The Maldives, a tropical paradise nestled in the heart of the Indian Ocean, is known for its stunning coral reefs, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant marine life. Beneath the surface of this picturesque archipelago lies a centuries-old tradition that has sustained both the people and the environment: pole-and-line tuna fishing. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of sustainable pole-and-line tuna fishery in the Maldives.

pole and line fishing

A Time-Tested Tradition

For over a millennium, Maldivian fishermen have been practicing pole-and-line tuna fishing. This eco-friendly method involves targeting specific tuna species while minimizing the impact on other marine life. Let’s explore the key aspects of this sustainable practice.

Intriguing historical records penned by the celebrated Arab explorer, Ibn Bhatuta, meticulously detail the intricate fishing traditions he encountered during his visit to the Maldives between 1343 and 1344. In a different era, precisely in 1507, the Portuguese sea captain, Valentine Fernandes, provided an animated account of the vibrant live-bait pole-and-line fishing practices he witnessed in the Maldives. Furthermore, in the year 1602, while enduring a shipwreck, the Frenchman Fraçois Pyrad de Laval left a compelling chronicle of his immersive experience within the Maldivian tuna fishing community. Despite the potential differences in boat sizes and sail materials, the core technique remained consistent throughout history – pole-and-line fishing with live bait.

pole and line fishing

Live Bait: The Heart of the Operation

Live bait plays a crucial role in pole-and-line tuna fishing. Fishermen catch live bait species from the inshore waters near coral reefs. These species include cardinal fish, silver sprat, blue sprat, and anchovies, all essential for luring tuna.

Nighttime Live Bait Fishing

Nighttime is when bottom-dwelling bait fish species, such as cardinal fish, are caught. Fishers employ nets that are lowered close to the seabed. Under the cover of darkness, they venture into the water to operate these nets. Night bait fishing grants them more daylight hours to locate and catch tuna, enhancing both efficiency and sustainability.

Luring with Lights

Powerful lights are used to attract plankton and larvae, drawing small fish like silver sprat, blue sprat, and anchovies. Once the bait congregates beneath the light, a lift net is lowered, trapping the fish. These trapped fish are then scooped and transferred to the bait-hold using large nets, ensuring their survival.

 

Daytime Bait Fishing

During the day, bait fishing takes place near the reefs. Once the bait is located, a net is lowered to entice the bait onto it. The gathered bait is swiftly drawn to the surface by a combination of swimmers and fishermen on the boat. This bait is then stored in the hold, where it is kept alive by circulating seawater, making it a valuable resource that can be used over several days.

Chumming Bait to Attract Tuna

Chummers play a vital role in the process, throwing live bait from behind a safety net to catch the tuna flung onto the boat. Bait from the hold is raised to the surface for easy access by chummers, creating a seamless operation.

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The Pole-and-Line Fishing Process

The local fishing vessels, known as Masdhoani, have evolved over time to cater specifically to pole-and-line tuna fishing. These modern fiberglass vessels accommodate 20 to 30 fishers who work in unison to land their catch. These vessels are equipped with anchored fish aggregating devices (aFADs) strategically placed outside the atolls, which attract tuna.

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Barbless Hooks and Sustainable Practices

Barbless hooks, made locally, are essential in this fishing method. These stainless steel hooks are designed with lures to attract fish. The barbless design allows for easy and safe unhooking of the caught tuna. After leaving the water, the fish gracefully flies towards the boat, demonstrating the efficiency and sustainability of this approach.

Ice Preservation and Responsible Selling

To ensure the highest quality and value of their catch, fishers store the tuna in ice immediately after the fishing event. Companies pay a premium for fish kept in ice, emphasizing the economic benefits of sustainable practices. Collector vessels stationed across the Maldives purchase the fisher’s catch and transfer it to processing plants and cold storages.

A Bright Future for Sustainable Tuna Fishing

Pole-and-line tuna fishing in the Maldives is not just a tradition; it’s a testament to the harmonious relationship between humans and nature. This sustainable practice not only supports local livelihoods but also protects the marine ecosystem. As consumers, supporting sustainable fisheries like the one in the Maldives can make a significant difference in preserving our oceans for generations to come.

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To get a closer look at the state of the fishing industry in the Maldives, check out the videos below:

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Episode 1 – Ha.Thuraakunu

Venture into Ha.Thuraakunu with Saajin as he uncovers why fisheries has been on a decline in the northernmost island of Maldives.

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Episode 2 – Ha.Uligan

Upon arrival to Ha.Uligan, there were no fishing vessels in the harbor. Explore Uligan with Saajin while he goes on to inquire about the situation of fisheries in the island.

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Episode 3 – Ha.Molhadhoo

The beautiful island of Molhadhoo has seen an unfortunate decline in fisheries within the past decade.

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Why fisheries is important

Baareebe from Ha.Hoarafushi explains why fisheries is important and the benefits of choosing to go fishing.

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Episode 4 – Ha.Hoarafushi

Hoarafushi, one of the northernmost islands witnessing rapid infrastructural progress and development, was once one of the leading fisheries islands in the atoll. This episode outlines the reasons for the decline of fisheries in the island.

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Episode 5 – Ha.Ihavandhoo

Even though Ihavandhoo was reportedly late to learn the trade of fisheries in the atoll, it was one of the islands which witnessed a massive improvement in fisheries over a short period of time. Thus, the island was dubbed "Masveri Ihavandhoo" (meaning Ihavandhoo - island of fisheries). As time passed however, fisheries in the island was hit with a major decline, fishing vessels were sold off and the youth saw less and less opportunities within the field.

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Episode 6 – Ha.Maarandhoo

Ha.Maarandhoo is an island with a relatively large resident population. Even though Skipjack and Yellowfin tuna fisheries has completely disappeared from the island, reef fishing is still practiced in the island.

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Episode 7 – Ha.Thakandhoo

Ha.Thakandhoo is the island with the smallest resident population in the atoll. The island has had a history of fisheries being the main occupational sector, even though that is no longer the case now.

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Episode 8 – Ha.Utheemu

An island famed for the historic Utheemu Palace and the hospitality of the local population towards visitors, Ha.Utheemu has not seen notable improvements in the fisheries sector in the past two decades.

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Episode 9 – Ha.Dhidhdhoo

The capital of Haa Alif atoll, Dhidhdhoo is known for the infamous incident where fish was dumped onto the compounds of the provincial house. Dhidhdhoo was once an island entirely involved in fisheries.

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Episode 10 – Ha.Vashafaru

Vashafaru, an island known for its beautiful sandy beaches and as a thriving location for local tourism in the North, has seen a drastic declines in fisheries due to the sector not being given the same attention as the tourism sector.

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In the azure waters surrounding the Maldives, where coral reefs flourish and marine life thrives, another remarkable fishing tradition has been practiced for generations: handline tuna fishing. This eco-friendly method of catching large yellowfin tuna has not only provided sustenance for local communities but has also expanded to cater to global markets in Europe and Japan. In this blog post, we will explore the sustainable handline tuna fishery in the Maldives, shedding light on the techniques and practices that make it both economically viable and environmentally responsible.

Chumming for Live Bait: A Key Element

One of the first steps in handline tuna fishing is attracting live bait. Fishermen utilize “chum,” a mixture prepared by scraping the flesh of larger fish like tuna and other reef species. This chum is placed in small bags, making it convenient to carry and disperse over the net in the deeper waters.

Handline Fishing

The Role of the Bait Net

To catch live bait, fishermen use a rectangular bait net, often equipped with lead weights to help it sink to the desired depth. Some larger vessels employ nylon lift nets, which can reach impressive dimensions of 80 by 35 feet. The mesh size of the net is adjusted based on the target species, ensuring sustainability.

Fishers in the water use floats to stay buoyant while maneuvering the net beneath them. They carefully control the ropes attached to the net to prevent it from touching the seabed, preserving the delicate ecosystem.

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Live Bait Fishing Techniques

Live bait is primarily caught from the inshore waters of the Maldives using the rectangular net. After setting the net, a swimmer releases the chum over it. As small fish are attracted to the chum and swim onto the net, fishers in the water and those on the boat quickly pull up the net, effectively trapping the small fish. The captured bait is promptly transferred to the flooded bait-hold.

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To ensure the well-being of the bait and prevent aggression among them, red-toothed triggerfish are regularly fed. This careful attention allows the bait to be kept alive in the hold for an extended period, making it a valuable resource.

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Shallow Lagoon Live Bait Fishing

In addition to open water fishing, small fish like silversides shelter in the shallow lagoons of islands, serving as live bait. Fishers spread the bait net on the lagoon bottom and chase fish onto it. Once the fish are over the net, the fishers swiftly raise the net, trapping the fish inside.

Handling Live Bait Catch

The captured bait is transferred to the flooded bait-hold using large scoops. Inside the bait-hold, the baitfish are kept alive for several days. They are regularly fed, and the water inside the bait-hold is continuously circulated, maintaining optimal conditions for their well-being.

Handlining for Tuna: A Delicate Balance

A handline fishing trip can last anywhere from one to two weeks, depending on weather conditions. In calm seas, fishers often venture far into the open ocean, sometimes more than 100 miles from the shore. Modern navigation and communication facilities on larger vessels have made these extended trips possible.

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Chumming for Tuna

Fishers use live bait to slow down schools of tuna and attract them to the boat. Live bait, taken from the bait-hold, is kept in plastic containers beside the chummers. Seawater is continuously circulated in these containers to maintain the bait’s health and vitality.

Large yellowfin tuna are frequently caught in association with dolphins in the Maldivian waters. Fishers throw live bait from the back of the boat, while hooked live bait is also cast into the school. Additional fishers may assist in landing the catch, utilizing gaffs and harpoons.

Handline Fishing

Preservation and Quality Control

Immediately after landing a tuna, it is gutted and cleaned. The fish are then stored in chilled seawater in the hold of the boat or specially designed insulated boxes until they are sold. Ice is regularly added to maintain the fish’s temperature at a consistently low level. Companies buying tuna from fishers carefully check the water temperature in the fish hold/box and assess the quality of each fish, ensuring top-notch products for consumers.

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The sustainable handline tuna fishery in the Maldives is not just a means of livelihood; it is a testament to the harmonious coexistence of traditional fishing practices and the conservation of precious marine ecosystems. By supporting responsibly sourced seafood, consumers play a vital role in preserving the oceans and ensuring the continuation of this time-honored fishing tradition.

The Maldives, a tropical paradise renowned for its turquoise waters and vibrant marine life, isn’t just a haven for beachgoers and honeymooners. It’s also a dream destination for sports fishing enthusiasts seeking thrilling adventures in the open seas. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of sports fishing in the Maldives, highlighting its sustainability and the incredible experiences it offers.

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The Appeal of Sports Fishing

Sports fishing, often referred to as recreational fishing, is a popular activity in the Maldives. What sets it apart is the emphasis on catch-and-release, preserving the delicate balance of marine ecosystems while allowing anglers to enjoy the thrill of the chase.

Targeting the Big Game

The Maldivian waters are teeming with a diverse array of fish species, making it a paradise for anglers. The primary target is the “big game,” including species like marlin, sailfish, wahoo, dorado, and giant trevally. These powerful and challenging fish provide the ultimate test of an angler’s skill and stamina.

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Catch and Release: A Sustainable Practice

One of the hallmarks of sports fishing in the Maldives is the commitment to catch-and-release. Anglers are encouraged to return their catch to the water unharmed, allowing these magnificent creatures to thrive and ensuring future generations can enjoy the same thrilling experiences.

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Responsible Fishing Charters

When embarking on a sports fishing expedition in the Maldives, anglers typically opt for responsible fishing charters. These charters are operated by experienced guides who are well-versed in sustainable fishing practices. They ensure that all fishing regulations and quotas are followed, and they educate participants about the importance of conservation.

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Tagging and Data Collection

Some sports fishing programs in the Maldives involve tagging the caught fish before releasing them. These tags contain valuable information about the fish’s movements and behavior. When anglers report tag recaptures, scientists gain valuable insights into the migratory patterns and health of these species, contributing to conservation efforts.

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Fishing Techniques and Equipment

Sports fishing in the Maldives employs various techniques, including trolling, casting, and fly fishing. Anglers use top-of-the-line equipment designed to handle the strength of the big game fish found in these waters. The thrill of hooking into a marlin or sailfish is an experience unlike any other.

The Role of Local Communities

Sports fishing also provides economic benefits to local communities. Many Maldivians are involved in the industry, serving as fishing guides, boat captains, and support staff. This sustainable tourism supports livelihoods while promoting the conservation of marine resources.

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Conservation and Sustainable Tourism

The Maldives government recognizes the importance of sustainable tourism and fisheries management. They have implemented measures to protect marine habitats and species, ensuring the long-term viability of the industry. Sustainable practices are not only encouraged but also enforced to maintain the pristine beauty of the Maldivian waters.

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Conclusion: An Adventure that Gives Back

Sports fishing in the Maldives offers anglers an exhilarating experience while emphasizing the importance of preserving marine life and ecosystems. It’s a thrilling adventure that gives back to the environment and local communities, ensuring that the beauty of these pristine waters will be enjoyed for generations to come. Whether you’re an experienced angler or a novice, casting your line in the Maldivian seas promises unforgettable moments and a profound connection to nature.

Meet Maldivian Sports Fishing Enthusiasts

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