Photo credit: David Elliott (UK); http://www.macalister-elliott.com/index.php
Review: Abdel Rahman El Gamal (Founder of the website)
Introduction:The Maldives that consists of a very large of islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean is a nation that comprises of 99% sea. That is why more than 70% of people are fishermen who Maldives sees fishing not just a job but as a way of life. This mater is even more pronounced when we know that Maldives is the home to one of most renowned tuna fisheries in the world. The high value of tuna in the international markets brings the export of tuna second to tourism which is the primary source of income.
Tuna fishery in the Maldives:In terms of fish exports, the most important tuna species is the skipjack tuna while the yellowfin tuna comes next. The catch of tuna in the Maldives is done in a special way which is namely “Pole and line” which is usually described as catching tuna one by one. This traditional contributes with about 90% of total tuna catch in The Maldives.
Description and operation: As its name indicates, the gear is composed of a 3-4 m rigid pole made of bamboo or fiberglass capable of handling a fish weighing of about 20-25 kg. At the extremity of the pole, a strong short hooked line is attached. Thus the “Pole and line” requires just one pole, one line and one barbless hook used by one fisherman to catch one tuna at a time. In exceptional cases, a special line can be attached to 2 poles held by 2 fishermen allowing the catch of much larger fish. Bait fish is an integral part of the pole and line tuna fishery where anchovies, small scads, silver side and sardine are the most common bait fish that are kept alive using sea water circulation; 1 kg of baitfish can deliver 10kg of tuna.
The fishing operation takes place on a medium size fishing vessels of about 40-meters. About 10-20 fishermen position themselves almost all around the boat.
Different methods are followed to locate the schools of tuna which could range from the visual spotting,watching sea birds till the use of fish aggregating devices and/or acoustic instruments.
Once the school of tuna is located, small amounts of live bait are regularly scooped up and tossed overboard to mix with water sprays agitating the water, giving the illusion that the water surface is alive with small fish and hence attracting and concentrate the tuna school in the trail of the fishing vessel. At this point, skillful fishermen will use their fishing gears to catch a tuna after another and place the catch on the deck to be chilled as soon as possible whereas ice slurry is the most efficient cooling medium which is in use. Often, the fishing crew work six days per week.
Advantages: The pole and line tuna fishing has several advantages whether economically, socially as well as the sustainability of tuna as well as other fish species stocks. The “Pole and Line” eliminates indiscriminate harvesting fish species other than tuna and hence brings the bycatch to almost zero.
This method also safeguards some endangered species which could be caught in purse (e.g. sharks, rays, pilot whales, whale sharks, turtles, dolphins, and seabirds).
In regard to the employment, the “Pole and line” fishing requires more fishermen per ton of catch compared to other fishing methods. This leads to more jobs, higher standard of living across coastal communities especially tuna fishermen are well paid. Finally, enhancing the nutrition status of households should not be overlooked.