Japanese cuisine. Aside from its prevalence as in raw preparation (e.g. sushi and sashimi), it is also smoked and dried to make katsuobushi, an important ingredient in dashi (a type of common Japanese fish stock). It is also a key ingredient in shiokara.

Hunting great white sharks is against the law in Australia, the Maldives and South Africa. The main shark fishing nations include Argentina, Brazil, Britain, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and the United States.

Maldive Fish

The Maldives are known for "Maldives fish," bonito or tuna that has been boiled, dried and smoked. Maldive fish is popular in India and Sri Lanka. Traditionally produced in Maldives it is made from lightly boiled, smoked and dried tuna or bonito. It is a staple of the Maldivian and Sri Lankan cuisine, as well as the cuisine of the Southern Indian states and territories of Lakshadweep, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In the past it was one of the main exports from Maldives to Sri Lanka, where it is known as umbalaka. [Source: Wikipedia]

Fish caught in the Indian Ocean around the the Maldives including yellowfin tuna, skipjack, little tunny (known locally as la i) and frigate mackerel. All these fishes have been traditionally processed into Maldive Fish although bonito (related to mackerel and tuna) is most commonly used. On a good night, fishermen using simple bamboo poles, can catch 600 to 1,000 fish in two to three hours.

To make Maldives fish, the fish are gutted, skinned and cut following a traditional pattern. The gills, some of the innards, the head and backbone and belly piece are removed. Then the fish is divided into four long pieces called ari. The pieces of fish are boiled, smoked and sun-drying until they acquire a wood-like appearance. In this state the fish can be kept indefinitely without refrigeration, which is one reason why it was such a desired product in the past, serving as an important provision on trading ships.

Traditionally Maldive fish was sold as long wood-like fillets. Ground, powdered fish has traditionally been used in Maldivian and Sri Lankan cuisine as a flavoring and spice in Maldivian dishes such as curries, mas huni, gulha and bōkiba and Sri Lankan dishes such as vegetable curry and coconut sambol. In some dishes just a smidgen of Maldive fish is added to give the dish an umami lift. Packaged Maldive fish is sold already pounded or crushed in small plastic packets.

Fishing Industry in the Maldives

Fishing is the chief manufacturing-style industry in the Maldives, accounting for around seven to 12 percent of GDP, depending on the annual catch and fish prices and how things are faring in the tourism sector. The fishery industry was the dominant sector of the economy until 1985 when the tourism industry overtook it in terms of its contribution to GDP. However, the fishing industry continues to provide a vital source of income for about 20 percent of the population, with about 22,000 individuals involved in full-time fishing activities. (Source: Wikipedia]

About half the annual harvest is frozen, canned, or dried. It is then exported to places like Thailand, Europe, and Sri Lanka as well as Japan and the United States. The Maldivian fisheries sector underwent a major overhaul in the 1980s, increasingly productivity through the modernization of catch collection and processing methods. Expansion of the canning industry and investment in fisheries diversification has also occurred. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Formerly, Maldives shipped 90 percent of its fishing catch of tuna in dried form to Sri Lanka. However, because Sri Lanka cut back its imports of such fish, in 1979 Maldives joined with the Japanese Marubeni Corporation to form the Maldives Nippon Corporation that canned and processed fresh fish. Also in 1979 the Maldivian government created the Maldives Fisheries Corporation to exploit fisheries resources generally.[Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Progress has also been made as a result of fisheries development projects undertaken by the World Bank. Harbor and refrigeration facilities have been improved, leading to a fourfold increase in earnings from canned fish between 1983 and 1985. Further construction of fisheries refrigeration installations and related facilities such as collector vessels were underway in 1994, with funding both from Japan and the World Bank. The nominal catch of fish in the Maldives expanded from 71,245 metric tons in 1989 to 118,183 tons in 1998.

Describing what happens after the daily catch is brought in by the fishing boats, Rose Prince wrote in The Telegraph: “On the landing stage of another island with a processing plant, a skipper waits in suspense as 20 yellowfin are taken from his boat’s ice boxes, then weighed, temperature-tested and graded. Basalo inserts a sashibo, a slim tool that takes a sample of flesh. 'Clarity and good colour earn the fish an A or B grade; a fish that has not been landed quickly, which has lactic acid in the flesh, is a C. The flesh will be like this one, opaque and pale,’ he says. Fishermen are paid less for low-grade fish — one third of the full price. C-grade fish are rejected for the British market.[Source: Rose Prince, The Telegraph, March 11, 2010]

Dhoni: the Fishing Boat of the Maldives

The traditional Maldivian wooden fishing boat is called a dhoni. A dhoni (thoni or dhoney) is a traditional multi-purpose sailing vessel with a motor or lateen sails that is used in the Maldives, South India and Sri Lanka. Varying in size and shape, they are mainly used for fishing and are key to the livelihood for a large proportion of the population. Others have modified to be used for transportation of passengers and serve as ferries and trading- and cargo ship. In the old days most were built with coconut palm timber and had lateen sails. Now, almost all dhonis are driven by diesel motors.[Source: Wikipedia, Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation ]

Maldives has an extensive fishing fleet of boats built domestically of coconut wood, each of which can carry about twelve persons. In 1991 there were 1,258 such pole and line fishing boats and 352 trawlers. Based on a US$3.2 million loan from the International Development Association (IDA), most of the boats have been mechanized in the course of the 1980s. Although the addition of motors has increased fuel costs, it has resulted in doubling the fishing catch between 1982 and 1985. Moreover, the 1992 catch of 82,000 tons set a record — for example, in 1987 the catch was 56,900 tons. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Maldivian sailors are known for their skill navigating in the open ocean without maps or charts. Merchant vessels traditionally traveled to Colombo, Bombay and Chittagong to trade copra, dried fish and coconuts. Up until the 1970s, all fishing vessels were sail craft. Between 1974 and 1980 nearly the entire fish and line masddhoni system of fishing was mechanized with the import of fuel and the training of people to repair boat engines.

Wealthy fishermen have traditionally been the ones with the most boats. Boat owners have traditionally been rewarded with a larger share of the catch than the fishing crew. Fishing rights are often granted to the boat owners. They are sometimes given the right to lease uninhabited islands, mainly to collect coconuts.

Dhoni Boat Building

Although the tools used in the building of dhonis have changed, little has changed in the basic design of the boats and the process in which they are built. As in the past, the boats are still built without a set plan. The design and symmetry of the boat emerges as the boat is being built. [Source: Wikipedia, Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation ]

Imported hardwoods are used in the place of coconut wood, which was used in the past to make the hull. Copper rivets are used to hold the planks together instead of coir, which was used for that purpose even half a century ago. The oldest boats had square sail made of coconut fronds. These were replaced by the triangular lateen sail. These days sails are carried on board but are generally used only during emergencies or to ease the strain of the engines.

Small dhonis are about three meters (10 feet) long. They are used mostly to travel across short distances or to traverse the shallow waters of the lagoon. Islanders often use these to go to nearby islands for firewood. The average fishing dhoni used to be around 10 meters (33 feet), however new generation fishing vessels can be twice the size or even larger. The basic design of dhonis have been tested and tuned over centuries and have proven their worth as seaworthy vessels. Even the luxury cruise vessels that are built in the country uses the same basic hull design and can be as long as 30 meters (100 feet) or more.

Modern dhonis are often built using fibreglass. Their low freeboard is ideal for being ideal for operating in relatively shallow water and are extensively used on resort islands for scuba diving and snorkeling trips. Fishing vessels carry eight to twelve persons. Alifushi in Raa Atoll is the . main site for building dhonis. Building a dhoni takes about 60 days.

Fishing Areas in the Maldives

There are three main types of fishing areas in the Maldives where fishing is done: 1) coral lagoons, 2) the outer coral shelf, and 3) the deep ocean. The islands in the Maldives are too small to have inland lakes and rivers and there are no inland fisheries, aquaculture or inland fish farming. [Source: Maldives Expert, Mia May 14, 2018]

Coral Lagoons off good fishing. According to Maldives Expert: Many of the islands in the Maldives have become submerged, leaving lagoons wholly or partially enclosed by a ring of coral, which teem with hundreds of species of reef fish and other aquatic life. The Outer Coral Shelf slopes away steeply and does not offer as rich fishing grounds as the inner lagoons do.

The Deep Ocean around the islands offer the best fishing and by far the most significant part of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). These areas are inhabited by schooling fish, known as baitfish, and the larger fish that feed on them, such as pelagic hunters lik tuna, trevally, grouper, barracuda, and sharks.. The deep-ocean is where most the Maldives’ fish are caught.

Like all countries with coastlines, the Maldives has a 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The fishing industry of the Maldives has exclusive rights to this area, which covers about 923,322 square kilometers (356,497 square miles). By international law, the Maldives have exclusive rights to fish here.

For many coastal countries, the EEZ roughly coincides with the continental shelf, an area of relatively shallow water, often rich in fish, which is usually less than 200 meters (700 feet) deep and that extends from most continental coastlines. The Maldives, however, does not have a continental shelf as the islands are atolls formed on the remnants of volcanos not continental land masses The atoll equivalent of a continental shelf are the shallow coral floors surrounding the islands and within the coral basins and lagoons. The total land area of the Maldives is about 298 square kilometers (115 square miles). The total coral shelf area is approximately 56,564 square kilometers (21,800 square miles). Although the shelf area is pretty big compared of the Maldives is 120 times larger than the land area, it is relatively small compared to the sections of deep-ocean that form part of the Maldivian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: “The opening of the Maldives Exclusive Economic Zone in the early 1990s meant that more Maldivian vessels were fishing in the sea around the islands. In fact, this zone allowed Maldivian fishermen to tap into a range of around 330 kilometers (200 miles). With the decline of fish stocks in the Atlantic Ocean, the price of fish on international markets seems likely to continue rising into the 21st century, although the subsequent increased pressure on Indian Ocean fish stocks threatens one of the foundations of the Maldives economy. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Fishing Methods in the Maldives

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: The use of fishing nets is illegal, and as a result, the more labor intensive traditional method of fishing by line and pole dominates. Nonetheless, the productivity of the fisheries sector has improved considerably during the 1990s. Although traditional small boats made of coconut wood remain in use, most are used in conjunction with outboard motors. The mechanization of the fishing fleet has been combined with the introduction of Fish Aggregating Devices (which allow the detection of shoals of fish). This has resulted in large fish catch increases,[Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

According to Maldives Expert: A variety of fishing methods are used in the Maldives, ranging from bait and reef fishing to pelagic fishing, which makes up the highest percentage of income earned by the industry. Sharks have been fished for centuries in the Maldives, with the reef shark fishery generating more revenue than the other reef fishing groups. They are caught mainly for export to the East and continue to be exploited. Various types of bait fishing are used in the Maldives, the most common of which is fishing at night using lights.[Source: Maldives Expert, Mia May 14, 2018]

Mariculture is the culture of marine organisms in seawater, and the Maldives has a significant mariculture industry due to the islands being to too small to have inland fisheries or any land-based aquaculture activities. Maritime activities include the culture of giant clams, pearls, spiny lobsters, sea cucumbers, bêche-de-mer, and grouper.

Reef Fishing in the Maldives

According to Maldives Expert:Reef fishing involves fishing for reef fish and other organisms that live among the coral reefs and within the atoll basins. The Maldives is home to 2.86 percent of the world coral reefs and yields more than 30,000 tons per year of commercial reef fish. The atoll basins, which are by far the most substantial part of the Maldivian atolls, are known to have the most abundant reef fish resources, while outside the atolls, the deep reef slopes support some high-value species, but their total potential yield is relatively small. [Source: Maldives Expert, Mia May 14, 2018]

“The most popular fish caught in the reef fishing industry include grouper, snapper, emperor, and reef-associated jack, which are all caught by ancient fishing methods such as handline and longline fishing. The grouper fishing industry, however, has come under pressure due to increasing demand from local tourism and international markets, and although it has been sustainable until now, there is minimal potential for expansion under current fishing practices, which threaten to significantly endanger the stocks of grouper.

“Other reef resources include aquarium fish species, of which about 100 species are caught for export, comprising over 75 percent of the trade, including rare species which are vulnerable to over-exploitation. Occasionally, the horrific practice of cyanide fishing is practiced, which involves spraying a sodium cyanide mixture into the desired fish’s habitat to stun the fish. This not only damages not only other organisms that live in and around the area but the environment in which they inhabit as well.

“Other resources taken from the reef include lobster, squid, cowrie, and cuttlefish (mainly for the tourism industry), red and black coral (heavily exploited), and sea cucumber, which have recently seen an increase in export to the East and are in danger of becoming extinct if current fishing practices continue.

Pelagic Fishing in the Maldives

According to Maldives Expert: Pelagic fishing involves catching pelagic species which live offshore in the open ocean, such as small schooling fish known as bait or forage fish, such as anchovies and herring, and the larger fish that prey on them like tuna, swordfish, barracuda, and ocean sharks. [Source: Maldives Expert, Mia May 14, 2018]

“Tuna fishing is the Maldives’ largest fishing industry, with several species of tuna being caught for both local use and export purposes, the largest percentage of which are skipjack and yellowfin tuna. Tuna are caught by a variety of methods, namely the traditional pole-and-line, hand-line, and long-line methods, with the pole-and-line being the most popular and accounting for up to 90 percent of the total fish catch. This traditional use of the pole and line method is the most eco-friendly way of fishing and has contributed to the sustainability of the tuna resources, allowing for catch levels to be close to their maximum sustainable yield.

“In recent years, the tuna fishing industry in the Maldives has become more efficient, using tuna waste and residue to be processed into fishmeal, an animal food supplement, further contributing to the economy. The industry has also been helped by The State Trading Organisation which rebuilt the efficient tuna cannery plant on the island of Felivaru, updating the technology and adding a laboratory for research and quality control.

Pole Fishing in the Maldives

According to Maldives Expert: “Pole-and-line fishing sees Maldivian fishermen using bamboo or plastic poles of between 10 and 15 feet in length with a line and a feathered barb-less hook attached to the smaller end of the pole. These poles can hold a fish of up to 50 pounds. Forage fish such as anchovies or herring are spiked on the hook and used as bait for the tuna. [Source: Maldives Expert, Mia May 14, 2018]

Describing poler fishermen at work, Rose Prince wrote in The Telegraph: “There is a shoal of skipjack ahead and two boats have already arrived on the scene. In the Maldives, the smaller skipjack are caught by a different method to the large yellowfin: pole and line. As the boat slows the fishermen gather at the back of the boat and turn two water sprays on the water’s surface. Two of the crew begin to throw bucketfuls of live sprats over a wide area. 'They are creating a feeding frenzy,’ Stroyan says, picking up a 12ft bamboo pole with a small barb-less hook and a feather attractor. When the fish, confused by all the activity in the water, bite, the fishermen yank the poles over their shoulders and the fish, not more than 12-20in long, slip off the hooks and are flicked on to the boat. Each time the poles are lowered back into the water, more fish bite. 'They could fish here for hours, catch several tons of fish and still make an impact on only 10 per cent of the shoal,’ Stroyan says. [Source: Rose Prince, The Telegraph, March 11, 2010]

“Our day ends without the sight of a fisherman playing a yellowfin on his hand line, testament to the minimal impact of fisheries on the tuna population. There are mutterings about women bringing bad luck to boats, but forgiveness when the crew settles down on the journey back to sing, drumming water bottles. 'They are singing about their wives, who are unfaithful when they are away,’ Rafeeu says.

“'In the Maldives the methods are sustainable but more care is needed when landing the fish on the boats. It needs to be done quickly, yet not change the tradition of hand-lining.’ Stroyan is keen to see the introduction of electronic reels to the Maldives, to boost the number of fish they can export. 'This is very important, it means they can bring in a fish without a struggle and it will be on ice in no time.’ [Source: Rose Prince, The Telegraph, March 11, 2010]

Why Net Fishing Is not Allowed in the Maldives

Purse seine nets commonly used in commercial fishing. They are named for their conical purse-like nets which are drawn closed from the bottom. The circular net is typically about 470 meters (1,500 feet) long and 45 meters (150 feet) deep. At the end of the net is a buoy that is dropped in the water. The net is then released from the fishing boat as the vessel goes in a circle back to the buoy. Once the net is completely laid out a rope is drawn which closes the bottom of the net. The net is then pulled in until the fish are confined to a small area and then scooped out with a power-operated dip net. Large purse seine nets are deployed by a pair of boats, one on each end of the net. Some operations employ fishing vessels that scoop up a catch and dump it into the hold of a factory ship.

Advanced purse seine vessels, equipped with powerful sonar and, cost around $5 million each and can encircle 3,000 adult bluefin tuna, valued at around $7 million. Ideally purse seine nets are used to ensnare entire schools of fish. They create a vertical wall of net, capable of surrounding a large school. When a winch pulls the bottom closed like a drawstring purse everything inside is trapped.

Rose Prince wrote in The Telegraph: “'It can take up to three hours to draw in a purse seine net,’ says Cesar Basalo, who audits the quality of fish for Nesi. 'The fishing boats pull the net tighter and tighter, crowding the fish, which will be fighting on top of each other. Some die as they fight; the surface water will be red with blood and full of floating body parts.’ [Source: Rose Prince, The Telegraph, March 11, 2010]

“'It is pretty horrific when hundreds of tons are caught, and these boats are capable of doing this three or four times in a day,’ Stroyan says. This method is also indiscriminate, killing more than one species. Such fishing results in tuna of a much lower grade. 'Tuna must be killed quickly or they produce lactic acid in the muscle,’ Basalo says. 'The meat turns brown with a rainbow sheen and cooked appearance.’ In the international waters outside the protected fishing grounds, a bizarre protection from the purse seiners has sprung up in the form of Somali pirates, renowned kidnappers and boat thieves.”

On a Tuna Fishing Dhoni in the Maldives

On her skipjack tuna fishing trip, Rose Prince wrote in The Telegraph: ““We had left Hanimadhoo harbour at 6am searching for both yellowfin and the smaller species, skipjack. Hanimadhoo Island is in the undeveloped far north, an hour’s flight from the capital, Male, and nearby coral islands with their paradise hotels. But it shares an extreme beauty — the astonishing turquoise of the shallow lagoons, white sand and green coconut palms. Many islands in this area are uninhabited, devoted to boat-building or fish-processing. [Source: Rose Prince, The Telegraph, March 11, 2010]

“Yasir Waheed and Nashid Rafeeu run separate fishing companies but work together and are also good friends. They share processing facilities in the Maldives and operate boats. The dhoni are low and wide, built from fibreglass, with a vast tank underneath to carry the live bait. The water inside the dhoni gives the vessel an uncomfortable gait and it rocks like a moving hula-hoop on the Indian Ocean. We are 15 miles offshore, not an atoll in sight. We had breakfast shortly after leaving; a dish made by the fishermen containing grated coconut, cooked skipjack, lime and chilli, served with roti (flatbreads) and hard-boiled eggs. It was one of the most delicious tuna dishes, and breakfasts, I have had.

“In those first moments when the fishermen spot the unmistakable signs of a tuna shoal, everything changes. The inky entity that is the Indian Ocean suddenly reveals the life beneath its surface. Yellowfin tuna, the third largest in the tuna family after bluefin and big eye, are usually accompanied by dolphins. We see their dark backs curving in and out of the water about 100 yards away, and the boat turns towards them. Birds are also circling the area, another sure indication that there are tuna below.

“On the 90ft dhoni, manned by 17 fishermen, led by skipper or 'keyolhu’ Adam Mohammed, there is a rush of activity. Live bait — trigger fish, sprats and mackerel, plus some unfamiliar fish local to the Maldives — are scooped out from a large tank beneath the boat, hooked on each fisherman’s line and dropped over the side. There are no rods or reels. The fishermen don gloves and rubber socks. If a fish is caught, it will be pulled in by hand and killed when rolled on to the boat. But this morning there’s no need. The yellowfin are not biting.”

Sustainable Tuna Business in the Maldives

Rose Prince wrote in The Telegraph: There are two Maldivian fishery bosses on board the dhoni: Nashid Rafeeu of Big Fish, and Yasir Waheed from Cyprea Marine Foods. 'The yellowfin and skipjack tuna fisheries are integral to the Maldives,’ Waheed says. 'It is a tradition passed down through families; we have never changed the way we fish: on lines with live bait.’ There is much to protect: fishing represents 30 per cent of industry here. Hi-tech methods, which damage fish stocks, have never been permitted within the 200-mile exclusion zone around the island, protecting its resources. [Source: Rose Prince, The Telegraph, March 11, 2010]

“I had travelled to the Maldives with the British seafood importer Fred Stroyan and Paul Willgoss, the technical director of Marks & Spencer. Stroyan supplies the chain’s food halls with fresh yellowfin tuna, and M&S also sources canned Maldivian skipjack tuna. Willgoss oversees 68 of the 100 M&S 'Plan A’ initiatives for sustainability, which include recycling waste, ethical trading and animal welfare, plus a sustainable sourcing policy for fish. In 2009 M&S was the first British company to sign up to the World Wildlife Fund’s seafood charter, committing to source all seafood sustainably by 2012 — so far the chain has a good record, sourcing white fish, organic tiger prawns, gurnard and MSC-certified wild Alaskan salmon. Plan A’s objective is a very tall order, watched with much interest by other chains, environment experts and the fishing industry.

“The involvement with Fred Stroyan’s company, New England Seafood International (Nesi), is a wise one. Stroyan, a keen fisherman himself, has 10 years’ experience working with sustainable fisheries and importing to Britain, notably fresh tuna (since 2003) and MSC-certified wild Alaskan salmon. 'I had seen what happened with UK and European fish stocks,’ says Stroyan, who spends more than five months a year visiting fisheries that supply Nesi. 'Being a fisherman myself I was passionate about this and we have always worked in tuna fishing areas that are artisanal. It is always better-quality fish as a result.’

“The quality fish are divided into loins inside a state-of-the-art, well-scrubbed plant. Vacuum-packed, they are dispatched to Britain via BA passenger planes — returning honeymooners sit above next week’s tuna niçoise. 'Fish that is caught on a Wednesday will be in M&S stores within four days,’ Stroyan says, 'and all is traceable back to the boat.’ He estimates he is now bringing 700 tons of yellowfin from the Maldives each year.

“The British market has become essential to the Maldivian economy. This is the cottage industry that grew up. 'The Maldives have an opportunity to become iconic in the way they manage their fishing,’ Paul Willgoss says. 'It is up to us to help them increase their returns and take the earnings back to the people of these islands.’

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Republic of Maldives Department of Information, the government site (, Ministry of Tourism Maldives (, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC,, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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