Fisheries in the Maldives

September 18, 2021Lu Shegay


The Maldives is an archipelagic country that is located in the Indian subcontinent and has open access to the Indian Ocean. The country has a rich biodiversity, especially its marine environment, which attracts lots of tourists, mostly due to the breathtaking surroundings and a wide variety of species of aquatic animals. However, while this may be harmonizing views for many humans, it also poses a threat to lots of aquatic animals that become victims of fishing, aquaculture, and the destruction of their habitat.

The diversity of the country’s sea life is huge, which includes corals and more than 2000 species of fish ranging from colorful reef fish to the Caribbean reef shark, whale sharks, moray eels, manta rays, stingrays, eagle rays, etc. What beautifies the Maldives’ marine environment is also the abundance of rare species of biological value. While the land-based reptiles and amphibians are seldomly seen in the country, the common aquatic species are turtles, such as the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the leatherback turtle. Pelagic sea snakes also occasionally visit the shore after storms, as well as saltwater crocodiles. As for the aquatic birds, the common species that can be met in the country are the grey heron and the moorhen. There are also many kinds of anemones, jellyfish, many species of crabs, lobsters, octopuses, squid, and clams that can be found in the Maldivian waters.

"Fresh Fishes" by from Pexels


The industry of fishing is one of the major activities in the country, which is not surprising, given its geographical location. Apart from commercial fishing existing in the Maldives, recreational fishing is also a common activity, not only by locals but by tourists too. According to the data of FAO, the total catch in the 1960s was 13 000 tons; 37 272 tons in 1970; 118 963 tons in 2000; and 184 158 tons in 2006. The study also demonstrates that half of the catch was consumed by the local communities.

The most common species of fish that is caught in the Maldives is the skipjack tuna, which contributes approximately 65-75% of the total fish catch, followed by the yellowfin tuna (10-17%). For the last 10 years, the fishing industry of the country has expanded, and the annual fish harvest increased from 118 115 metric tons in 1998  to a maximum of 185 923 metric tons in 2005. Despite the expansion, the annual fish catch has declined, e.g, in 2008, the total catch fell to 133 086 tons, of which 66% was skipjack tuna, 17% yellowfin tuna, 5% other tuna species, and 12% other marine species of fish.

“The constraints in the fisheries sector include lack of capacity in the regulatory body – the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture - to coordinate and enable the sustainable development of the sector.

Second, there is weakness in the legal framework and there are no well-defined fisheries management plans covering each of the fisheries management units. Third, because of the lack of fisheries management systems (defined in plans), most of the fisheries, and especially offshore, operate under free and open access conditions. Fourth, although infrastructure (harbors, electricity, roads, transport, etc.) development in the Maldives has increased significantly in recent years, there are still some deficiencies, in particular in the atolls, which limit, for example, the movement and trade of perishable fish. Fifth, while investment from the private sector in fisheries, particularly in processing facilities for export trade purposes, has increased recently, the total number of enterprises is small, and overall, ‘fish business’ expertise, particularly at the international level, is limited. There are several opportunities. First, the global market for seafood offers a wide range of market opportunities and niches that the Maldives fisheries sector could exploit (For example there is increasing demand from consumers for high-quality fish from sustainable sources and for which actual fishing has minimal environmental impact). Second, the Maldives could learn from an emerging ‘international best practice’ in fisheries management to develop its own fisheries management systems, capitalizing on the high level of commitment by both government and non-government stakeholders to create an efficient, wealthy, and sustainable fisheries sector in the Maldives.”

Read more: FAO Report: Fishery and Aquaculture of the Maldives

"Black Skipjack Tuna (Euthynnis lineatus)" by warriorwoman531 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Fisheries Act

Fishing activities are legally regulated by the Fisheries Act of the Maldives that was enacted for ensuring the “sustainable management of fisheries and marine resources and their ecosystems in the maritime zones of the Maldives, providing for the control of fishing by all persons within the maritime zones of the Maldives, as well as fishing by Maldivians outside the maritime zones of the Maldives, and the principles and bases for the development and management of the fisheries and aquaculture industry.” The Act allows certain types of fisheries in the maritime zones, such as skipjack tuna pole and line fishery, large yellowfin tuna handline fishery, longline fishery, billfish fishery, trolling, grouper fishery, bait fishery, marine aquarium fishery, diamondback squid fishery, reef fishery, bigeye scad lagoon fishery, harvesting of sea cucumber, lobster, and similar types of fisheries. (Section 17(a))

Section 18 of the Act provides that the Ministry should prepare and review fishery management plans for the planning and management of each of the fisheries, which shall include:

Purse seine fishing, gillnet fishing, trawl net fishing, fishing using a net with the exception of bait fishing and fishing for personal consumption, and fishing using an explosive, poison, or such other chemical are the types of fishing in the maritime zones that are prohibited under the Act. (Section 27)

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture of the Maldives is the leading agency that controls fisheries management and development. Its obligations include:


Unfortunately, despite the existence of the Fisheries Act, there has been exploitation and overfishing activities documented, like in many other countries, where this type of industry plays an important role in the country’s economy. For example, black corals have been abundant on Maldivian reefs once, but because of so many factors that are mostly human intervention (fishing, climate change) and other aspects, many aquatic species have been depleted for the last 20 years. Other examples include the exploitation of the giant clam in the early 1990s, the exploitation of turtles have been exploited for local trade and consumption, etc. The long list of human activities, both direct and direct, affect the marine environment, which has an effect on the entire marine ecosystem. There is an urgent need for each person to take action for preventing many aquatic species of animals from disappearing. Removing animal products from one’s plate is the first, the important, and the simplest way to cut the demand for seafood. Other easy ways include reducing plastic waste, clean up after oneself in public places, beaches, recycle, and spread the word about the threats that are posed to all animals, including humans.

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