Shark Conservation Groups Meet With Maldives Minister About Legal Shark Fishing Rumour
Shark conservation organisation Shark Guardian has issued a statement in which it says that it 'can confirm that the Maldives are NOT lifting the shark fishing ban, and that they were never intending to.'
The statement was issued following a meeting between Shark Guardian representatives and the Maldivian Minister of Fisheries, Zaha Waheed and the Senior Fisheries Officer, Munshidha Ibrahim. Minister Waheed had reportedly announced during a sitting of the Maldivian People's Majlis (Parliament) on 23 March that the legalisation of shark fishing was under discussion.
A number of quotes from Minister Waheed were reported in the Maldivian press, including that lifting the ban 'presents a profitable revenue-generation strategy for the state'; and that '[shark fisheries] are also an [economic] resource, and there is no reason [the Maldives] 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.'
Minister Waheed also reportedly told Parliament that '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.'
In response, Shark Guardian reports that during the meeting with Minister Waheed, she stated that 'the Maldivian government is definitely not lifting the ban,' and closed the meeting saying 'I hope we were clear about and assured that we’re not opening up the shark fishery,' adding that she was '99.9 per cent certain' that the shark fishing ban would not be lifted at any time in the near future.
In a separate post on Facebook, campaign organisation Shark Project, which also had a presence at the meeting, stated that Minister Waheed has 'promised ... that the existing shark protection will not be officially relaxed after all, although she had publicly thought about it at a press conference a few weeks ago.'
The Fisheries Minister also apparently added that she was concerned about dive companies and liveaboards feeding tiger sharks to attract them for tourists, which is becoming an increasing problem for fishermen.
The story, however, does not end there. Shark Guardian and the Maldives' press both report that the situation may have been confused by the fact that the Maldives government is debating whether or not to open a new commercial long-line tuna fishery, and that the discussion about legalising shark fishing was more to do with the sharks that will inevitably be caught as bycatch, rather than rescinding the shark fishing ban completely.
'I talked about landing accidental catch,' minister Waheed told Shark Guardian. 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.'
It also appears that there may be some politicking involved within the Maldives parliament. The Times of Addu reports that a motion of no confidence had been raised against Zaha Waheed for her 'failure to provide a fair price for fisherperson’s catch,' by MP Abdulla Jabir, who has openly advocated for the shark fishing ban to be lifted.
While the motion of no confidence against Minister Waheed never raised enough signatures to be passed, MP Jabir withdrew his own signature from the motion, apparently as a sign of appeasement that Minister Waheed, by hinting that she might allow the legalisation of shark fishing, had been persuaded to look more closely at fishermen's rights.
It seems that situation is more complex than it would first appear, but the short version of the story appears to be that the Maldives government has been debating the legal landing of sharks as a byproduct of other fishing practices, but does not intend to lift the ban on shark fishing that was first suggested.
And that politicians are playing politics.
Shark Guardian's report concludes with some good news, however, stating that despite the controversy, 'the Maldivian government seems to be taking some steps in the right direction, and are very receptive to organisations providing research and guidance. 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.'
No doubt dive operators and their prospective visitors will be breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Shark Guardian's complete statement can be read at: www.sharkguardian.org/post/maldives-are-not-lifting-shark-fishing-ban