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China fishing in troubled waters of Maldives

n recent years, the Maldivian archipelago’s coral reefs and marine ecosystem have suffered significant damage, primarily due to overfishing and the impacts of climate change.

In December 2023, the Maldives achieved a historic milestone by exporting a record-breaking 221 million Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR) worth of fish. While the nation’s economy heavily relies on tourism, the fishing industry plays a significant role, contributing substantially to the GDP through both domestic consumption and international exports.

Traditionally, Maldivian fishermen have upheld sustainable and environmentally friendly fishing practices, which include methods like pole and line fishing, handline fishing, and the use of Dhoni, the traditional Maldivian boat. Despite their relatively low yields, these methods have been respectful of marine ecosystems. However, driven by the desire for higher catches, the industry has increasingly adopted less sustainable practices such as line trolling and deep-sea fishing. These practices, though resulting in higher yields, have brought about increased bycatch and the depletion of marine resources.

In recent years, the Maldivian archipelago’s coral reefs and marine ecosystem have suffered significant damage, primarily due to overfishing and the impacts of climate change. While the Maldivian fishing community boasts a centuries-old history, the escalating demand for seafood, both domestically and internationally, has driven local fishermen to embrace advanced technologies such as Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) and purse seine nets. Unfortunately, this quest for higher yields has led to overfishing by local fishermen.

While the Maldivian government has placed several regulations to ensure sustainable fishing practiced by local fishermen, the foreign fishing vessels, often illegally fishing in the country’s EEZ, go unchecked.  Despite the Maldivian government’s efforts to establish regulations promoting sustainable fishing practices, foreign vessels, notably China’s Distant-Water Fishing (DWF) fleets, have been found engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). China’s extensive DWF fleet, consisting of approximately 2,700 ships, is notorious for targeting prohibited species, causing environmental harm, and even partaking in activities beyond fishing, such as intelligence gathering and espionage.

The IUU fishing has increased manifolds since 2023 forcing the poor local fishing community to rely on government subsidies and salaries to sustain. Reports have also emerged indicating that local fishermen have faced delays in receiving payments for their catches since November 2023. This situation has placed significant financial strain on fishing communities that have historically contributed significantly to the nation’s economy. Despite promises made by theMuizzu government, frustration is growing among fishermen who find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

As the Maldivian government deepens its ties with China, it is crucial that due consideration should be given to the long-term well-being of the Maldivian people. While the local fishing communities struggle to get paid, the Chinese fishing vessels have been stealing and profiting from the Maldivian resources. This growing influence of China in the Maldives has led to concerns about the nation’s sovereignty and the long-term impact of these relationships.

In conclusion, the fishing industry in the Maldives is grappling with numerous challenges, including overfishing, environmental degradation, foreign vessels engaged in IUU fishing, and delayed payments to local fishermen. As the country addresses these issues, it is crucial to strike a balance between economic interests and sustainable practices while safeguarding the marine ecosystem, which is essential for both livelihoods and the nation’s identity.

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