in Maldives waters, warns NGO Bluepeace
Thursday, 10 June 2004
By Hilath Rasheed and Hassan Amir (Haveeru)
MALE, June 10 (HNS) -- At Alfresco Café
in Male on Saturday, two men were going around
table by table distributing T-shirts. In the
front of the white T-shirt, in stark red and
yellow colors, a cartoon of a grouper spilling
tears was crying out “Save Groupers.”
One of the said men is Ali Rilwan, executive
director of local environmental NGO Blue Peace.
And the T-shirts he and his assistant were distributing
around the capital Male on World Environment
Day were a strategic campaign Bluepeace launched
appealing to Maldives authorities to protect
dwindling grouper stocks.
“While grouper fisheries have expanded
in Maldives, groupers have also become exploited.
There are no measures taken by authorities to
prevent overfishing of this important ecological
species,” says Rilwan.
groupers (red color) lie among reef fishes
to be sold in the Fish Market
in Male, 17 Feb 2004
There are about 40 species of groupers recorded
in Maldives waters, according to Blue Peace’s
official website, BluepeaceMaldives.org.
“Groupers are vital in maintaining a
functional coral reef ecosystem…The Maldives
is dependent on coral reefs for the maintenance
of their land area, food, export earnings and
foreign currency from tourism revenues more
than any other nation except the countries of
Western Pacific… What we do know about
the current status of groupers, however, is
not encouraging,” the website says.
While groupers were earlier a traditional and
non-commercial species fished for local consumption,
the past years have seen groupers “heavily
fished” for export to East and Southeast
Asia. “Like the Gold Rush, there was a
wild rush towards this money-making businesses”
which resulted in poor fishing island communities
being able to build schools and mosques though
the fishermen got just “a fraction of
a fraction of the real value of the groupers”
due to “middle-men and foreign buyers”
who were mediating Maldives’ export of
groupers, says Bluepeace.
Bluepeace had in fact started its campaign
towards protecting groupers as early as 1990s.
An article which Bluepeace got published in
a local daily on 19 October 1995 warned that
groupers may face the same fate as the sea cucumber
which are now hardly found in Maldives waters
after being overfished. The article then said
that fishermen were already reporting that the
size of the groupers they caught were now “getting
smaller and smaller”, meaning that more
groupers were being caught before they reached
the age of maturity.
While the Marine Research Center (MRC) of the
Fisheries Ministry is presently undertaking
a study into Maldives grouper fish stocks, evidence
is already mounting that the grouper has already
become a threatened species.
“Fishermen and divers are already reporting
that there are fewer and fewer grouper sightings.
We don’t have enough time for a scientific
study to conclude. We need to take action right
now,” stresses Rilwan.
Statistics also point to the fact that grouper
fishery in Maldives have declined perhaps due
to dwindling stocks as Bluepeace claims. According
to “Rasainu” newsletter by the MRC,
the number of frozen groupers exported from
Maldives marked a 73 percent decline between
1997 and 1998.
Prices have also skyrocketed due to this decline
in supply while the demand still remains high.
A grouper which was sold for about Rf10 to Rf12
now sells for about Rf100, or about ten times
the earlier price.
According to statistics of Maldives Customs
Service, Maldives exported Rf15 million worth
of groupers last year.
Fishermen have become so desperate that now,
instead of angling groupers out of the water,
they are donning diving gear, and going under
water to hunt down the fish!
“Groupers are one easy catch: they take
the bait easily,” says Rilwan.
You can put a baitfish on a hook and literally
offer it by hand to a grouper which will immediately
make a grab for it, he says.
Groupers’ vulnerability increases when
the normally solitary fish gathered in “spawning
congregations” during every full moon,
normally between September and November.
“Local fishermen are now aware of the
exact times and days when groupers gather for
spawning which makes fishermen return to these
areas every year,” says Rilwan.
“It is important that Maldives authorities
make it illegal to fish groupers while they
Otherwise soon there will be no groupers to
reproduce and reach the age of maturity.”
The resulting decrease in numbers of groupers
resulted in a reduction in baitfish numbers
which subsequently results in a decline in tuna
fishing as well. Bluepeace said that Mulee island
in Meemu atoll, which had turned to grouper
fishery, was already facing difficulties in
getting a good tuna catch.
Maldives is also not the only country to report
dwindling grouper stocks. Many Caribbean, South
Pacific and Indian Ocean countries have made
“Some countries have altogether banned
grouper fishing. But this may be a too drastic
measure. What we at Blue Peace are advocating
is to take cautionary measures such as prohibiting
fishing of groupers during their spawning period
in order to give grouper stocks time and opportunity
to rejuvenate,” says Rilwan, who terms
groupers in Maldives as “endangered.”
“Earlier, it was a vulnerable species,
but now it has become endangered, and it is
important that the government immediately take
rehabilitating measures,” he says.
Other countries have implemented institutional
restrictions such as declaring grouper spawning
grounds as protected marine sanctuaries, but
Bluepeace is of the view that Maldives may need
to take additional measures as well.
The NGO says that since reef fishes’
major markets like China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan
are growing markets, the demand for groupers
is likely to increase as well, increasing pressure
on Maldivian fishermen and exporters to fish
and export more groupers.
“It is extremely important that Maldives
slap an export quota on grouper exports. Limiting
the number of groupers exported each year would
decrease the pressure on local fishermen to
fish for more groupers,” says Rilwan.
“We need to stock our groupers just like
fixed deposits in a bank. Only then can we ensure
that we have a comfortable reserve,” he
Rilwan also referred to this year’s World
Environment Day slogan “Wanted: Seas –
Dead or Alive?” and replied that Bluepeace
definitely wants Maldives waters to be brimming
After distributing “Save Groupers”
T-shirts and stickers around Alfresco Café,
Rilwan gets ready to go to another venue where
he and Bluepeace can distribute their campaign
“Right now I am off to Lonuziyaaraiy
Kolhu Varunulaa Raalhugandu to distribute T-shirts
among surfers there. Only through the education
and awareness of the younger generation can
we hope to bring about positive changes to Maldives
environment for now and for the future,”