The Maldives government has decided to discontinue issuing licenses for longline fishing vessels, the fisheries ministry announced on Monday.
The decision was made after a delegation from the European Union Maritime Affairs and Fisheries visited in April and expressed concern about illegal activities in long-lining operations, which they warned was dire enough to warrant a complete ban on Maldivian fish exports, the fisheries ministry explained in a statement.
Long-lining as an alternative method of fishing alongside the environment-friendly pole-and-line method was approved in 2010 after a steady decline in fish catch since 2006. The former method, which uses a long line with baited hooks, is more cost effective but generates by-catch such as sharks and turtles.
Long-lining is the only form of fishing where foreigners are legally allowed to work on vessels, which operate 100 nautical miles from the shore. Such boats usually employ eight to ten crew members, only one of whom would be a Maldivian, the fisheries ministry noted.
The most common complaint of fishermen during the public consultation process for the current administration’s election manifesto last year concerned longline fisheries, it added, including the employment of foreigners and alleged illegal activities.
Through efforts to identify and resolve problems, the government has since discovered that longline vessels have been catching yellowfin tuna instead of bigeye tuna as envisioned.
Skipjack and yellowfin tuna collectively accounted for 98 percent of total purchases made by fish processing companies in 2017, during which the volume of fish exports amounted to 72 thousand metric tonnes. The share of the high-value bigeye tuna fell during the preceding two years.
Vessels have also been found to have engaged in “at-sea transhipment” where fish catch is transferred between boats, a practice that is illegal in the Indian Ocean. There were also “many signs of human trafficking and forced labour on the vessels.”
According to the EU delegation, the “beneficial owners” of some longline vessels were hidden foreign parties.
In March, the new administration asked the EU to consider granting duty free access to fisheries products, the country’s chief export.
The fisheries ministry said on Monday that the government has also decided not to renew the licenses of authorised long-lining vessels. The aim is to restart longline fisheries as “a true Maldivian fisheries” with new regulations and boats suited to local fishermen.