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R. C. Anderson and Z. Waheed
Marine Research Section, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
H. Whitevaves, Malé, Republic of Maldives


The Republic of Maldives is a small island nation, lying southwest of the southern tip of India in the central Indian Ocean. The country is composed entirely of atolls, of which there are 26, grouped into 20 units for administrative purposes. There are some 1200 small sandy islands, of which 200 are inhabited. Only one of these, Malé the capital island, can be classified as a city. The others are villages or small towns, in most of which fishing is a major occupation. In addition to the inhabited islands, a further 83 have been or are being developed as tourist resorts. The remaining islands are officially classified as uninhabited, although many have more or less permanent small populations of workers who tend coconut palms, carry out fish processing, or other work.

The Maldives was traditionally a tuna fishing nation. The majority of the male workforce was engaged in tuna fishing; tuna provided the bulk of the population's protein; and tuna (in the form of smoke dried ‘Maldive fish’) was the country's main export product. Pole and line tuna fishing was carried out in the traditional way for centuries, until the early 1970s. Since then the Maldives has undergone enormous change. The economy has diversified, notably with the start of tourism in 1972 which is now the largest sector in the economy. Tuna fishing remains of major importance, but its relative importance has declined with the growth of other economic activities and the diversification of the fisheries sector. Other fisheries, including shark fisheries, have grown in significance. However, while the tuna stocks have appeared inexhaustible, the atoll-associated (i.e. non-tuna) stocks exploited by the new fisheries are proving to be easily overfished.

A particular feature of tourism in the Maldives relevant to this study is its high dependence on the marine environment to attract visitors. Diving and snorkeling are the two main recreational activities offered. The coral reef environment is the main attraction, but for divers in particular it is the large numbers of large fishes, especially reef sharks, that provides the greatest thrill. Shark diving is big business in the Maldives, and there is therefore considerable pressure from the tourism industry to preserve reef shark stocks.

The nomenclature of Maldivian islands requires some explanation. Each island has a name, but not only it is difficult to remember them all, the same name may also be used for several islands. For example there are 6 islands called Vilingili. To aid communication, each island is referred to with its atoll abbreviation appended. Each atoll has two main names (see map, Figure 1), a full traditional name and an abbreviation which is based on the modern Maldivian alphabet (although this may not appear to be an abbreviation when transliterated from the local thaana text to Latin script!). Vilingili in Addu Atoll is therefore referred to as Seenu Vilingili (written S. Vilingili), as distinct from the Vilingili in North Huvadhu Atoll, which is known as Gaafu Dhaalu Vilingili (written G.Dh.Vilingili).


2.1 Species composition of fishery

A total of 37 species of shark have been recorded from the Maldives to date (Anderson and Ahmed 1993; Anderson and Hafiz 1997; Adam, Merrett and Anderson 1998). Half of these were recorded for the first time during the last five years, so more are likely to be recorded from these islands in the future. Both the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) and the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) were the targets of specific fisheries in the past, but both of these fisheries have now died out. The whale shark is now protected, while the tiger shark is still caught in both the reef and oceanic shark fisheries.

Figure 1

Map of the Maldives

Figure 1

There are three distinct types of shark fishery in the Maldives:

  1. A fishery for deepwater benthic sharks. The target species are gulper sharks, Centrophorus, of which three species have been recorded from Maldives (C. niaukang, C. squamosus and C. tessellatus). In addition, a variety of other deepwater benthic sharks are taken including the bluntnose sixgill shark, Hexanchus griseus.

  2. A fishery for reef sharks. A variety of atoll-associated species are taken, including the silvertip shark, Carcharhinus albimarginatus, the grey reef shark, Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, the black tipped reef shark, Carcharhinus melanopterus, the white tip reef shark, Triaenodon obesus. Species composition is slightly different in the south of the country than in the north and centre (Anderson 1992).

  3. A fishery for oceanic sharks. A variety of pelagic species are taken, but by far the most important is the silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformis. This one species accounts for about 70–80% by numbers of the pelagic longline catch (Anderson and Hafiz 1997). The Maldives is composed of oceanic atolls and so has no continental shelf. However, it does have a narrow atoll slope and a broader shelf area between the double row of atolls in the centre and north of the country. As a result there is a gradation in the oceanic shark species composition from “inshore” to “offshore”. The true “offshore” pelagic fishery, which may start no more than 1–2 km outside the atolls, catches mainly silky sharks as well as other highseas varieties such as oceanic white tip sharks, Carcharhinus longimanus and blue sharks, Prionace glauca. The “inshore” pelagic fishery, which takes place close to, and between, the atolls, catches the same highseas varieties plus an assortment of other species such as the bignose shark, Carcharhinus altimus, the silvertip shark, Carcharhinus albimarginatus, and the scalloped hammerhead, Sphyrna leweni.

A list of the more important commercial species, with local names and an indication of their relative importance in the three fisheries, is given in Table 1. More details on species composition are given by Anderson and Ahmed (1993). There is relatively little overlap in major species between the three main species, although several minor species are caught in more than one fishery. The small toothed sandtiger shark, Odontaspis ferox, is caught in both the deep benthic fishery and, occasionally, in the reef fishery. Both the silvertip shark and the scalloped hammerhead, Sphyrna leweni, are taken in both the reef fishery and the oceanic shark fishery. The cosmopolitan tiger shark can be caught almost anywhere.

2.2 Distribution of fishery

Shark fishing is carried out throughout the Maldives. However, in all three fisheries there seems to have been more fishing effort in the north and centre of the country than in the south.

Many of the species caught in the deep benthic and reef shark fisheries are widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific. However, within the Maldives some have rather restricted habitats. The target species of the deep benthic fishery are limited to just a narrow strip of habitat, i.e. the outer atoll slopes between the depths of about 200m and 1000m. While this zone is more-or-less continuous around the Maldivian atoll chain, it is separate from the atoll and continental slopes of neighbouring countries. It is therefore likely that the Maldivian deepwater benthic shark fishery is exploiting a single, discrete Maldivian stock. Several reef sharks are limited to the atolls, rarely if ever venturing offshore or to great depths. It is therefore likely that the Maldivian reef shark fishery is exploiting a distinct Maldivian stock, which may have several sub-stocks, one per atoll.

Table 1

Shark species of commercial importance in the Maldives, with indications of their relative importance in the three shark fisheries (modified from Anderson and Ahmed 1993; Anderson and Hafiz 1997: unpublished data)
English nameScientific nameMaldivian nameFishery type
Bluntnose sixgill sharkHexanchus griseusMadu mayaru**  
Taiwan gulper sharkCentrophorus niaukangKashi miyaru***  
Leafscale gulper sharkCentrophorus squamosusKashi miyaru***  
Mosaic gulper sharkCentrophorus tessellatusKashi miyaru***  
Variegated sharkStegostoma fasciatumHitha miyaru * 
Tawny nurse sharkNebrius ferrungineusNidhan miyaru * 
Whale sharkRhincodon typusFehurihi   
Smalltooth sand tigerOdontaspis feroxDaiy dhigu miyaru** 
Crocodile sharkPseudocarcharias kamoharai? miyaru  *
Pelagic thresher sharkAlopias pelagicusKandi miyaru  *
Bigeye thresher sharkAlopias superciliosusKandi miyaru  *
Thresher sharkAlopias vulpinusKandi miyaru  *
Shortfin mako sharkIsurus oxyrinchusWoshimas miyaru  *
False catsharkPseudotriakis microdonHikandhi thun miyaru*  
Silvertip sharkCarcharhinus albimarginatusKattafulhi miyaru ***
Bignose sharkCarcharhinus altimusMendhan miyaru  **
Grey reef sharkCarcharhinus amblyrhynchosThila miyaru ** 
Silky sharkCarcharhinus falciformisAinu miyaru  ***
Blacktip sharkCarcharhinus limbatus? miyaru * 
Oceanic whitetip sharkCarcharhinus longtmanusFeekanfaiy miyaru  **
Blacktip reef sharkCarcharhinus melanopterusFalhu mathi dhon miyrau ** 
Spottail sharkCarcharhinus sorrahDhon miyaru * 
Tiger sharkGaleocerdo cuvierFemunu **
Sicklefin lemon sharkNegaprion acundensOlhufathi miyaru * 
Blue sharkPrionace glaucaAndhun miyaru  *
Whitetip reef sharkTriaenodon obesusFaana miyaru ** 
Scalloped hammerhead sharkSphyrna lewentKaaligandu miyaru **

*** major target species;
** regularly taken;
* occasionally taken.

Most of the species caught in the oceanic shark fishery have circumglobal distributions. Several of these species are believered to be highly migratory. The stock structure of these species is not known, but it is assumed that for some species there are Indian Ocean-wide stocks. They are caught not only by Maldivian fishermen, but also by foreign longliners operating under licence in the Maldivian EEZ, and by fishermen in adjacent waters, for example by Sri Lankan fishermen to the east and by Far Eastern longliners throughout much of the Indian Ocean.

2.3 Associated species

The Maldivian shark fisheries tend to be well targeted, with relatively little bycatch and almost no discards. The deepwater benthic shark fishery does catch the occasional deepwater teleost, notably snappers, Etelis spp. The reef shark fishery catches moderate numbers of reef teleosts, notably snappers and groupers. The oceanic shark fishery catches some other varieties including billfish and tunas. Bycatch may be consumed, sold fresh, or salt dried for export.

2.4 Development and current status of fishing methods

2.4.1 The harvesting process

Maldivian fishermen have traditionally caught small numbers of those species of shark which have particularly large livers to extract oil for treating their wooden vessels. The species harvested were bluntnose sixgill sharks, large tiger sharks and whale sharks. These species were all taken by single giant-hook fishing gear (Anderson and Ahmed 1993).

During the 1960s and 1970s a number of developments occurred which completely changed this ancient pattern of shark fishing (Anderson and Ahmed 1992). The first change occurred in the early 1960s when longlining was introduced. This followed the entry of Japanese tuna longliners into the central Indian Ocean and the opening of a boatyard on the island of Hulhule, which built small workboats including some for longlining. Pelagic shark longlining started to spread throughout the Maldives replacing the traditional tiger shark fishery in the process.

The next major development came in the mid-1970s. The widespread mechanization of the fishing fleet, the introduction of shark gillnetting (for reef sharks) and an increase in the international price of shark fins all occurred at this time. Together they led to a boom in shark catches in 1977. Mechanization was prbably a prerequisite for shark gillnetting. The introduction probably occurred in two ways. First by fishermen finding and experimenting with drifting pieces of gillnet from overseas fisheries. Secondly, through the activities of a foreign fishing and exporting company which operated in Ari Atoll during 1976–79 (Anderson and Ahmed 1992).

Along with these developments in fishing techniques came developments in the utilization of shark products. The emphasis changed from a fishery for oil in which fins might be a valuable byproduct, to fisheries driven by the high prices paid for fins in which salt-dried meat was a valuable byproduct and the oil had only nominal value. Today, less than half of all Maldivian fishermen use shark liver oil for treating their boats; most use fish or coconut oil. These economic changes led to the development of markets for even small sharks, and so juvenile oceanic sharks are now taken as bycatch in the pole and line tuna fishery where before they were not. The final development occurred in 1979–80. Japanese buyers visited the Maldives looking for a supply of high-value, squalene-rich shark oil. Fishermen quickly adapted their traditional single hook fishing technique for bluntnose sixgill sharks to a multi-hook vertical longline for gulper sharks.

The Maldives declared a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in 1976. An inner core area, including all waters within 75 miles of the archipelagic baseline is known as the “coastal fishing Zone” and is reserved exclusively for the use of Maldivian fishermen. The outer zone, from 75 miles offshore to the EEZ boundary is known as the offshore fishing zone, and open to foreign fishing under licence. Purse seining and gillnetting are banned in the offshore fishing zone, and so only tuna longliners operate there. These vessels must catch significant quantities of pelagic sharks, although most shark catches are not reported.

2.4.2 Evolution of catch

There are no historical catch data for sharks. However, since there is minimal local consumption of shark products in the Maldives, rough estimates of catch can be made from export data (see Section 5.2).

The size of the deepwater benthic shark fishery can be estimated from records of exports of high-value squlaene-rich shark liver oil (Tables 2 and 3, Figure 2). The export fishery started in 1980, and catches rapidly increased to an estimated 330t in 1982. Catches then declined to a low of about 70t in 1989. There was a brief rally in 1990-92, when annual catches averaged about 120t. Since then catches have been minimal, averaging only 12t/year in 1993–96. It is assumed that prior to 1980 there was some small catch, to supply oil for trating wooden boats.

Table 2
Quantities of Maldivian shark products exported 1980-96
(Source: Customs data compiled by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture)
YearDried fin exports (kg)Salt dried meat exports(t)Oil exports (litres)Oil exports (kg)
198027 7024779 6008 160
198115 37426527 20023 120
198219 98834487 40074 290
198317 40330063 40053 890
198410 60018279 40067 490
198520 78535853 40045 390
198618 43431733 40028 390
198724 38342040 00034 000
198815 57626826 00022 100
198913 09422519 00216 152
199017 82630725 60021 760
199118 72632239 76533 800
199227 82047927 91823 730
199325 5284404 0943 480
199415 0422591 7061 450
199518 15030300
199622 3855477 7156 558

(1)   Salt dried shark meat exports were lumped with those of “reef fish” in years prior to 1996. Quantities were calculated from fin export data by Anderson and Ahmed (1993) and MRS (1997a).
(2)   Shark liver oil exports were reported in kg in 1991-1994, and in litres in other years; a conversion factor of 0.85kg/l is assumed.

Figure 2
Table 3
Estimated annual Maldivian shark catches 1963–96
YearCombined oceanic and reef shark fisheries (t)Deepwater benthic shark fishery (t)Total shark catch (t)

(1)   Catches are estimated from export data, following Anderson and Ahmed (1993). Oceanic and reef shark catches are estimated from dried fin exports, and deepwater benthic shark catches from shark liver oil exports.
(2)   For oceanic and reef sharks, dried fin export data are not available for most years between 1965 and 1973. Catches have been estimated as the mean of catch for years between 1963-76 for which data are available, i.e. about 450t. Catches estimated in this way are presented in parentheses.
(3)   For deepwater benthic sharks, no oil exports were made prior to 1980. For the years 1963-1976 a nominal annual catch of 20t is assumed; for the years 1977-79 (when substantial quantities of oceanic and reef sharks were being landed and so supply of liver oil for treating wooden boats would have been high) annual catches of 10t are assumed. These assumed catches are presented in parentheses.

The size of the oceanic and reef shark fisheries combined can be estimated from records of exports of shark fins (Tables 2 and 3, Figure 3). There is no way to separate or distinguish between the two fisheries from fin export data. Estimated catches prior to the mid-1970s averaged about 450t year. In 1977 catches jumped to 1433t. Since then estimated catches have varied without obvious trend between about 1000 and 2000t/year, averaging about 1400t/year. The relative contributions of the oceanic and reef shark fisheries to the total catch are not known with any certainty. However, Anderson and Ahmed (1993) estimated that each fishery contributed roughly 50% to the total in 1992. By January 1998, the size of the reef shark gillnet fleet had decreased while that of the oceanic shark longline fleet had increased (see Section 2.4.3). It is therefore assumed that the reef shark fishery now contributes less than half (perhaps one third or one quarter) and the oceanic shark fishery more than half (perhaps two thirds or three quarters) to the total ‘shallow water’ catch.

Figure 3

Annual catches of shallow water (i.e. oceanic and reef) sharks in the Maldives, 1963-96. (Estimated from dried fin export data)

Figure 3

These catch estimates refer only to the catches made by Maldivian fishermen. Most catches of pelagic sharks by foreign tuna longliners licensed to operate in the offshore fishing zone of the EEZ are not reported. Of 15 foreign vessels fishing in the Maldivian EEZ under licence in 1994, only 3 reported any catches of sharks. These 3 vessels reported catching just 106 sharks with a total weight of 3436kg.

2.4.3 Fleet characteristics, fleet evolution and fishing effort

There are no historical fleet size or fishing effort time series data for the shark fisheries. Data on total fishing fleet size and composition are available by year for the period 1966-96, but most of the active fishing vessels are used primarily for tuna fishing. Estimates of the numbers of fishing vessels active in shark fishing are only available for the year 1992 (Table 4). Ninety one vessels were estimated to be engaged in shark fishing full time and 1070 part time. There may be some duplication of part time vessels in this estimate (i.e. some vessels may have carried out more than one type of shark fishing part time), but no account was made of vessels that carried out handlining part time. The total number of fishing vessels active in 1992 was reported by MOFA to be 1604. Thus, although the number of full time shark fishing vessels was relatively small, a significant number of vessels carried out at least some shark fishing during 1992.

Table 4
Estimated numbers of Maldivian vessels engaged in shark fishing in 1992 (Source: Anderson and Ahmed 1993)
 Full timePart time
Gillnetting (i.e. reef shark fishing)47372
Longlining (i.e. mainly oceanic shark fishing)13424
Deep benthic shark fishing31274

For the most part, special vessels are not used for shark fishing, Rather, normal Maldivian fishing vessels (dhonts) are used for all types of fishing, including shark fishing. There are two major classes of dhoni, the larger pole and line tuna fishing vessels (masdhonis, typically 9–14m long) and the smaller tuna trolling vessels (vadhu dhonis, about 5-8m long). The masdhoni fleet was mechanized during the second half of the 1970s. Normal masdhonis are used for both oceanic shark fishing (longlining) and reef shark fishing (gillnetting and some longlining). The only structural modification is the crection of a temporary shelter midships on those masdhonis used for reef shark gillnetting (these gillnetters typically undertake trips of 10-14 days duration, compared to 1-2 day trips by longliners).

Total fishing effort in the gillnet fishery is declining. Reported numbers of gillnet vessels at six selected islands dropped from 40 full time and 65 part time masdhonis in 1992 to 25 full time and only 8 part time masdhonis in January 1998 (Table 5). Most of the masdhonis leaving the gillnet fishery have returned to the tuna fishery, taken up shark longlining or grouper fishing, or entered the tourist industry. In the shark longline fishery, fishing effort is reportedly increasing, at least in the north of the country. H.Dh.Kulhudhufushi is a major centre for this fishery. Reported numbers of shark longline vessels at five selected islands have increased from no full time, and 56 part time, madsdhonis in 1992 to 60 full time, and 44 part time, masdhonis in January 1998 (Table 6).

Table 5
Reported numbers of vessels engaged in shark gillnetting at selected islands in Aug. Oct. 1992 and Jan. 1998
Full timePart timeFull timePart time
R. Maduvvari1217102
R. Meedhoo1614100
A. Dungati12050
A. Himendhoo01000
F. Feeali01600
Th. Vilufushi0806

(1)   Source for 1992 data: Anderson and Ahmed (1993).
(2)   Source for 1998 data: telephone survey of island chiefs by authors.

In the deep benthic shark fishery, small masdhonis or large mechanized vadhu dhonis (7-9m in length), are favoured, because the fishing lines act as anchors, and large vessels have too much windage. This fishery started in 1980 the north of Maldives; it spread to the south of Maldives in the late 1980s as northern stocks were overfished and buyers looked elsewhere for supplies of liver oil. In the EEZ fishery, the numbers of vessels (longliners) licensed and operating are recorded in Table 7. In 1994-96 only Far Eastern style longliners operated, but in 1997 Indonesian longliners were added to the fleet.

Table 6
Reported numbers of vessels engaged in shark longlining at selected islands in Aug.-Oct. 1992 and Jan. 1998
Full timePart timeFull timePart time
H. Dh. Kulhudhufushi0106020
R. Maduvvari012010
R. Meedhoo01602
A. Himendhoo010012
F. Feeali0800

(1)   Source for 1992 data: Anderson and Ahmed (1993).
(2)   Source for 1998 data: telephone survey of island chiefs by authors.

Table 7
Numbers of vessels licensed for fishing in the Maldivian EEZ, and reported numbers of days fished 1994-97 (Source: Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture)
YearNo. vesselsForeign vessels fishingMaldivian vessels
licensedNo. vesselsNo. daysNo. vesselsNo. days
1996 (Jan.-July)2718932----
1997 (Jan.-Oct.)50302991----

2.5 Markets

2.5.1 Introduction

Shark jaws and teeth, particularly from spectacular species such as the tiger shark, mako and smalltooth sandtiger, are sold as tourist curios in Maldives. Apart from these, and the traditional product of crude liver oil for treating wooden boats, there is little domestic consumption of shark products in the Maldives. Maldiyians do not normally eat shark meat, and there is only limited consumption by expatriates living on Malé or by tourists on resort islands.

All three shark fisheries have been driven by export demand. The quantities of shark product exports are detailed in Table 2. The main product from the deepwater benthic shark fishery was high-quality squalene-rich liver oil (neither meat nor fins were taken from Centrophorus spp.). Very small amounts of this oil were used in local medicine, but the bulk of the production was exported, mainly to Japan. Exports of this product have fallen dramatically over the last few years (Table 2), mainly as a result of falling catch rates combined with relatively low prices (reportedly as a result of high production from other countries) reducing fishermen’s incomes. Note that this oil is distinct from, and much more valuable than, the crude liver oil used for treating wooden boats, which is now produced as a byproduct of the reef and oceanic shark fisheries.

The reef and oceanic shark fisheries both yield the same products: fins and meat. Fins are sun dried, but not usually otherwise processed (although some are salted), and exported to the Chinese markets of East Asia. Nearly all go to Hong Kong. Meat is salt dried and exported to Sri Lanka. Minimal quantities of shark cartilage and shark skin have been exported in recent years, but major markets for these products have not developed.

2.5.2 Revenues from the fishery

There are no data available on values of catches. The only data available are those on export revenues (Table 8, Figure 4). These values are declared FOB (free on board) values. There is little incentive for exporters to misreport values (since there is no direct tax on exports, and only a nominal charge for an export licence) so it is assumed that the declared values are reasonably accurate.

Table 8
Values of Maldivian shark product exports 1980-96 (Source: Customs Data compiled by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture)
YearDried fins (‘000 MRf)Salt dried meat (‘000 MRf)Squalene oil (‘000 MRf)Total value (‘000 MRf)Total value (‘000 US$)

(1)   Salt dried shark meat exports were lumped with those of “reef fish” in years prior to 1996. Values of salt dried shark meat exports were estimated by Anderson and Ahmed (1993) and MRS (1997a).
(2)   In 1992. Customs recorded the export of 14kg of shark skin, valued at MRf663; this valued had been added to the total here.
(3)   Prior to March 1982 the Maldivian Rufiyaa was pegged at an artificial rate of MRf1.50=US$1. In 1982 it was revalued at MRf7=US$1. and has subsequently dropped slowly to MRf11.77 US$1 in 1996. Annual average exchange rates are given in the Statistical Yearbooks produced by MPHRE.

In current terms, actual annual revenue from shark fin exports increased irregularly from an average of just over MRf 1 million in 1980-81, to a peak of over MRf 11 million in 1992. Since then shark fin exports have averaged about MRf 8 million/yr. There has been a decrease in revenue from dried fins since 1992 in real terms1, adjusted to 1985 constant prices (Table 9, Figure 6). Export prices for shark fin (Figure 4) closely follow international market prices. The low in 1990 was the result of a temporary check in Chinese demand combined with some price manipulation by major international traders (Cook 1990).

1 Adjusted for inflation to a 1985 constant price.

Figure 4

Annual average export price of dried shark fins (FOB Male'), 1974-1996
(Customs data, compiled by Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture)

Figure 4
Table 9
Values of Maldivian shark product exports at 1985 constant prices (Source: Customs data compiled by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture)
YearDried fins (‘000 MRf)Salt dried meat (‘000 MRf)Squalene oil ‘000 MRf)Total value ‘000 MRf)

(1)   Original data are presented in Table 6. Adjustment to 1985 constant price follows MPHRE (1997a) GDP analysis; ratios for 1996 and 1980-83 are estimated by extrapolation.

Estimated annual revenue from salt dried shark meat increased, in current terms, from an average of about MRf 1 million in 1980-81 to a peak of over MRf 6.5 million in 1992. Since then salt dried shark meat exports have averaged about MRf 4.5 million/year. In real terms, adjusted to 1985 constant prices, revenue from salt dried shark meat exports has decreased since 1992. Export revenues from shark meat have also declined relative to those of shark fins, as a result of the relatively rapid rise in shark fin prices (Table 11, Figure 4). During 1980-82, the income from shark meat exports was 95% that of shark fin exports; during 1994-96 it had dropped to 51% of the income from shark fin exports.

Export revenue from shark liver oil increased from zero in 1979 to a peak of Mrf 2.4 million (current terms) in 1984 (Table 8, Figure 5). Revenues then declined to a low of MRf 0.6 million in 1988, before increasing to a second peak of MRf 1.8 million in 1991. Since then export revenues have been very low. In real terms, adjusted to 1985 constant prices the same pattern is shown, although the early peak in 1984 is more pronounced. Total shark product export revenues (in real terms, adjusted to 1985 constant prices) have decreased substantially since 1992 (Table 9, Figure 5), dropping from MRf 10.2 million to MRf 4.3 million in 1996.

Figure 5

Values of Maldivian shark product exports
(Customs data compiled by Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture)

Figure 4

To put shark fishery revenues in context, export revenues from all major fisheries are listed in Table 10. Note that there is significant domestic consumption of tuna and reef fish, but not of other fishery products. Shark fishery products have accounted for an average of 3.6% of the value of all fishery exports since 1980 (5.5% in real terms). The relative importance of shark exports has declined as the tuna fishery has expanded and other fisheries (notably for sea cucumber and grouper) have boomed. During the period 1980–87, shark products accounted for 6.7% of fisheries export value (8.1% in real terms), peaking at 15.1% in 1982. During 1988-96, shark fishery products accounted for only 3.0% of the value of all fishery exports (3.1% in real terms).

2.6 Economics of the fishery

There are almost no data on the economics of the shark fisheries, other than the total export revenue data detailed above.

No fisheries are subsidized. In fact, the opposite is true since the government maintains control of a large part of the tuna export market, and pays what some consider to be below market value to fishermen for fresh fish. This may indirectly act to stimulate other fisheries, including shark fisheries, in which private buyers pay full market value.

Because of the national ‘shortage’ of fishermen (see Section 2.7 below), fisheries in which income drops too low are soon abandoned. In other words, fishermen are not trapped in fisheries with diminishing returns, and non-profitable fisheries do not continue. The collapse of the deep benthic shark fishery was the result of falling income to fishermen (caused by a combination of falling catch rates and low prices) rather than just a simple stock collapse; reasonable catch rates of Centrophorus can still be made in the south of Maldives. At present there is a very profitable live grouper fishery, which started in 1993 and supplies the Hong Kong market. Many tuna (and shark) fishermen have gone into grouper fishing, and will continue grouper fishing as long as their income there exceeds the income they could expect from any other fishery.

Figure 6

Values of Maldivian shark product exports at 1983 constant prices

Figure 6
Table 10
Export values of fisheries products, by major commodity (million MRf) 1980-96 (Source: Customs data compiled by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture)
YearSharkTunaReef fishSea cucumberAquarium fishOthersTotal% shark

(1)   The value of “salt dried reef fish” has been divided between salt dried shark and true salt dried reef fish following Anderson and Ahmed (1993) and MRS (1997a).

Government revenue from shark fisheries is minimal. There are no direct taxes on the export of shark products, although export licences are required, for which a nominal fee of 0.1% of export value is charged. Foreign longliners licensed to fish in the outer waters of the Maldivian EEZ pay a royalty on catches; in practice this applies to tuna catches but not to shark catches (any sharks caught are presumably finned, so no sharks are in the fish hold when the catch is inspected).

Table 11
Unit values of Maldivian shark product exports 1980-96 (Source: Customs data compiled by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture)
YearDried fins (MRf/kg)Salt dried meat (MRf/kg)Squalene oil (MRf/kg)Squalene oil (MRf/litre)

(1)   Estimates for salt dried shark meat follow Anderson and Ahmed (1993) and MRS (1997a).

2.7 The fisheries workforce

The majority of Maldivian fishermen are tuna fishermen. However, most are willing to try other fisheries that offer higher returns, and able to turn their hand to other occupations when need be. Thus the tuna fishery can be considered the core activity for much of the fisheries workforce, but at any one time a significant proportion may be working in other fisheries, or in other economic sectors (e.g. construction or transport). The major factor for fishermen in deciding which fishery to pursue is income. When high returns were being obtained from the deep benthic shark fishery in the early 1980s, many tuna fishermen switched to this fishery. The sea cucumber fishery attracted many fishermen in the late 1980s, and at present it is the live grouper fishery that is in vogue. Because all fisheries use the same vessels and most fisheries use only hook and line (i.e. there are no sophisticated and expensive gears such as trawls and purse seines) fishermen can switch from tuna fishing to another fishery while tuna fishing is poor, and then switch back again a few weeks (or even days) later when tuna fishing recovers.

The numbers of fishermen are recorded in two separate data sets (Table 12). Occupation is recorded in the national census (now taken every five years). Numbers of fishermen on each island are also recorded with the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture's monthly catch and effort statistics. The reason(s) for the large differences between the two data sets are not obvious, as both data sets purportedly record numbers of active fishermen. Under the national census, occupation is recorded as the predominant income earning activity during the preceding month. In the MOFA statistics, full time fishermen only are supposed to be recorded, but in practice many part time and ‘potential’ fishermen appear to be included as well. Thus it seems that about 50% of the total fisheries workforce is now part time, and that the proportion of part time fishermen has increased greatly over the last 20 years.

Table 12
Numbers of Maldivian fishermen 1970-95 (Sources: MOFA statistics and MPHRE census data)
YearNo. fishermen (MOFA)No. fishermen (Census)Total population (Census)% fishermen (Census)
197019 094NA114 469NA
197118 075NA118 818NA
197218 535NA122 673NA
197318 807   
197419 362NA128 697NA
197519 666   
197621 381   
197721 59419 385142 83213.6
197822 683   
197923 924   
198024 330   
198122 301   
198221 727   
198322 262   
198421 028   
198519 67112 434180 0886.9
198622 245   
198722 387   
198821 880   
198922 025   
199021 72511 498213 2155.4
199121 432   
199221 195   
199319 995   
199422 268   
199521 194?244 644?

The absolute numbers of fishermen have declined slightly in recent years. However, taken as a percentage of either the total population or the working population the numbers of fishermen have declined dramatically in recent years. This is a reflection of the growth of other economic sectors in the Maldives over the past two decades and the perceived low status (social rather than economic) of fishermen. There is now a shortage of fishermen in the Maldives. While there are men (particularly young men) available to work (i.e. unemployed or underemployed), many fishing boat owners have great difficulty in finding crew.

There are no separate statistics for numbers of shark fishermen, but some generalizations can be made. There are differences in employment patterns between the shark fisheries. Gillnetting (for reef sharks) requires larger investments in gear (and greater specialist knowledge) than other shark fisheries, and so fishermen on relatively few islands have adopted this technique. For the same reasons, shark gillnetting is carried out full time by relatively more fishermen than other types of shark fishing. It is (or was) practiced full time on a relatively large scale by fishermen from only three islands: R.Maduvvari, R.Meedhoo and A.Dungati. In addition fishermen from only three other islands (A.Himendhoo, Dh. Kudahuvadhoo and Dh. Bandidhoo) practice shark gillnetting part time on a significant scale. Despite this concentration of fishermen in just a few islands, shark gillnetting is carried out throughout the country because the fishermen undertake 10-14 day trips and visit all atolls for fishing. The number of fishermen engaged in shark gillnetting is decreasing (see Section 2.4.3).

Shark longlining tends to be carried out on a more seasonal basis. Fishermen carry out more pelagic shark longlining during the latter part of the northeast monsoon season (when the weather tends to be calm) than at other times of year. However, they will go shark longlining at any season when shark catch rates are high, especially if tuna catch rates are low. Shark gillnetting is carried out by at least some fishermen in nearly every atoll. Therefore, even though fishermen normally only undertake 1-2 day trips, fishing effort is distributed throughout the country. Having said that, H.Dh.Kulhdhufushi in the north of the country has emerged as a major pelagic shark longlining centre in the last few years (Table 6). Also, these fishermen are now carrying out shark longlining year round, rather than just in periods of calm weather and/or poor tuna fishing as before. During periods of rough weather, for example during June-July, these fishermen carry out longlining inside the atolls, i.e. they target reef sharks rather than oceanic sharks at this time.

Very few fishermen now carry out vertical longlining for deep benthic sharks. However, when the fishery was at its peak, several hundred fishermen must have been involved. As with pelagic shark longlining, deep benthic shark fishermen were most active during the latter part of the northeast season when the weather is calm. At other times many returned to tuna fishing. Fishing trips were of single night duration.


3.1 The fisheries within the context of national fisheries policies

National development policy is formally stated in the triennial National Development Plans (NDP). Recent fisheries policies are set out in the fourth (1994-96) and fifth (1997-99) NDPs (MPHRE 1994 and 1997a). These two documents were organized on very different lines, and so the major management objectives of both are highlighted. Despite the differences in presentation, there are no major fisheries policy differences between the two NDP periods with the exception of greater emphasis on private sector participation in the fifth NDP.

The fifth NDP was organized in a hierarchical scheme of five national objectives to guide development efforts; nine national priorities to focus development efforts; and nine development areas to assist agencies in the formulation of their annual programmes. The items of relevance to the management of shark fisheries include:

  1. National objectives:
    1. To secure sustainable improvements in the living standards and quality of life of the population by pursuing appropriate growth strategies.
    2. To ensure the sustainability of natural resources by focusing on appropriate development and sound management.
  2. National priorities:
    1. Pursue appropriate growth strategies.
    2. Implement sound environmental and natural resources management.
  3. Development Areas and Programmes:
    1. Economic growth and development should occur in ways that ensure sustainable growth; growth with equity; growth led by the private sector; and growth through increased productivity.
    2. Environment and natural resources management should ensure sustainable development; development of sound environmental assessment and management practices; and effective environmental law, institutional arrangements and enforcement.
    3. Business and industry development should: restrict Government involvement in commercial activities; balance subsistence needs and value of commercial activities in the fishing industry; increase subsistence fish production and development of commercial fisheries with associated private sector investment; manage fisheries on a sustainable basis; should increase the economic value of the fisheries on a sustainable and equitable basis; and manage and minimise adverse environmental impacts of tourism development.

The fourth NDP was organized on sectoral lines, with emphasis on programmes. Major objectives for development of the fisheries sector included:

  1. Increasing inshore fish production to levels within the limits of maximum economic yield.

  2. Effecting strong management for conservation of marine reef resources. This included providing for marine biodiversity and endangered species protection and regulation, and giving emphasis to fisheries resource management and assessment.

  3. Improving the legal framework for effective management of resources and development of fisheries.

  4. Increasing EEZ surveillance.

  5. Encouraging commercial exploitation of marine resources in the EEZ.

In addition to the NDPs, government policy relevant to the management of shark fisheries is set out in the Tourism Master Plan (Anon 1995) and the National Environmental Action Plan (MPHRE 1989 second edition in preparation). Both emphasise the need for sustainable development.

There are two particular areas where shark fisheries interact with other commercial activities, and as a result of which, other national objectives impinge upon shark fisheries management:

  1. Pelagic sharks often associate with tuna schools. Maldivian fishermen (that is both shark and tuna fishermen) believe that removing sharks from tuna schools adversely affects subsequent tuna catches. Tuna fishing is the most important fisheries activity in the Maldives, and much of Maldivian fisheries policy is directed towards improving tuna production. Therefore, when conflicts arise between the tuna fishery and the pelagic shark fishery, there is pressure to favour the tuna fishery.

  2. Reef sharks are a major attraction for tourist divers in the Maldives. It was estimated that direct revenues from divers visiting specific shark diving sites in 1992 amounted to US$ 2.3 million (Anderson and Ahmed 1993). In contrast, revenue from the export of reef shark meat and fins in 1992 was an estimated US$ 0.7 million. Similarly, a single grey reef shark in 1992 was estimated to be worth US$ 32 to a fisherman, but US$ 3300 /year if left alive at a shark diving site (Anderson and Ahmed 1993). Tourism is the single largest sector in the Maldivian economy, now accounting for nearly 20% of GDP, compared to just over 10% for fisheries (MPHRE 1997b). There is strong pressure from the tourist industry to conserve reef shark stocks.

3.2 Objectives for the management of the shark fisheries

No explicit objectives have been set for the management of the shark fisheries. However, implicit objectives in approximate order of priority are:

  1. minimize interference with the tuna fishery;

  2. minimize impact on the tourism industry;

  3. minimize government intervention in the shark fisheries;

  4. prevent overfishing of shark stocks.

3.3 The objective setting process

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has responsibility for setting management objectives for all fisheries, including those for sharks. Within the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture itself, the Marine Research Section (MRS) is responsible for carrying out fisheries research with the aim of facilitating the conservation and management of the fisheries resources of the Maldives and providing advice on the status of marine resources (MRS 1988). The Economics Planning and Coordination Section (EPCS) is responsible for the collection and dissemination of fisheries statistics. Additional responsibilities of EPCS include the collection of socio-economic data, monitoring of fisheries production costs and market prices, and conducting economic analysis of fisheries resource data for the purpose of policy formulation and planning.

In setting management objectives, MOFA endeavours to take into account the views of all major stakeholders. The views of fishermen can be voiced through a Fishermen's Association, although this body, set up in 1993, is as yet neither well supported nor influential; there are plans to increase its profile in the future. On a local level fishermen are represented on a variety of island and atoll level committees, the views of which can be forwarded to MOFA through the Ministry of Atolls Administration (MAA). In addition, the Atoll Chiefs' Conference, initiated in 1983 and held every two years, is an influential forum in which regional concerns are aired and recommendations for government action are formulated. It should be mentioned that the well-being of fishermen is part of MOFA's mandate, and in addition to professional links some Ministry staff do maintain direct personal contacts with fishermen.

Businessmen, including those who buy and export shark products, have representation in the Maldives Traders Association (MTA). On the government side, trade issues, and in particular the promotion of exports, are the responsibility of the Ministry of Trade, Industries and Labour (MTI). MTI is responsible for the issue of export licences and licencing fishing vessels that wish to operate in the Maldivian EEZ. The views of the tourism industry are expressed through its influential trade body, the Maldives Association of Tourism Industries (MATI). On the government side, tourism issues are the responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism. Environmental issues (including Marine Protected Areas) are the responsibility of the Ministry of Planning Human Resources and Environment (MPHRE). The Environmental Commission, a multi-sectoral panel under MPHRE, is responsible for reviewing and making recommendations on environmental issues. There are in addition a small but growing number of environmental NGOs.

All of the above organizations can have access to the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. Other Ministries have cabinet level representation with the MOFA. In addition, many are represented on the Fisheries Advisory Board (FAB), a statutory body under the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, which currently has the following members:

Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture(Minister, Chairman)
Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture(Director General)
Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture(Director of Administration)
Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture(Deputy Director, Marine Research Section)
Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company(Managing Director)
Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company(Director of Administration)
Ministry of Atolls Administration(Minister)
Ministry of Planning, Human Resources and Environment(Minister)
Ministry of Planning, Human Resources and Environment(Director General, Human Resources Development)
Ministry of Tourism(Minister)
Ministry of Trade, Industries and Labour(Minister)
State Trading Organization, STO(Managing Director)
Ministry of State for Finance and Treasury(Minister)
Ministry of Defence and National Security(Coastguard)
Ministry of Transport and Communications(Director General of Administration)
Ministry of Transport and Communications(Director of Maritime Affairs)

The composition of the Fisheries Advisory Board can be changed by President's Office on the advice of the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. The FAB is an entirely government based panel, with no private sector participation. The role of the FAB is to advise the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture on issues relating to fisheries policy and management. Decisions taken by the FAB are referred to the President's Office for confirmation.

In addition to any formal channels of influence, all stakeholders have the right to write directly to the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture to express their views on any issue relating to fisheries. This is not an uncommon form of action by fishermen and other stakeholders in the atolls, who otherwise have limited direct access to policymakers.

3.4 Discussion

Because explicit management objectives for the shark fisheries have not been set, it is not possible to discuss the extent to which directions for achieving such management objectives are provided. However, in other fisheries, management objectives and management policies tend to be set at the same time, the two often being seen as interconnected. For example, to meet the objective of reducing conflicts of interest between the tourism and fisheries sectors, the policy of developing Marine Protected Areas (see Section 4.2.1) has become widely accepted. Management objectives are normally developed with stakeholder views in mind, so the potential for stakeholder dissatisfaction is minimized; this is less true with management policies (see Section 4.2.6).


4.1 Identification and evaluation of policies

Two major considerations have been implicit in MOFA's deliberations of possible management policies for shark (and other) fisheries in recent years:

  1. The rights of fishermen to make a living by fishing, with a minimum of restrictions, are universally accepted. At the same time, the limited ability of the government to enforce complex fisheries regulations on the fishing grounds is also widely recognized. Therefore there is limited incentive to introduce restrictions on shark fishing activities.

  2. The government has objectives of encouraging private sector involvement in fisheries and of boosting exports by the private sector. At the same the government has kept exports from the largest part of the fisheries sector, the tuna fishery, largely under its own control. Private sector participation is therefore concentrated in ‘marginal’ fisheries including the shark fisheries. Therefore, there is little incentive to introduce restrictions on shark product trade. This implicit stance is reinforced by experiences in 1986 when the State Trading Organization (a government body which was then responsible for all tuna exports) monopolized the export of shark products. This was done in part in order to boost tuna fishing effort by reducing shark fishing effort. The move proved unpopular with both fishermen and businessmen and the restrictions were relaxed after a couple of years. But, it was partly responsible for the drop in shark exports in the late 1980s.

These two considerations limit the options for management of the shark fisheries. Most of the policy options relating to shark fisheries management that have been adopted have arisen out of a desire to protect the tuna fishery or, more recently, the tourist industry, rather than with the primary aim of managing shark resources.

Cost benefit analyses have not been carried out for any shark management policy option. The value of reef sharks to tourist divers has been estimated (Anderson and Ahmed 1993), but the costs and potential benefits of various management options for preserving those resources have not been estimated (see Section 5.4 below). The social costs, in terms of impact on fishermen, of management policies are taken into account by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture although they are not specifically valued.

4.2 Policies adopted

4.2.1 Resource access

With few exceptions, Maldivians have the right to fish anywhere in Maldivian “coastal” waters. The two main exceptions are:

  1. The lagoons and adjacent reefs of inhabited islands, which are reserved for the sole use of the inhabitants. This is one of the very few traditional reef management practices remaining in the Maldives (in the past open access to oceanic marine resources was the norm, but there were more restrictions on access to reef resources than there are now). In recent years, this practice has been extended to include the house reefs of tourist resorts (i.e. the reefs immediately adjacent to the island).

  2. Marine protected areas (MPAs). At present there are 15 MPAs, which were declared by MPHRE on 5 June 1995 (i'laan E/95/32; see Section 7). These MPAs are very small in size, all being top diving sites. Nine of the 15 are, or were, well-known for their reef sharks. Indeed, the conservation of reef sharks was a major consideration in the choice of these sites for protection. Any type of fishing, other than traditional livebait fishing, is banned. However, policing and enforcement is ineffective (see Section 7).

In addition to these two limitations on resource access, MOFA has the right to ban fishing at specific sites. At present, shark fishing is banned from the vicinity of all fish aggregating devices (FADs) and in the vicinity of two seamounts in the south of Maldives. These rules were introduced by MOFA to protect the tuna fishery (see Section 4.2.4, below). Details of the rules are:

  1. I’laan nos. MF/34/81/48, 10 Nov. 1981; FA-F1/2/90/28, 23 Sept. 1990; and FA-A1/29/96/39, 8 Oct. 1996. The taking of sharks, or any type of fishing that might be detrimental to pole and line tuna fishing (livebait handlining, longlining, trolling and netting are specifically mentioned) is banned within a 3 mile radius of any FAD.

  2. I’laan no. FA-A1/29/96/43, 28 Nov. 1996. Longlining is banned in the area of the seamount between Huvadhoo and Hadhdhumati Atolls (known as Satoraha but referred to in this rule as Deraha).

  3. I’laan no. FA-A1/29/96/54, 10 Dec. 1997. Longlining is banned in the vicinity of the shallow area south of Addu Atoll (Addu thila).

Foreign commercial fishermen are not allowed to fish within the inner 75 mile “coastal fishing zone” but are allowed to fish under licence in the outer waters of the EEZ. There is no specific foreign commercial fishery for sharks, but many must be taken in the tuna longline fishery. Foreign recreational fishermen can fish in the “coastal fishing zone”, but can normally only do so through a local operator. There is no specific sports fishery for sharks, but some sharks are taken by both big game fishermen and recreational night fishing parties.

4.2.2 Gear restrictions

Gear restrictions that apply to the shark fisheries have been adopted because of interference with the pole and line tuna fishery. They apply to specific areas (see 3.2.1, above) or to tuna schools (see 3.2.4, below). In addition to these specific restrictions, the range of fishing gears that can be used in the Maldives is rather limited. The use of purse seines, trawls of any sort, and pelagic (drifting) gillnets is prohibited, as is the use of spearguns, explosives and poisons for fishing. These bans are effective since these gears are not imported. These gear restrictions were introduced to protect the traditional pole and line tuna fishery and the reef environment. Nevertheless, they do indirectly limit shark fisheries activities.

4.2.3 Vessel regulations

There are no specific regulations on vessel characteristics relating to shark fisheries management.

4.2.4 Biological regulations

Fishing for whale sharks is banned (MOFA i’laan no. FA-A1/29/95/39, 24 June 1995). This regulation was introduced because whale sharks are thought to be rare in Maldivian waters and possibly endangered internationally; because whale sharks sometimes aggregate tuna schools; and because whale sharks are potentially a major attraction for tourists.

It is prohibited to take sharks from the vicinity of tuna schools by livebait line fishing while other vessels are present and fishing for tunas (MOFA i’laan no. 16/92/29FA.A1 19 May 1992). This regulation replaced an earlier rule (Ministry of Fisheries i’laan. no. 48/81/34/MF, 10 November 1981) which prohibited shark fishing during the day in tuna fishing areas. These regulations were introduced because of complaints from tuna fishermen that oceanic shark fishing has a negative impact on tuna catches (see also Section 4.2.1).

4.2.5 Catch/quota allocation

There are no catch restrictions or quota allocations in place relating to shark fisheries in the Maldives. It is unlikely that any such restrictions will be introduced, because they would be almost impossible to enforce. However, it should be possible to control exports of fishery products with an export quota system. Therefore the possibility of managing shark fisheries by restricting exports is considered to be a serious option by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. However, a problem with this approach for shark fisheries would be the difficulty in distinguishing between export products (i.e. dried fins and meat) from the oceanic shark and the reef shark fisheries.

4.2.6 Discussion

The number of fisheries regulations and restrictions that apply specifically to sharks and shark fisheries is limited. However, several of the regulations that apply to all fisheries, notably the extensive gear restrictions, must have a major impact on shark catches.

The lack of regulations relating to shark fisheries (and indeed to most other fisheries) is not the result of any shortage of management advice. Numerous recommendations for the management of the shark fisheries have been made in recent years, many based on biological considerations (Wright 1992; Anderson and Ahmed 1993; Anon 1993; MRS 1994 1995 1997a and 1997b) but very few have been adopted. Some recommendations were clearly unacceptable for social, economic or political reasons. Others have not been adopted because of the government's laissez faire approach towards fisheries management. This in turn is largely a reflection of the universal acceptance of the fishermen's right to fish, the current emphasis placed on private sector participation in exporting and the acceptance of the government's limited ability to enforce regulations on the fishing grounds. However, a series of recommendations for the management of the shark fishery (MRS 1997b) is currently under review.

An example of a policy that has been successfully implemented is the ban on whale shark fishing. Whale shark conservation was originally proposed as a management objective following the review of shark fisheries carried out by MRS with FAO assistance in 1992, when it was suggested that this species was rare and perhaps endangered in Maldivian waters (Anderson and Ahmed 1993; Anon 1993). A ban on whale shark fishing was reviewed as a management policy by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, which took into account the low monetary value of the fishery at that time (and therefore the limited impact of a ban on fishermen), the potential benefit to the tuna fishery (since whale sharks sometimes aggregate tunas) and the potential benefit to the tourist industry (since whale sharks are a major attraction for tourist divers and snorkels). Although no formal cost benefit analysis was carried out, the costs of a ban were thought to be outweighed by the potential benefits. The proposed ban was put before the Fisheries Advisory Board in 1994, and then sent to the President's Office for final approval. The ban was put into effect by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture in June 1995.

Major unresolved shark management issues include:

  1. The collapse of the deep sea benthic shark fishery. To facilitate recovery of stocks a 10-15 year ban on shark liver oil exports has been proposed (MRS 1997a and 1997b).

  2. Falling catch rates in the reef shark fishery and conflicts of interest with tourism. To reduce fishing effort and conserve reef shark numbers at diving sites a variety of management options have been proposed (MRS 1995 and 1997b).

  3. Ongoing conflicts of interest between the oceanic shark fishery and the pole and line tuna fishery. Despite the introduction of several regulations aimed at minimizing conflict, there are still problems, exacerbated by the growth of the shark longline fishery.


5.1 Provision of resource management advice

Responsibility for the management of all living marine resources is vested in the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. The Marine Research Section (MRS) of MOFA is responsible for providing advice to the Ministry on the status of living marine resources (see Section 3.3). In the past this was done on an ad hoc basis. For the shark fisheries, a major review was carried out in 1992 (Anderson and Ahmed 1993). The need for that review was recommended by MRS, as prior to 1992 very little information on sharks and shark fisheries in the Maldives was available, and therefore the provision of scientifically based resource management advice was not possible. As a result of that review, numerous recommendations for the management of shark fisheries were proposed (Anderson and Ahmed 1993; Anon 1993).

Since 1994, reviews of the status of living marine resources have been produced on an approximately annual basis (MRS 1994, 1995 and 1997a). These reports contain reviews of the status of the shark fisheries (among others), and recommendations for management action. They are submitted directly to the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. The production of these annual reports is not a mandatory obligation for MRS; it is recommended here that it should become so. In addition to producing these annual reports, MRS is occasionally called upon to give additional advice to MOFA. In 1997 a review of options for the management of the shark fisheries was prepared (MRS 1997b) at the request of the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture.

The Economic Planning and Coordination Section (EPCS) of MOFA is responsible for providing advice on the socio-economic status of fisheries to the Ministry (see Section 3.3). Due to shortage of trained manpower, and concentration of available resources on other fisheries, EPCS has not provided any advice on shark fisheries management.

Management options proposed by MRS, are reviewed by the Minister and senior officials of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. There is no mechanism for review by civil society or NGOs. Selected options are put before the Fisheries Advisory Board and options approved by the FAB are forwarded to the President's Office for final approval. In theory there are numerous opportunities for dialogue and feed-back in this process, but in practice this relies heavily on the individuals involved.

5.2 Fishery statistics

5.2.1 Methods used for collection of catch and effort data

There are no historical catch data for sharks. However, since there is minimal local consumption of shark products in the Maldives, rough estimates of catch can be made from export data (see Section 5.2). The Customs Department maintains records of exports of shark fins and high-value squalene-rich shark liver oil (Table 2). The shark fins are the product of the oceanic and reef shark fisheries combined; there is no way to distinguish between the two. The liver oil is the product of the deepwater benthic shark fishery. Export quantities can be converted to estimates of catch using the following conversion factors (Anderson and Ahmed 1993):

Fresh weight of oceanic and reef shark catch= 70.33 x export weight of shark fins
Fresh weight of deepwater benthic shark catch= 4.4 x export weight of shark liver oil
 = 3.75 x export volume (in litters) of oil

The Economic Planning and Coordination Section of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture is responsible for the collection, compilation and dissemination of fishery statistics. Shark catch and effort data have been collected since 1994. Catches are reported by the government office on each inhabited island; these data are compiled by atoll before being forwarded to the EPCS in Malé. In addition to catch (recorded as numbers of shark, but not differentiated by species), number of days fishing and type of gear used are recorded. At present the EPCS lumps shark catch data in a composite category with other large, non-tuna species. The EPCS plans to publish shark data separately from 1998.

5.2.2 Evaluation of the data collection process

The Maldives has an excellent system for the collection of catch and effort data from the tuna fishery. This tuna fishery statistics system has been the subject of frequent review, by both MOFA staff and overseas consultants (Raced and Lathe 1994; Parry and Rasheed 1995; Anderson and Hafiz 1996), and subsequent improvement.

In contrast, catch and effort statistics for other species, including sharks, are of a poor standard. Prior to 1994, shark catches were not reported separately, but were lumped in a category for large ‘reef fish’; most catches probably went unreported, and no meaningful analysis could be made with the data that were collected. Shark catch and effort data have been collected separately since 1994, but are not reported separately by EPCS. As mentioned above, this will be changed from 1998.

Catch and effort data are supposed to be reported by the fishing skipper or boat owner to the government office on their home island. While this system works fairly well for tuna catches, it appears to result in considerable underreporting of shark catches. However, no assessment of the extent of this underreporting has been carried out. Numbers of sharks are converted to catch weight using an average weight conversion factor. A value of 20kg/shark is used. This is no more than a rough guess, provided by MRS. It does not take account of regional, seasonal, interannual, or inter-fishery variations. The solution to these problems lies in extensive field sampling of shark catches, which may not be possible in the immediate future due to shortage of trained manpower in the MRS and especially in the EPCS. Catch and effort data from the EEZ fishery is submitted by licensed vessels to the Ministry of Trade, Industries and Labour, and forwarded to the EPCS. The data submitted from most vessels is incomplete. The most effective solution to this problem might lie in an observer programme, but manpower shortage is again a major constraint.

5.2.3 Data processing, storage and accessibility

Shark fishery catch and effort data are compiled and stored by the EPCS in Malé. The data are maintained in annual databases on FoxPro software. They are not published separately or generally made available. However, copies of catch (but not effort) data can be obtained on request from the EPCS. Catch and effort data from foreign longliners fishing under licence in the Maldivian EEZ are compiled only to give total catch and total days fished. Shark catches are grossly underreported and are not compiled separately. Individual data are considered to be commercially confidential and are not made generally available; only fleet totals are released. To date the EEZ fishery catches have not been published, but detailed summaries will be published form 1998.

5.3 Stock assessment

5.3.1 Measures of stock abundance

There are no objective measures of shark stock abundance available for assessment purposes and there is no reliable time series of catch and effort data. Neither is there a large body of biological data. A few resource surveys have been carried out (Stromme 1983; Anderson and Waheed 1990; Van der Knaap et al. 1991; Anderson et al. 1992) but these were not designed to provide information for shark stock assessment and did not provide measures of shark abundance. In the absence of objective measures of stock abundance, more subjective measures of abundance such as verbal reports from experienced fishermen and divers have had to be used (Anderson and Ahmed 1993).

Reports from fishermen of decreases in catch rates have been used as indicators of overfishing in the deep benthic shark fishery (Anderson and Ahmed 1993) and the reef shark fishery (MRS 1997b). Consistent reports from many experienced fishermen on several fishing islands are required to ‘validate’ this approach. Maldivian fishermen generally appear to give accurate reports of their observations (e.g. changes in shark catch rates). Their interpretation of those observations is sometimes subject to doubt (e.g. falling catch rates of deep-water benthic sharks is caused by too many fishing boats scaring the sharks away, not overfishing).

For reef sharks within the tourism zone (the central part of the Maldives), reports of sightings by divers provide some measure of abundance at specific shark diving sites. These data need to be interpreted with some care. In general, only reports received directly from reliable and experienced instructors are heeded, as other reports may be subject to exaggeration or distortion. In addition, some species show seasonal changes in abundance, perhaps associated with breeding migrations, which can again distort interpretation. As with reports from fishermen, consistent reports from diving instructors on several resort islands are required.

5.3.2 Biological advice review process

There is no set mandatory process for reviewing biological advice provided to MOFA. However, any advice provided by other agencies or external consultants is reviewed by MRS. Any advice provided by MRS is subject to peer review within MRS and sometime to external (i.e. overseas) peer review. External peer review is voluntary and depends on personal contacts. This system has worked reasonably well so far, perhaps because in the absence of hard data, only limited advice has been given.

5.3.3 Biological management reference points

In the absence of fishery and biological data it is impossible to provide objective biological management reference points. Changes in catch rates as reported by experienced fishermen and changes in sightings as reported by experienced diving instructors (see Section 5.3.1) provide crude measures of stock biomass. Changes in total catch, as estimated from export data, provide some indication of changes in resource status, although in the absence of fishing effort data this requires much subjective interpretation.

5.3.4 Sustainability of the resource

In the deepwater benthic shark fishery, Maldivian fishermen report greatly reduced catch rates, particularly in the north of the country and the fishery has collapsed. This is believed to have been caused by a combination of falling catch rates and low international prices, in other words the stock is probably not in as bad a state as might be suggested by Figure 2. Nevertheless, the stock has certainly been overfished, and a 10–15 year ban on shark liver oil exports has been proposed to allow the stock to recover (MRS 1997a and 1997b).

Reef shark stocks are believed to have been moderately overfished. Maldivian fishermen report declining catch rates. Divers report reduced numbers of reef sharks at some popular shark diving sites. Of particular note is the scarcity of grey reef sharks at the site known as “Fish Head” or “Mushimasmingili Thila” in Ari Atoll throughout 1997. Fish Head was the premier shark watching dive site in the Maldives generating an estimated US$670 000 in 1992 (Anderson and Ahmed 1993). It is assumed that reef shark abundance will continue to decline if fishing effort is not reduced. (It should be noted that not only are reef sharks specifically targeted, but also they are caught as bycatch in the reef fish fishery). Although the gillnet fishery (the main reef shark fishery in the recent past) is declining in popularity, the longline fishery rapidly is increasing in popularity. Most longlining is for oceanic sharks, but many longliners now operate inside the atolls during periods of bad weather. It is possible that total fishing effort on reef shark stocks is increasing. If this is the case it is unlikely that the catches will be sustained and the resource will probably collapse, in some atolls at least.

The status of the oceanic shark stocks is unknown. Maldivian fishermen report continued high catch rates. It is not known what effect the current high level of fishing effort in the north of Maldives is having on stocks. It is assumed that oceanic sharks fished in Maldivian waters are part of wider Indian ocean stocks. As such they are believed to be subject to high levels of fishing effort elsewhere in their ranges. Much of this is as bycatch in the tuna fisheries; most of it is completely unrecorded. Thus although information from Maldivian fishermen suggests that these stocks are currently in a healthy state, the medium and long-term prospects for these stocks are perhaps less healthy.

5.4 Discussion

5.4.1 The manager's perspective

Despite an acute shortage of fisheries and biological data, full use is made of the data that are available to provide management advice to the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. Advice based on socio-economic data and analysis is lacking. Given the shortage of data available, the advice given normally has no expression of statistical uncertainty. Uncertainty is sometimes expressed in writing.

Much of the advice given is not taken, for variety of reasons. These include a reasonable unwillingness to introduce regulations that would be difficult or costly to enforce, or that would limit private sector involvement in an already small component of the fishery export businesses. A number of management recommendations are still under consideration and new shark management regulations may be introduced within the next year or two. One reason for this lack of management action may be the lack of a dedicated management officer or unit within MOFA. As a result, management advice provided by MRS, or other parties, is often either not acted upon, or only acted on after considerable delay.

5.4.2 The user's perspective

In general shark fishermen have not been burdened with many regulations restricting their activities in the last decade, and so do not view the management process as being unfair. Many of the regulations that have been introduced are aimed at reducing interaction with the tuna fishery. Since many shark fishermen are also tuna fishermen, these regulations are widely accepted as a necessary evil, even if they are not always obeyed. The failure of the management process to prevent the collapse of the deepwater shark fishery is not seen as a failure, because the potential benefits of sustainable management are not widely known. Many fishermen believe either that resources are inexhaustible (perhaps as a result of their long association with the tuna fishery) or that reef resources will inevitably collapse so it is best to take what you can while you can. More generally, the limited opportunities for the views of fishermen to be expressed formally in the management process is a cause of concern.

Private businessmen involved in shark product exports, like the fishermen, appreciate the lack of recent government intervention in the shark fisheries. On the other hand, the tuna industry is to some extent suffering from this non-intervention. The perceived negative interaction between shark and tuna catches is one reason for this, but perhaps more seriously in a country with a ‘shortage’ of fishermen is the belief that every man allowed to go shark fishing is a man who is not going tuna fishing.

The tourism industry views the decline of reef shark numbers at popular dive sites as a clear indication of the failure of the management process. The drop in numbers of grey reef sharks at “Fish Head” in Ari Atoll (the most popular shark watching dive site in 1992, see Section 5.3.4) has caused some dive operators to suspend visits, and most other operators to reduce the frequency of visits. It is difficult to evaluate the economic losses that have resulted because it is not known by how much diver visits would have grown if sharks were still there in large numbers, and because some operators have switched to other shark sites (notably “Maaya Thila”, also in Ari Atoll). Nevertheless, from reports of numbers of diving boats visiting “Fish Head” in 1992 and 1997-98, and the growth in tourist arrivals, it is roughly estimated that perhaps as much as US$500 000/year has been lost in diving revenue from “Fish Head”. The cause of this loss is the removal of perhaps 20 grey reef sharks, with a market value of little more than US$1000.

5.4.3 Evaluation of the management process

In summary, the management process does function fairly well within the Maldivian context. The shortage of biological and socio-economic information for management advice, and the difficulties of enforcing complex management regulations, mean that the options open to managers are limited. The collapse of the deepwater benthic shark fishery was perhaps almost inevitable given the lack of information available in the 1980s, although the lack of management measures more recently to rehabilitate the stock(s) must be seen as a failure. An even greater failure is the inability of the management process to protect the extremely valuable reef sharks at shark watching dive sites.


6.1 The regulations

The framework law is the Fisheries Law of the Maldives (Law no. 5/87, 24 August 1987). An unofficial translation of the Law is provided in Appendix 1. The Fisheries Law clearly establishes the lead role of the Ministry of Fisheries (the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture since 1989) in fisheries management, development and conservation. Under the Fisheries Law, the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has the authority to formulate and administer regulations on matters relating to fisheries (Article 3a). This is the main means of regulation. The rules (i'laan) issued by the Ministry in this way have the full force of law. Details of the rules relevant to the management of shark fisheries are given in Section 4.2. A summary of fisheries regulation is provided by MOFA (1997). A review of fisheries and trade regulations is provided by Swan (1991).

6.2 Regulations and the communications process

Under the Fisheries Law, the main means of managing fisheries is by rules issued by MOFA. For the most part these are effective, although some are not (see Section 4.2.1). There is enforcement, although there has been no cost-benefit analysis of enforcement (see Sections 7.3 and 7.4). Disputes are settled by discussion or through the courts (see Section 7.4).


7.1 Legal status

Within the 75 mile “coastal fishing zone” only Maldivians can fish; all Maldivians have open access within this zone. In the “offshore fishing zone” 75–200 miles offshore both Maldivians and foreigners require licences to fish; the resources there are in effect owned by the state. These distinctions are spelt out in the Fisheries Law (see Appendix 1). The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has the authority and the obligation to manage all living marine resources within the Maldivian EEZ, both “inshore” and “offshore”. The Ministry of Defence and National Security (of which the Coastguard is a part) is authorized to enforce the Fisheries Law and associated rules within the entire Maldivian EEZ. Atoll and island chiefs (i.e. regional government officers) have authority to enforce regulations within their regions.

7.2 Enforcement problems

With relatively few regulations specifically relating to shark fisheries, there are relatively few enforcement problems. Perhaps the most obvious is the inability of the authorities to prevent illegal fishing at Marine Protected Areas. As a result, the number of sharks at some MPAs, which are also premier shark watching sites (notably “Fish Head” in Ari Atoll), have declined dramatically (see Section 5.3.4).

7.3 Surveillance

Maritime surveillance is the responsibility of the Coastguard section of the National Security Service. The Coastguard is also responsible for national security at sea and maritime safety, i.e. it combines naval, coastguard and fisheries surveillance roles. As such it would difficult to distinguish fisheries surveillance costs from those associated with other activities. Furthermore, fisheries surveillance activities tend to focus on the protection of vital tuna fishery interest, with other fisheries receiving secondary attention, so it is impossible to identify costs associated with the surveillance of shark fisheries. Finally, the budget of the Coastguard is not published. Despite this it is clear that high costs are a major constraint on fisheries surveillance.

Fisheries surveillance activities by the Coastguard are concentrated in offshore waters, with the aim of deterring poaching by foreign fishing vessels. Regular patrols are carried out by Coastguard vessels. A satellite vessel tracking system was introduced by the Coastguard in June 1995. There is little official fisheries surveillance in inshore waters. However, fishermen are quick to report incidents of illegal fishing, especially those involving foreign fishermen. Fishermen will also report Maldivian fishermen, particularly those from other atolls who they perceive to be impinging on their rights. Most larger fishing vessels have radios, so fishermen can report directly to the government offices on their own islands, which pass messages on via government Atoll Offices to the Coast-guard in Malé. Maldivian fishermen have also on occasion taken matters into their own hands and boarded foreign vessels that they thought were poaching.

7.4 The legal process

The legal process varies slightly according to the nature of the offence. A Maldivian fisherman breaking a fisheries regulation may be reported by another fishermen or other party through the relevant island and atoll offices to the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. MOFA will decide whether or not to investigate further. If further evidence is required the Atoll Office (or in serious cases the National Security Service) will be asked to investigate and obtain statements. This evidence will be passed back to MOFA who will pass it on to the Attorney General's Office. Prosecution in the courts may result in a fine, banishment or house arrest (traditional punishments), although there are no set penalties for Maldivian fishermen fishing in coastal waters.

In the case of a licensed fishing vessel violating the terms of its fishing agreement, MOFA, the Coastguard or the Ministry of Trade Industries and Labour might be involved. If evidence of illegal activities is found it would be passed to the Attorney General's Office for prosecution in the courts. In the case of foreign fishing vessels caught poaching in Maldivian waters by the Coastguard, the offending vessel will be impounded. The Coastguard will be responsible for obtaining evidence of illegal fishing and passing it to the Attorney General's Office for trial in the courts. Specific guidelines exist for prosecution and penalties. In December 1997, two foreign longliners were fined, had their licences revoked and were ordered to leave the Maldives following their discovery fishing within the “coastal fishing zone” by the Coastguard using the vessel tracking system.


8.1 Profitability of the fishery

The shark fisheries do create wealth (or in the case of the deepwater benthic shark fishery, have created wealth). However, there has been no economic evaluation of the extent and distribution of this income. It is believed that fishermen (who are often also processors) do gain significant financial benefit directly from the shark fisheries. In the Maldives, fisheries are open, and there is a ‘shortage’ of fishermen (see Section 2.7). Therefore, fishermen are quick to move between fisheries, deserting a fishery with declining income for a fishery that can offer higher income. In other words, fishermen's opportunity costs are high. The collapse of the deepwater benthic shark fishery was more a result of falling incomes (albeit in part the result of falling catch rates) driving fishermen to other fisheries than it was simply the result of a biological stock collapse. Management failed to maintain catch rates at a level high enough to sustain the fishery.

There is no information on the division of income between the fishermen, processors and exporters. The national ‘shortage’ of fishermen ensures that they do get a reasonable share of income from boat owners who want to retain their services.

8.2 Issues of equity and efficiency

The social welfare of fishermen is included in the mandate of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, and is a major, implicit consideration in the formulation of fisheries management objectives and policies. However, stakeholder involvement in discussions of such issues is limited. There is room to increase stakeholder participation in the management process.


There has been no assessment of management costs for any Maldivian fishery, including the shark fisheries. Research, stock assessment and management planning costs are met within the normal budget of MOFA, or occasionally from foreign funding. These costs tend to be ignored. Costs related to enforcement are taken into consideration when regulations are being planned; regulations that are likely to be expensive to enforce are generally not adopted


The authors thank all those who have assisted in the preparation of this report. The manuscript was reviewed by Hon. Hassan Sobir, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, as well as Mr. Jadulla Jameel, Mr. Maizan Hassan Maniku and Mr. Ali Hashim. Information was supplied by Hon. Ibrahim Zaki, Minister of Tourism, by Mr. Maizan Omar Maniku, by Mr. Ahmed Hafiz, Mr. Ali Naeem, Mr. Hassan Rasheed, Ms. Aminath Latheefa of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, by several officials of the Ministry of Trade Industries and Labour and of the Ministry of Planning Human Resources and Environment.


Adam, M. S., N. Merrett and R. C. Anderson 1998. An annotated checklist of the deep demersal fishes of the Maldive Islands. Ichthyological Bulletin of the J. L. B. Smith Institute of Ichthyology. 67, Part 1: 1–20.

Ahmed, H. S. Mohamed and M. R. Saleem 1997. Exploitation of reef resources: beche-de-mer, reef sharks, giant clams, lobsters and others. Proceedings pp. 137–167. In: D. J. Nickerson and M. H. Maniku (eds) Workshop on integrated reef resources management in the Maldives. Bay of Bengal Programme, Madras BOBP/REP/76:312pp.

Anderson, R. C. and H. Ahmed 1992. Development of Shark Fisheries in the Maldives. Rasain (Annual Fisheries Journal of the Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture) 12: 193–201.

Anderson, R. C. and H. Ahmed 1993. The Shark Fisheries in the Maldives. FAO, Rome and Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Maldives. 73pp.

Anderson, R.C. and A. Hafiz 1997. Status of Tuna Research and Data Collection in the Maldives. Pp. 361–367. In: A. A. Anganuzzi, K.A. Stobberup and N.J. Webb (eds) Proceedings of the Sixth Expert Consultation on Indian Ocean Tunas, Colombo, Sri Lanka, September 1995. IPTP, Colombo, 373pp. (Also printed in Maldives Marine Research Bulletin 2:117–132).

Anderson, R.C. and A. Hafiz 1997. Elasmobranch Fisheries in the Maldives. Proceedings of a Workshop on Elasmobranch Fisheries Management and Conservation. Sabah, Malaysia, July 1997.

Anderson, R. C. and A. Waheed 1990. Exploratory Fishing for Large Pelagic Species in the Maldives. Bay of Bengal Programme, Madras BOBP/REP/46: 1–44.

Anderson, R. C., Z. Waheed, M. Rasheed and A. Arif 1992. Reef Fish Resources Survey in the Maldives, Phase 2. Bay of Bengal Programme, Madras BOBP/WP/80: 1–51. Anon, 1993. Management of Shark Fishery Resources Maldives: Terminal Statement FAO, Rome. FI:DP/MDV/2252: 1–14. Anon. 1995. Maldives Tourism Plan 1996–2005. Nethconsult/Transtec for the Ministry of Tourism, Malé. 2 Volumes. 43 + 80pp.

Cook, S. F. 1990. Trends in Shark Fin Markets: 1980 1990 and Beyond. Chondhros 2(1): 3–6.

M.O.F.A. 1997. Masverikamaabehey qaanoon thakai qawaaaid (Fisheries law and regulations). Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Malé. 43pp.

M.P.H.R.E. 1994. National Development Plan 1994–1996. Ministry of Planning, Human Resources and Environment, Malé.257pp.

M.P.H.R.E. 1997a. Fifth National Development Plan. Ministry of Planning, Human Resources and Environment, Malé. 235pp.

M.P.H.R.E. 1997b. Statistical Yearbook of Maldives 1997. Ministry of Planning, Human Resources and Environment, Malé. 352pp.

M.R.S. 1988. Marine Research Section Profile. Rasain Newsletter, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries, Malé. No. 1: 22–27.

M.R.S. 1994. Executive Review of the Status of Maldivian Fishery Resources. Unpublished report, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Malé. 25pp.

M.R.S. 1995. Executive Review of the Status of Maldivian Fishery Resources 1994–1995. Unpublished report, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Malé. 28pp.

M.R.S. 1997a. Review of the Status of Maldivian Living Marine Resources 1996–97. Unpublished report, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Malé. 25pp.

M.R.S. 1997b. Options for the Management of the Shark Fisheries: a Working Paper Prepared for the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture and the Fisheries Advisory Board. Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Malé. 8pp.

Parry, G. and H. Rasheed 1995. Fisheries Statistics System. Third Fisheries Project: Fisheries Economics and Statistics Program. Economics Planning and Coordination Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Malé. EPCS Economic Paper 4: 1–72.

Rasheed, H. and A. Latheefa 1994. Fishery Statistics of Maldives. Proceedings of the Regional Workshop on Fishery Information and Statistics in Asia. SEAFDEC, Bangkok. 2: 221–228.

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Van der Knaap, M., Z. Waheed, H. Shareef and M. Rasheed 1991. Reef Fish Resources Survey in the Maldives. Bay of Bengal Programme, Madras BOBP/WP/64: 1–58.

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The Fisheries Law of the Maldives

Law No. 5/87
24 August 1987
Unofficial translation provided by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture

1. This Law shall be cited as “The Fisheries Law of the Maldives”.

2. In this law “Fisheries” means the fishing, capturing, or taking of any living resources from the seas of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Maldives, or any activity related thereto. (Note: “Seas” in this Law means the high seas and the waters inside the atolls and includes lagoons, shallow water areas and reefs).

Formulation of Fisheries Regulations and Fisheries Management and Development

  1. The Ministry of Fisheries is hereby empowered to formulate and administer regulations on matters relating to fisheries.
  2. The Ministry of Fisheries shall oversee all fisheries activities in the country. It shall be the obligation of the Ministry of Fisheries to explore possibilities for the development of fisheries, to carry out the research needed for such development and to develop fisheries.

Fisheries Information

  1. The Ministry of Fisheries shall collect, compile and analyse statistical and other information necessary for the management and development of fisheries.
  2. Persons conducting fisheries in the country shall provide the Ministry of Fisheries with all the data the Ministry may require.

Fishing by Foreigners in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Country
5. Commercial fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Maldives by foreigners, or Maldivians jointly with foreigners, shall require the permission of the Ministry of Trade and Industries.


  1. Fishing for export or any other commercial purpose in the waters of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Maldives, beyond the area most commonly used by Maldivians for fishing shall be conducted under the authority of a licence from the Ministry of Trade and Industries, and after the payment of a fee of such amount as may be specified by the said Ministry. Any party so fishing, shall be required to have a written agreement with the Ministry of Trade and Industries.
  2. The agreement referred to in paragraph (a) above shall include the following:
    1. The amount of the licence fees and the royalty payable to the Government.
    2. The Government shall have the right to suspend or cancel the licence of any party contravening this Law.
    3. The Government shall have the right to send a person or persons aboard fishing vessels and inspect them whenever necessary.
    4. If the bait fish required for the fishing vessel is to be caught in the country, it shall be done using vessels and methods traditionally used in the country.
    5. Any person contravening this agreement shall be tried in the courts of the Maldives and in accordance with the laws of the Maldives.

Procedure for Entering-the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Country by Fishing Vessels without a Licence

  1. A fishing vessel not licensed under this Law, entering the Exclusive Economic Zone of the country, for whatever reason, is hereby required to obtain the prior permission of the Ministry of Fisheries, and every such entry shall be made as directed by the said Ministry.

Cancellation of Licence

  1. The Government of Maldives shall have the right to cancel the licence issued to a vessel under the provisions of Article 6 of this Law, or to cancel the entire agreement with the party concerned, based on the magnitude of the offence, if such a vessel or any person on board had been found to have acted, or to be acting or planning to act in a manner that might endanger the peace and security of the country.

Research Fisheries

  1. Permission for research fisheries shall be granted by the Ministry of Fisheries under specified conditions.

Conservation of Living Marine Resources for a Special Purpose

  1. In the event of a special need for the conservation of any species of the living marine resources, the Ministry of Fisheries shall have the right to prohibit, for a specified period, the fishing, capture or the taking of such species or the right to establish special sanctuaries from where such species may not be fished, captured or taken.

Steps to be Taken in Case of Suspected Illegal Activities

  1. The Ministry of Defence and National Security shall have the right to stop any vessel suspected of contravening this Law, and to check any such vessel including everything in it. Further, the Ministry shall have the right to apprehend such vessel and objects used in carrying out such offences as well and the proceeds obtained from it. The Ministry of Defence and National Security shall also have the right to arrest any person or persons suspected of committing an offence under this Law, if it be decided that such person or persons may be required for investigations or for trial in court.

What is Done with Apprehended Vessels or Articles

  1. Any vessel or article apprehended under the provisions of Article 11 of this Law shall be under the care of the Ministry of Defence and National Security until the completion of legal proceedings, and the Ministry shall have the right to sell by auction any perishable article thus held and to hold the proceeds of such sale.


13.1 The penalty for fishing or attempting to fish without the licence specified in Article 6 of this Law in the area specified in the said Article, or fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Maldives without the permission specified in Article 5 of this Law, shall be a fine, the sum of which shall be between 100 000= Rufiyaa and 1000 000= Rufiyaa or a sum of money not exceeding the cost of the vessel employed in the contravention of this Law. Such fine shall be paid in a foreign currency acceptable to the Government of Maldives. The articles used, together with any gains from such contravention shall be confiscated.

13.2 The penalty for a vessel contravening this Law while fishing under licence as stipulated in Article 6 of this Law is a fine, the sum of which shall be between 1000= Rufiyaa and 1000 000= Rufiyaa or a sum not exceeding the cost of the vessel employed in the contravention. This fine shall be paid in a foreign currency acceptable to the Government of Maldives. The articles used in the contravention together with any gains from such contravention shall be confiscated.

13.3. The penalty for contravening this Law by a person having the right to fish in the fishing grounds most commonly used by Maldivians within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Maldives without a licence shall be a fine of a sum between 100= Rufiyaa and 10 000= Rufiyaa or imprisonment or banishment or house arrest for a period between 3 months and 1 year.

Fishing grounds most commonly used by Maldivians

  1. In this Law the fishing grounds most commonly used by Maldivians within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the country means an area of the seas extending to a distance of 75 miles from the outer reef of the atolls, including the sea bottom, which is inside … [coordinates given].

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