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FEATURE STORY February 27, 2020

Conserving Maldives’ ocean resources for a sustainable livelihood

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The Sustainable Fisheries Resources Development Project aims to improve management of fisheries at regional and national levels. 

Hussain Waheed


Fisheries forms the primary economic activity in many of the Maldives' inhabited islands is facing multiple challenges the lack of governance, deficiencies in management and technology, and the absence of an enabling business environment.

For Ahmed Shareef, who made his living in the Maldives’ blue waters, the grouper fish proved to be a gold mine. When he turned away from catching tuna with a pole and line to fishing this abundant species, his income doubled. With this newfound wealth he built a house and sent his eldest daughter abroad for studies.

Some 20 years later, Shareef and other fisherfolk like him are facing the consequences of taking nature’s bounty for granted. Groupers – once so common that they were considered a nuisance – have now become a scarce resource. Overfishing, disturbances to spawning sites, the lack of regulations on catch size and the unwillingness of some fisherfolk to accept regulations have eroded once-lucrative livelihoods.

A geological aberration in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a true phenomenon of nature. With just one per cent land and 99 per cent water, each of the archipelago’s 1,192 islands are surrounded by powder-soft white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters teeming with corals gardens and a stunning array of marine life, making the Maldives one of the most sought-after holiday destinations in the world.

, transforming the island nation from one of the world’s poorest countries in the 1980s into a middle-income economy with a per capita income of over $11,890 today. These two sectors alone account for some three out of four jobs in the country, 90 per cent of its GDP and almost all its foreign exchange earnings.

The fisheries sector – which forms the primary economic activity in many of the country’s inhabited islands - is however, facing multiple challenges. The lack of governance, deficiencies in management and technology, and the absence of an enabling business environment are taking their toll.

Given the sector’s substantial potential for boosting jobs and growth, the World Bank, in 2017, partnered with the government to launch a Sustainable Fisheries Resources Development Project. With a commitment of $18 million, the project, which ends in 2022, aims to improve the management of fisheries at the regional and national levels, including the provision of support for the establishment of mariculture in certain atolls.


"By helping reverse the decline of threatened species, the project will benefit the 9,500 households employed in the fishing sector, including small-scale fisherfolk, vessel owners, crew, and workers in the value chain of tuna fishing."
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Installation of Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and Electronic Observers (EO), as part of SFRDP. PHOTO/ SFRDP TEAM


In September 2019, the Maldives Fisheries Act came into effect. Crafted with inputs from local fishing communities and industry leaders, the new law ensures the proper regulation and management of the fisheries sector. It promotes sustainable forms of fishing such as pole and line and hand-line fishing while imposing a complete ban on harmful methods such as fishing with trawl nets. The law also entitles fisherfolk to benefits such as pensions, education and training.

. It is helping equip all fishing vessels with state-of-the-art technology that will enable vessel owners, operators and regulators to track fishing activities in real-time, and monitoring stations to trace vessels in distress.

Studies - including a Multi-Beam Bathymetry Study - are being done to assess the stock of reef fish, including the rapidly vanishing grouper.

. A mariculture research and development facility is being established on the island of Maniyafushi in Kaafu atoll with outposts  on other atolls, along with a multi-species hatchery on Maanaagalaa island in Gaafu Alif Atoll.  

By helping reverse the decline of threatened species, the project will benefit the 9,500 households employed in the fishing sector, including small-scale fisherfolk, vessel owners, crew, and workers in the value chain of tuna fishing.

Others too will stand to gain. They include those supplying fishing gear, cages, or fish feed; traders, aggregators and exporters; experts, researchers, as well as youth looking for jobs in the mariculture farms, marketing, and logistics. And better regulation is likely to help fisherfolk fetch higher prices in the export markets.

With their lives are deeply intertwined with the sea, Shareef and his fellow fisherfolk will now have a second chance at doing what they love while conserving the islands’ unique marine resources that abound in its multihued waters.



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