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.