Shark Guardian can confirm that the Maldives are NOT lifting the shark fishing ban.
Shark Guardian organised a meeting with the Maldivian Minister of Fisheries Zaha Waheed and the Senior Fisheries Officer, Munshidha Ibrahim, after hearing reports that the Maldives was planning to discuss ‘lifting the ban’ on shark fishing - a ban that has been in place since March 2010. The aim of this meeting was to verify claims and to investigate under what circumstances the ban may be lifted. Shark Guardian’s stance on any current shark crisis is to try and attain as much of the most reliable information available before making comments. We will always fight for sharks and their conservation, and we stand for the current shark fishing ban to remain in place. However, we received reports that the claims were unfounded and questioned the validity of the highly popularised and shortened quote in which Minister Waheed was reported to have said there was “no reason not to” lift the ban on shark fishing. This could have been said and used in several contexts, and as such we felt it necessary to delve into exactly what was said and what was truly up for discussion. As we see it, the current debate on sharks and the Maldives can be separated in three sections:
1: The Maldives NOT lifting the shark fishing ban
UPDATE 20 APRIL 2021: Official Government statement from the Maldives
Click image below to download full statement:
1: THE MALDIVES IS NOT LIFTING THE SHARK FISHING BAN A statement was released on 27th March 2021 which has now garnered the signatures of over 200 local non-profit groups, tourism related businesses and international organisations, including Shark Guardian’s. The statement addressed to the Maldivian government requested that the shark fishing ban remain in place and urged the state authorities to prosecute those responsible for several recent acts of shark fishing. Subsequently, there was a sudden surge in presence on social media and several petitions were started.
Aside from the infamous “no reason not to” quote, which seemed to leave everything to the imagination, there have been several other quotes from Minister Waheed that look concerning. These include... “Very few countries implement shark conservation. Since it is a means to generate profit we don’t have to limit ourselves. [we can] open [shark fishing] as a managed fishery for a certain duration and fish without endangering the shark population.”
Another example that has been tied with lifting the shark fishing ban is that it “presents a profitable revenue-generation strategy for the state.” Lastly, the Times of Addu reported Minister Waheed to have said “This [shark fisheries] is also a [economic] resource, and there is no reason we should not benefit from it. Therefore, discussions regarding fishing for sharks in the open seas, and how we can open this up, are now in motion”.
So, what’s really going on?
Shark Guardian investigates and opens discussions with Maldivian government.
During the meeting between Shark Guardian and Minister Waheed several issues were discussed. We would like to highlight several statements made by the Minister during the call before we continue to explore the topic.
“There is no talk about uplifting the legislation"
“The Maldivian government is definitely not lifting the ban…”
At the very end of our meeting, Minister Waheed’s parting statement was “I hope we were clear about and assured that we’re not opening up the shark fishery.”
The Minister later went on to say that she was 99.9% certain that the shark fishing ban would not be lifted in her time as Minister or any time in the near future.
For over two years, there have been requests from a minority number of Maldivian MPs that continue to bring the shark fishing ban into question and press for its re-legalisation. With every meeting Minister Waheed has fought to keep the current ban in place.
To further clarify, the Maldivian Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Director-General Ibrahim Naeem stated “We do not believe the government of Maldives is considering such a decision” and that the “EPA have not received any word, nor have we been consulted on such a matter”. To really bring it home, he went on to say “If legalizing shark fisheries formally enters the conversation then the EPA would stand firmly against it. We believe that there is no scientific evidence to support a removal of the ban”. Mr Naeem reassured a local newspaper of this on the 30th March 2021. With reference to our second quote from Minister Waheed, she went on to say “I talked about landing accidental catch”. This is in reference to allowing a long-line tuna fishery to open and initiating discussions regarding whether to allow the trade of dead sharks caught as bycatch. She went on to say “Right now, nobody can land anything, even if it is dead or alive, so nobody can touch any of the sharks but once in a [tuna] fishery … there has to be a system through which we can do the reporting and be accountable. That’s the only piece of change which we are suggesting.” So it seems that it is this conversation surrounding how to handle the inevitable shark bycatch that seems to have sparked the alleged ‘lifting of the ban’.
To be clear, Shark Guardian are against the opening of a long-line tuna fishery and firmly against allowing the trade of the deceased shark bycatch.
2: RECENTLY REPORTED ILLEGAL SHARK FISHING ACTIVITIES IN THE MALDIVES The shark fishing ban has become the subject of conversation following a number of illegal shark fishing activities in the Maldives. The Maldivian government do seem to be taking this seriously and making appropriate reprehensions, but as the investigation is still pending limited information can be released. After receiving reports of illegal shark fishing and trade practices including black market import and exports of shark fins from several sources, proactive steps were taken by the Maldivian government to mitigate further illegal activity and protect their sharks. In a statement released on the 23rd March 2021 the government stated they “implemented management measures and enhanced monitoring and enforcement systems to deter such illegal activities”. Their implemented strategies included increased cargo spot checks and patrolling by the Maldivian Police Force and Coast Guard. After speaking with Minister Waheed about the reported incidences she states: “it’s not the public sentiment which has driven us to these things… we have been taking our initiative and doing what is required by us”.
We would like to highlight that these are not the only incidences of illegal shark activity in the Maldives, there have been several other occasions not picked up by main stream media. It is these unreported (by the media) incidences and reports from concerned locals that inspired the Maldivian government to implement increased surveillance measures and it is credit to their desire to continue protecting sharks.
The proactive and positive measures implemented by the government shows a genuine attempt to mitigate illegal shark activity, and directly lead to the seizure of 429kg of fins at Velena International Airport on the 4th January (which Shark Guardian reported on back in January), and the seizure of a vessel containing several shark carcasses with removed fins on 22nd March 2021.
The image on the left is from the Maldives Customs department after seizing 429kg of sharks fins at Velena International Airport in January 2021. The image on the right is from divers who discovered an illegal long-line being used at Fish Head in the north Ari Atoll. When pulling up the line they managed to save several grey reef shark, a lemon shark, a nurse shark, a massive bull shark and two stingrays. The police were notified and came to collect the evidence.
In the statement released on the 23rd March 2021, the government reported that they were already in the process of penalising the proprietors and are holding them accountable. Additionally, Minister Waheed told Shark Guardian that she has spoken to the local people and communities responsible, warning them that the shark fishing law will be upheld. She has even gone as far to tell them “I don’t want to encourage local tourism because you’re finning sharks”.
But, are these ‘new and improved’ measures too little too late?
Is a stern talking to enough to mitigate illegal shark fishing in hungry communities?
3: A GENUINE THREAT TO SHARKS MAY EXIST SHOULD THE MALDIVES OPEN A LONG-LINE TUNA FISHERY Shark Guardian, alongside other organisation that have spoken directly with Minister Waheed, believe that this is the real issue currently facing sharks in the Maldives. Allowing dead sharks from long-line tuna bycatch to be landed would result in the same situation the shortfin mako is facing in the Atlantic. For those that are unfamiliar, in the Atlantic, tuna fisheries are only allowed to land shortfin makos if they are dead on the line, populations of makos are still drastically declining. This is a perfect example of the potentially devastating effects of opening a long-line tuna fishery in the Maldives. Minister Waheed mentioned during our meeting that it wasn't a problem to reef sharks as the tuna fishery would operate 100 miles off the EEZ and as such would only effect oceanic sharks. But is this not just as bad, if not worse? Silky sharks, oceanic white tips and hammerheads are all in population declines and are highly likely to be caught. Legalising the sale of shark in the Maldives, regardless of how it is caught, be that dead on a tuna long-line or actively fished by opening a shark fishery (which we’d like to reiterate is not being pursued), will not end well for Maldivian communities or their economy.
During our conversation, Minister Waheed repeatedly stressed that maintaining high levels of shark conservation is a collective effort and collective responsibility. The Minister also raised concerns about how we are changing sharks’ behaviour, through intentional feeding, jigging, and the inappropriate management of garbage being dumped into the ocean. Everybody, including the government, locals, the tourism industry, diver centres, NGOs and members of the public, have a part to play. Ending the demand for trade through education is vital as well as supplying reliable alternative income to communities whose livelihoods relied on fishing sharks.
Minister Waheed is a trained marine biologist and conservationist and has previously stated that she will not allow any more species to go extinct in the Maldives whilst she remains the Fisheries Minister.
The good news is that the Maldivian government seem to be taking some steps in the right direction, and are very receptive to organisations providing research and guidance. They acknowledge they cannot be experts in every field and are willing to take on board the advice of others. The Maldives once were and still are a safer haven than many other places for sharks. With the right course of action in regards to the proposed long-line tuna fishery, the Maldives can continue to hold this safe haven status in the future.