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Zacari Edwards International Pole and Line Foundation London, United Kingdom

Hussain Sinan Marine Affairs Program Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2, Canada

M. Shiham Adam International Pole and Line Foundation Malé, the Republic of the Maldives

Alice Miller International Pole and Line Foundation London, United Kingdom

The Maldives is a nation heavily reliant on its marine resources, none more so than the skipjack tuna caught in its pole-and-line fishery. Maldivian citizens derive huge benefits from the fishery as a result of effective State stewardship of the resource. This paper presents key actions along the value chain of the Pole-and-Line Skipjack Tuna Fishery Maldivian Government has taken to support and facilitate improvements along the value chain of the Pole-and-Line Skipjack Tuna Fishery and by extension demonstrates how these many government actions have resulted in an alignment with the recommendations set out in Chapter 7 of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, particularly paragraphs 7.6-7.9. By highlighting the good practices of the Maldivian Government, this paper pinpoints the key lessons that can be learned from the case of the Maldives as well as the actions that can be replicated by other governments from countries highly dependent on fisheries affected by globalized market demands.

Keywords: The Maldives, pole-and-line tuna fishing, government engagement, market access, international trade, environmental ecolabelling, social protection.

This paper examines the Maldives pole-and-line skipjack tuna value chain to highlight good practices and successful initiatives consistent with the recommendations in Chapter 7 of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines), specifically those pertaining to paragraphs 7.6--7.9 (FAO, 2015) for enhancing small-scale fisheries value chains, post-harvest and trade in the context of food security and poverty eradication.

The paper is structured as follows: Sections 8.1.2--8.1.3 offer an overview of the pole-and-line skipjack tuna harvest and post-harvest sectors in the Maldives. Section 8.2 outlines the methods used in the case study analysis. Section 8.3 examines the activities concerning post-harvest and trade in the context of state-led interventions for enabling market access (paragraph 7.6); safeguarding local food security from the impacts of international trade (paragraph 7.7); supporting equitable distribution of benefits (paragraph 7.8); and mitigating adverse impacts from international trade (paragraph 7.9). Finally, Section 8.4 discusses the replicability of the approach taken in the Maldives to other fisheries, and by extension outlines the scope for applying that approach elsewhere.

As an archipelagic nation located in the central Indian Ocean, and with an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covering an area of 900 000 km^2^ (3 000 times its land mass), the Maldives has historically been heavily dependent on its marine resources (Hemmings, Harper and Zeller, 2011). The pole-and-line tuna fishery is both the oldest and largest fishery in the Maldives, and has been a mainstay in the country for centuries (Gray, 1889; Anderson and Hafiz, 1996). As a result, the tuna sector is one of the most important sectors of the national economy, accounting for 67 percent of total exports (National Bureau of Statistics, 2018); 4--12 percent of gross domestic product in the last ten years (National Bureau of Statistics, 2018); around 11 percent of the labour force (National Bureau of Statistics, 2014); and 85 percent of the total protein consumed by Maldivians (FAO, 2003).

The target species of the pole-and-line fishery is skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), with yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) caught as a secondary species due to their conspecific schooling behaviour1. The Maldives is the third largest producer of pole-and-line tuna in the world, behind Japan and Indonesia. The fishery can land over 68 000 tonnes of skipjack per year, representing over one-fifth of the total global supply of pole-and-line caught tuna and 18--20 percent of the total catch of skipjack from the Indian Ocean (Figure 8.1) (Hohne-Sparborth, Adam and Ziyad, 2015; Gillett, 2016). Finally, crucially for the domestic market, the pole-and-line fishery also currently accounts for 60--70 percent of all the tuna caught in the Maldives (Ahusan et al., 2018).

There are approximately 677 licensed commercial pole-and-line vessels employing 7 981 registered fishers in the Maldives. However, using average crew number estimates from Miller et al. (2017) and the total number of vessels registered in the country (including licensed commercial vessels and vessels fishing for subsitance), the number of fishers could be as high as 10 832. Typically, these pole-and-line vessels will fish for 1--2 days per fishing trip, employing both free-school fishing and anchored fish aggregating devices (aFADs) within a single trip.

Pole-and-Line fishing vessels (Masdhonis) are built within the country by private companies and are owned and operated by Maldivian citizens. Ownership is kept within families and close relatives are often selected as captains of the vessels. The crew members are selected by the captain based on their locality, often inhabiting the same island as the captain. Every licensed pole-and-line vessel is also licensed to conduct handline fishing; however only a select few vessels, mostly from the northern atolls, switch from pole-and-line (targeting skipjack tuna) to handline gear (targeting adult yellowfin tuna for the fresh/frozen tuna market).

As a highly selective form of fishing, the pole-and-line fishery exhibits extremely low rates of bycatch, discards, and catches of (or interactions with) endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species (Ahusan et al., 2018). This is supported by Miller et al. (2017), who observed 161 pole-and-line fishing events and reported that the total bycatch was only 0.65 percent of the total tuna catch by weight. Furthermore, there is very little waste associated with the retained bycatch, including juveniles and/ or unsold lower-quality fish, with the large majority consumed by the fishers, their families and/or distributed among local communities (Lecomte, 2017).

There are a number of additional environmental benefits associated with pole-and- line fishing in the Maldives. In terms of marine plastic pollution, the rate of gear loss is extremely low, and therefore the ghost fishing impacts of lost monofilament fishing lines is low to zero. The fishery also performs strongly with regard to reducing its carbon footprint: its fuel use intensity (FUI), ranging between 197 and 328 litres of fuel use per tonne of tuna caught (l/t) (Miller, Adam and Baske, 2017), is one of the lowest in the world for a commercial fishery targeting skipjack tuna. This figure is less than 80 percent of the FUI of other tuna pole-and-line fisheries (e.g. Atlantic bluefin), and under half the global average FUI for all vessels with fuel records (600--639 l/t) (Parker and Tyedmers, 2015; Parker, Vázquez-Rowe and Tyedmers, 2015). This has been achieved in part through the use of collector vessels gathering catch out at sea, as well as the use of the heavily regulated, state-deployed aFADs.


The skipjack tuna value chain is complex, with tuna sometimes going through numerous routes before reaching consumers. Overall, pole-and-line fishers are able to directly sell their skipjack tuna to at least eight distinct actor groups along the value chain (Figure 8.2). These include fresh/frozen tuna processing companies, canning processing companies, collector vessels out in the ocean, port-based patrons that act as intermediaries, dry processing businesses, dry processing cottage industry workers, market stall owners at local fish markets, and consumers.


There are three broad categories of consumers that skipjack can reach from the Maldives. There are premium export markets such as Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America who purchase tuna primarily as canned and/ or pouched products. The Maldives also exports around USD 28 million in frozen skipjack tuna to Thailand, where it is canned and re-exported to the premium markets. There is only a small market for fresh or chilled skipjack tuna. There are also regional and international markets like Sri Lanka and Japan, respectively, who predominantly purchase dry processed skipjack from the Maldives. Finally, there are domestic consumers, including locals and tourists.

Canned tuna is sold by two skipjack tuna processing companies: the state-owned Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO) and the privately owned Horizon Fisheries. Salted and dried/smoked tuna are also part of the local diet, with the cottage industry and processing companies catering to this market (which includes tuna that might not have reached export quality standards). Domestic consumers can also purchase unprocessed tuna directly from fishers, from food stall traders at local fish markets, and from individuals working in the cottage industry.

Normally, the pole-and-line fishing and processing sectors in the Maldives operate independently from each other. Fishers own fishing vessels and supply both the industrial processors and the local community with skipjack tuna. The industrial processors receive fish either from one of their collector vessels or directly from the vessel at the processing facility (Gordon and Sinan, 2015). The remainder of the catch can be sold to the small-scale processors processing dried fish or to the island communities, through local markets or directly to consumers (Sinan, 2011). Intermediaries also operate as a liaison between resorts and hotel chains, buying tuna from fishing vessels or local markets and selling it on.

In order to examine the good practices of the Maldivian Government within the country's pole-and-line skipjack tuna value chain, this paper employed a case study research strategy. This was based primarily on a desk-based data analysis of accessible and relevant data sets, and on a literature review of academic reports and/or other literature within the public domain concerning the Maldivian Pole-and-Line Skipjack Tuna Fishery and value chain. Once the available data was collated, it was validated with in-country experts to ensure that the findings were representative and fully reflective of the data available in the Maldives.

Small-scale fisheries such as the pole-and-line fishery in the Maldives are typically comprised of complex and extensive trade networks, and contain a diverse range of employment roles throughout the chain (Jacinto and Pomeroy, 2011). As such, this paper also drew upon theoretical literature analysing small-scale fisheries value chains to support its examination of the practices of the Maldivian skipjack tuna pole-and-line fishery in the context of SSF Guidelines 7.6--7.9.

In order to assess how the practices of the Maldivian Government are consistent with SSF Guidelines paragraphs 7.6--7.9, it is important to understand the wider context of the global tuna market. The tuna sector is a globalized marketplace in part due to the highly migratory nature of tuna, but also due to the extensive demand for it across the globe. Over the last 20 years, with the emergence of the sustainable seafood movement, there has been a growth in market-based approaches to address the sustainability of tuna fisheries. The effect of this has been an increase in sustainability and traceability requirements being placed on both government institutions and seafood industry stakeholders.

However, the process of trying to meet increasingly stringent standards and/or competing with other fisheries' sustainability claims can place a financial burden on producers, and can act as a barrier to trade, particularly for small-scale fisheries. In the case of the Maldivian pole-and-line skipjack fishery, state intervention has played a critical role in meeting the sustainability requirements of international markets to ensure sustained economic prosperity of its fishery sector.

Due to its long history of fisheries regulation, the Maldives has been well placed to meet the changing market requirements for transparency and data provision highlighted above. The Maldivian Government has been producing complete time series of tuna catches from as early as 1954. Both the Fisheries Law No. 5/87 of the Republic of Maldives and the corresponding General Fisheries Regulation 1987 established the institutions responsible for implementing fisheries management regulations. These government actions not only provided a strong basis for future regulations to build upon, but also have acted as a basis for ensuring the country is in a strong position to meet the market demands for demonstrably well-managed, transparent fisheries.

For example, in response to the requirements of the European Union Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) in 2010, the government in consultation with fishers and the processing industry brought significant changes to the fisheries management system to ensure the Maldives could continue exporting to European Union Member States. Commercial fishing vessels were obliged to obtain fishing licenses and were mandated to report catch and effort data via logbooks, which slowly superseded the itemized reporting from island/atoll administrative offices. Moreover, retailers and wholesalers who purchased sustainably caught pole-and-line tuna pressed local processors to obtain third party certification for the Maldivian pole-and-line fishery to ensure continued access to the global market.

Following pressure from the domestic processing sector, the Maldivian Government agreed to support the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification process through financial assistance and technical support to the Maldives Seafood Processors and Exporters Association (MSPEA). This support was vital in terms of eventually achieving certification for skipjack tuna in the Maldives, and since 2012, all canned pole- and-line caught tuna that is exported to international markets is now MSC certified. As such, the role of the government in facilitating this process helped to guarantee Maldivian market actors sustained access to export markets, which by extension also helped to ensure that the pole-and-line fishery could continue to provide a vital and sustainable source of income for those involved in the value chain.

In order to meet the growing traceability requirements of the market, the government also established and implemented a vessel monitoring system (VMS) in 2013 via the 1st Amendment to the Regulation on licensing for fishing, processing and aquaculture targeted for export (2013/R-60). This amendment made it mandatory for all licensed fishing vessels to be tracked via VMS in order to obtain and keep fishing licenses. A review of the VMS in 2018 identified key areas of improvement that the Maldivian Government has since been working to resolve in collaboration with the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The implementation of traceability technologies increased further in the Maldives with the government's introduction of the Fishery Information System (FIS) in 2016. FIS is a web-enabled database developed to maintain and capture fishery data. The system allows the maintenance of fishing vessel information, tracking and issuing of fishing licenses, compiling of fish purchase data from commercial buyers (processors), and compiling logbook data reported by fishing vessels. FIS was developed based on different processing flows used by different companies after extensive consultations and testing. Since its implementation, the database has been the centre of operations for the processing companies. Because FIS provides a direct document verification portal for European Union authorities to verify the catch documents, it functions as a traceability tool enabling the fishery to meet the ever-increasing traceability demands being placed on the sector.

In response to sustainability concerns being raised in the market around the tuna industry's reliance on aFADs, the government has also been encouraging fishers to increase their free-school fishing2 activities, with the aim of meeting bycatch mitigation targets set at the national level. A key example of this is the government's work, in partnership with the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF), trialing "concept vessels" that introduce bird radar and fish sonar onto pole-and-line vessels to help with free-school location (Figure 8.3). To date, two vessels have begun to use these systems, with a view to encouraging other fishing vessels to follow suit. Through the concept vessels, the Maldivian Government is iteratively modifying tuna vessel design to increase the quality of the product and the economic efficiency of fishing operations.

Finally, in response to publicized concerns of market actors regarding the impact of live bait fishing on the ecosystem, the Maldivian Government developed a live bait fishery management plan in 2013 in consultation with fishers and stakeholders (Gillet, Jauharee and Adam, 2013). The plan was centred on the facilitation of strengthened data collection, monitoring and compliance, and also outlined a number of prospective legal stipulations to help meet these goals.

At a national level, the prospective stipulations included the expansion of exclusion zones in the Maldives for bait fishing activities, i.e. around tourist resorts (1500 m), within designated dive sites and marine protected areas. The plan also proposed, if necessary and in consultation with the stakeholders, a ban on the sale of bait fish species for food and recommended the requirement that the Maldives Research Centre should pre-approve new types of bait fishing methods. In addition, a number of regulatory responsibilities were proposed at the atoll level whereby at their own discretion local authorities could potentially: restrict the use of bait fish attracting lights; restrict the size of bait fishing nets; introduce bans on the use of scuba gear for bait fishing; ban any bait fishing-related activities that are shown to disrupt coral reefs; and introduce any temporary area closures for bait fishing activities.


Overall, the Government of the Maldives has been extremely proactive in supporting and promoting the pole-and-line tuna fishery. Moreover, it has actively created a policy environment whereby members of the value chain can optimize the benefits they derive from the fishery.

The domestic demand for and consumption of skipjack tuna is growing in the Maldives, with the state-owned processing company MIFCO now making the majority of its sales to domestic consumers. Maldivian citizens consume an average of 94 kg of skipjack tuna each year (Lecomte, 2017), and allocate approximately one- fifth of total household food expenditure to seafood, with skipjack tuna being the most widely consumed fish within this group (National Bureau of Statistics, 2016). The historical abundance of tuna supply in the Maldives has meant that no laws have been required to date to ensure continued access to skipjack tuna products. Domestic skipjack consumption mostly consists of fresh fish; however, the domestic market also includes low-grade canned skipjack tuna processed in the Maldives.

Recognizing this dependence on tuna for food and nutrition, the government has worked to ensure that skipjack tuna continues to be landed in high volumes within the country, and to ensure the domestic market continues to receive a steady supply of tuna products. This has been achieved in part by introducing a number of protective policies that limit the competition the subsector faces when it comes to fishing tuna within the Maldivian EEZ.

Foreign fishing activities have principally involved longline fishing, and have been regulated within the Maldives since the introduction of the Fisheries Law in 1987. This regulation partitioned the EEZ, with Maldivian-owned fishing vessels allowed to fish throughout the EEZ, and foreign fishing vessels only permitted to fish beyond the first 75 nautical miles. Over time, subsequent government administrations have introduced regulatory measures under the Fisheries Law 5/87 that have partitioned further areas of the EEZ for different types of fishing. Through this gradual prohibition of foreign fishing activities within Maldivian waters, the government has helped to ensure that a majority of the fish caught within the Maldivian EEZ is landed in the country, increasing the availability of tuna for domestic production and consumption.

In 2008, in response to pressure from Maldivian pole-and-line and handline fishers, the government decided not to renew any foreign licenses to longline vessels, which ensured that all foreign licenses expired by the end of 2010. In 2011, the government began to issue licenses to longline vessels again but only if they were locally owned and operated. In addition, the Longline Fishery Regulation in 2014 offered further protection to pole-and-line vessels by restricting Maldivian longline vessels from fishing within the first 100 nautical miles of the EEZ, in effect creating a new fishing area for the exclusive use of commercial one-by-one fishing vessels3.

In 2014, the Maldivian Government further refined the regulation (2014/R-388) with better monitoring of the fishery, including the local crew. In addition, the amendment to the General Fisheries Regulation 1987 (2011/R-21) offered further protection to Maldivian fishers as it prohibited any foreign crews from working on fishing vessels that operate in common fishing areas designated for exclusive use by Maldivians (i.e. within the first 75 nautical miles). The government actions described above have contributed to improved food security in two ways. Directly, they have allowed for a sustained amount of tuna to enter the domestic market, with over half of the landed fish consumed locally. Indirectly, they have helped facilitate the continued rates of employment within the pole-and-line fishery and ancillary sectors, thus helping to ensure a sustained income for Maldivian citizens working in these sectors.

Harvesting sector

As a result of ongoing government efforts to develop the sector, the Pole-and-Line Skipjack Tuna Fishery has continued to play an important economic role in the Maldives, both in terms of the foreign exchange earnings it generates and its contribution to the incomes of those working in the sector. The fishery generates an approximate annual value of USD 104 000 000 in exports, encompassing over half of the total export of fishery products by weight (51.2 percent) and representing 37.7 percent of the total value of fishery exports in the country, second only to yellowfin tuna (JICA et al., 2018). Roughly 8 percent of the local population work in the primary fishery sector in the Maldives, with around 40 percent of the total workforce aged 18--24 years (HIES, 2016). In total, the fishery is a key source of income for many people, both directly and indirectly supporting around 30 000 livelihoods (Howgate and Leadbitter, 2016).

Developing the sector has been vital in facilitating the increased equitability of the fishery, allowing businesses in the Maldives to derive more value from the products that are exported, as well as allowing fishers in the Maldives to receive a higher price for the fish that they land. Two of the most significant developments have been the mechanization of fishing vessels and the introduction of aFADs, locally called Oivaali Kandhufathi.


In 1987, the government introduced a vessel mechanization programme, providing finance and design expertise to kick-start the introduction of a new generation of vessels. Together with FAO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Maldivian Government started to establish the aFAD installation programme mainly to provide a means for vessels to fish during low fishing season (Naeem and Latheefa, 1995). To date, only the government is permitted to install FADs, which are reserved for use by pole-and-line fishers only; the private sector is not permitted to install them. Owing to the fishery improvements implemented by the government, pole-and-line fishers are extremely well paid compared to other professions in the Maldives, earning an average monthly income at least twice as high as the national per capita average of USD 1 500. However, the fishery is seasonal, and therefore this figure can fluctuate between USD 400 and USD 3 000 per month throughout the year (Lecomte, 2017). Fishing vessels in the Maldives also employ a catch share system, in this case meaning that two-thirds of the profit generated by these fishing vessels is distributed evenly among the general crew, with an extra share to the captain and the bait master. Overall the high income received by the fishers reflects the value placed on the pole-and-line fishery, making it an increasingly attractive sector to work in.

Post-harvest sector

In 2003, the Maldivian Government partially privatized the post-harvest sector, which had until then been wholly controlled by the state-owned MIFCO. The government divided the country into four different zones and allowed private parties to purchase and process fish in each zone. Initially, four private companies invested in the process. However, due to declining skipjack landings since 2006 (Figure 8.1), three of the companies have ceased operating, leaving Horizon as the only private pole-and- line skipjack tuna processor in the Maldives (Sinan, 2011). These closures have also meant MIFCO remains the dominant processor for pole-and-line skipjack tuna in the country. As a result, MIFCO has worked to improve its network of cold storage infrastructure on remote atolls and its canneries, which in turn has been integral to the fishing industry and enabling Maldivian fishers' access to export markets.

In response to political pressure to maintain price parity between Maldivian skipjack and the skipjack landed in Bangkok, the government has also begun setting the price of skipjack tuna destined for export markets (Hohne-Sparborth, Adam and Ziyad, 2015). The price is based on the international price of skipjack tuna in Bangkok, but includes a fixed price premium (not connected to any certification schemes) that is applied on top of the variable Bangkok base price (Lecomte, 2017). The price set by the Maldivian Government also factors in the costs and earnings of the vessels and the operating costs of companies. Bangkok frozen skipjack prices fluctuate significantly, and companies in the Maldives balance this out using annual earnings and profits earned from value addition and export to high-value markets. The Maldivian Government also provides financial assistance through loans and grants to MIFCO when the cash flow is low. In this way, the government helps guarantee a stable income for pole-and-line vessels supplying export markets (although this price does not apply to pole-and-line vessels that supply local markets).


Domestically, the government enforces a minimum base price under Section 12 of the Skipjack Tuna Purchase and Export Regulation 2001, designed to protect the livelihoods of fishing communities. As a result, the tuna processing sector plays an important role throughout the country in terms of supporting the livelihoods of Maldivians, particularly in the remote islands and atolls where employment opportunities are limited. The income of those working in fish processing is between USD 238 and USD 1 736 per month depending on catch volumes and season (Hohne- Sparborth, Adam and Ziyad, 2015). One key processing activity is dry processing to produce "Maldives Fish", a speciality made by boiling tuna in salt water after which it is dried. This sector accounts for 10 000 tonnes of fish annually, with a large bulk of dried processing activities being predominantly carried out by women (Macfadyen et al., 2016; Wessels, 2017).

There are very few women employed in the primary fishing industry in the Maldives. Women do, however, have a much stronger presence in the secondary industry -- in processing factories (Table 8.1), local markets and the cottage industry. Although census data indicates that only 3 percent of the population are employed by the secondary industry, this figure is not representative of the real level of participation of women in terms of processing activities. For example, of the 3 356 women documented as being unemployed by 2014 census data, up to 22 percent of this number likely engage in entrepreneurial and/or cottage industry activities such as dry processing of Maldives Fish (Hohne-Sparborth, Adam and Ziyad, 2015).


Formal sector post-harvest employment

Formal post-harvest sector employmentMaleFemaleTotalTotal1 7575932 350

Note: Employment data principally for industrial processing plants.

The government has begun creating cooperatives for island communities to improve the quality of these dry processed products and to increase market access through improved quality. Two cooperatives in particular, Gemanafushi Cooperative Society and Naifaru Cooperative Society were set up with government and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) funding and technical expertise. Both have excelled and notably the majority of their members are women. For example, the Naifaru Cooperative Society (formerly the Fisherman's Association of Naifaru) has a membership composition of 91 percent women and 9 percent men (Wessels, 2017). This indicates positive steps taken on the part of the government to support value chain activities where women in particular are involved. Ensuring gathering and analysis of sex-disaggregated value chain data would provide further opportunities to understand and amplify their role and involvement.

As highlighted in previous sections, in the case of the Pole-and-Line Skipjack Tuna Fishery in the Maldives, many adverse impacts of international trade stem from losing traction through not keeping pace with the changing sustainability demands of international markets for tuna. The Maldives have kept pace with these changing demands not only through their national fisheries management measures, but also through their leadership within the regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) -- the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) -- during efforts to obtain and retain MSC certification for their skipjack tuna fishery.

Due to the highly migratory nature of tuna stocks, five distinct RFMOs across the globe are tasked with their management: the IOTC; the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT); the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT); the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC); and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) (Ásmundsson, 2016).

Unlike other RFMOs, the IOTC coastal state agreement did not explicitly outline the precautionary approach for managing its stocks. As a result, up until 2011, the IOTC targeted optimal utilization for its tuna fish stocks. However, in 2012 the Maldives initiated a proposal calling for a precautionary approach, in part resulting from the country's pursuit of MSC certification for its Pole-and-Line Skipjack Tuna Fishery.

The MSC certification process for the Pole-and-Line Skipjack Tuna Fishery began in 2007, whereby the Maldives government supported the Maldives Seafood Processors and Exporters Association (MSPEA) in initial efforts to enter the fishery into pre- assessment. This MSPEA led initiative was a direct response to market demands, but was dependent on government support to ensure the Maldives became a fully cooperating and contracting party of the IOTC, as per the terms of certification.

The certification process was initially suspended upon recognition that there was no model-based stock assessment of the Indian Ocean skipjack tuna stock. In response, the Maldives government worked closely with the IOTC Secretariat to produce a skipjack catch per unit effort (CPUE) time series required for the stock assessment4. The Maldives subsequently hosted the Thirteenth Session of the Working Party on Tropical Tuna (WPTT), where the first ever model-based skipjack stock assessment concluded the stock was in a healthy state.


The fishery was eventually certified in 2012 with eight conditions. The two most important conditions in the context of the IOTC were adoption of stock reference points and requirements for harvest control rules (HCRs) and tools. In response, as part of the MSPEA Client Action Plan, the government worked closely with NGOs, in particular IPNLF, and IOTC member states to address the adoption of stock reference points and HCRs. The Maldives also garnered support from like-minded Coastal States within IOTC for rights-based management proposals that followed the establishment of stock reference points and HCRs.

Adoption of skipjack HCRs was preceded by resolute efforts of the Maldives government during the prior four years to improve the management of tuna stocks in the Indian Ocean. This started with a push for implementation of the precautionary approach under IOTC Resolution 12/01, which for the first time saw the commission implement a Conservation and Management Measure underpinned by a precautionary approach. In 2015, Maldives also led the resolution on Target and Limit Reference Points and an aligned decision framework for IOTC stocks in the Indian Ocean.

The proposal on skipjack HCRs, culminating in adoption of Resolution 16/02 On harvest control rules for skipjack tuna in the IOTC area of competence, received an unprecedented level of support from other coastal states in the region, with 14 countries joining as co-sponsors. The newly established HCRs in 2016 aimed to keep the skipjack population at healthy levels, while ensuring the fishery itself was profitable and accessible to all. Given the healthy state of regional skipjack tuna stocks, this measure, unlike most fishery management measures taken at the international level, did not restrict or reduce existing fishing levels. Instead, it established pre-agreed steps to be taken if the fishery breached the agreed management (target) reference point.

As a Small Island Developing State, the Maldives has overcome geographical and environmental challenges to develop one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world. Its Pole-and-Line Skipjack Tuna Fishery is unique in the sense that fishers are actively involved in safeguarding the resource and the majority of the earnings from the sector are passed on to them, while they continue to play a vital role in the island communities.

Maldivian tuna products are competing with similar products originating from developed countries, or caught by industrial fisheries often connected to vertically integrated companies, that are able to produce them at a reasonably lower cost and in larger quantities. This, coupled with the increasing demands of sustainability initiatives that allow for market access, creates a number of challenges that, if left unmanaged, could undermine the competitiveness of Maldivian tuna in the global marketplace. A key lesson from the case of the Maldives is that government-led development across the value chain -- i.e. harvesting, large- and small-scale processing, export, ancillary activities and quality control -- can be an essential factor in enabling the fishery sector to maintain market access.

The Maldives Pole-and-Line Skipjack Tuna Fishery therefore provides an excellent example of how the practices of the state can embrace the principles of SSF Guidelines 7.6--7.9. Figure 8.5 illustrates where the good practices of the Maldivian Government align specifically with the Guidelines, and how these practices can be replicated by other coastal states looking to develop and support their domestic small-scale fisheries value chains, post-harvest and trade in the context of food security and poverty eradication.

This paper has illustrates how the Government of the Maldives has acted as a catalyst for innovation and development, and likewise the extent to which state-led strategies can be employed to promote export-based fisheries, while also ensuring national citizens have opportunities to benefit equitably along the value chain. The government's approach can be summarized as providing access for its fishers and fishworkers to marine resources and markets.


The Maldivian Government has taken many steps to facilitate preferential access to and benefits from skipjack tuna resources for its own citizens. In the first instance, partitioning the Maldives EEZ so that only domestic, one-by-one tuna fishing vessels can access tuna within 75 nautical miles of the coast ensures the country's fishing industry can continue to be the sole beneficiaries of its tuna resources. Further to this, through imposing a fixed price premium on top of the Bangkok base price for tuna exports and a minimum base price for domestic tuna sales, the government has enabled the fishing sector to maintain a high and stable income derived from the skipjack fishery. In implementing measures that focus on ensuring that both the primary and secondary sectors of the fishing industry are in a position to derive the maximum economic benefits from the domestic fishing sector, the government is also creating enabling conditions for safeguarding the livelihoods and the food security of its citizens.

The government has also helped to ensure the tuna sector can adapt to global market conditions. By spearheading market-oriented sustainability innovations like achieving MSC certification and implementing national digital transparency systems, the government has created an enabling environment where the Maldives and its citizens are well placed to thrive in global seafood markets. Furthermore, its leadership in regional fisheries management at the IOTC has also served to influence issues that affect the country's tuna fishing industry and its capacity to thrive domestically and internationally.

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Source: Zelasney, J., Ford, A., Westlund, L., Ward, A. and Riego Peñarubia, O. eds. 2020. Securing sustainable small-scale fisheries: Showcasing applied practices in value chains, post-harvest operations and trade. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 652. Rome, FAO.

  1. Yellowfin tuna at its infant stage school together with skipjack tuna. 

  2. Free-school fishing means fishing on a free-swimming school of tuna -- i.e. without the use of (or association with) aFADs. 

  3. One-by-one fishing refers collectively to pole-and-line, handline or trolling fishing methods. 


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