Sports fishing- Policies and protection needed

Saturday, 3 January 2009 11:02

Miadhu

Sports fishing has become a very popular pastime for many Maldivians. It has also attracted large number of tourists visiting the country. Game fishing using trolling methods is also extremely popular. Maldivans have traditionally taken time and interest in sports fishing which they call night fishing. In the not too distant past, night fishing was more simple and easier getting a large catch within a short time. Fishermen and fishing groups could get a good catch near Male' or within short distance.

Those were the days when the population was much smaller and tourism was not introduced and the people were used to a much simple life and depended on more local products for their food. Many people would catch their daily needs of fish from the island lagoon and ate some of the freshest foods. One simple preparation was garudiya or fish cooked in water with enough salt which is clear thin souplike preparation. Rice is mixed with garudiya, lime and chilly and even ground chilly mix. Many people eat hot chilly and onion with garudiya rice. Even children like garudiya as a favourite. Many families choose to eat garudiya and traditional meal at least once a week. With the development of tourism, a large number of resorts also have special traditional buffet meals for tourists which has become very popular.

In earlier times most Maldivians did not like cuisines prepared out of reef fish. There are many reasons for this, one of them is people did not use fork and spoon to eat but used their fingers to eat. Reef fis has a very strong ordour and they did not like the smell. Even groupers which is one of the most delicious and expensive reef fish were hardly eaten those days. Many people disposed groupers if they caught them. Two spot red snapper which is another very delicious fish was not a favourite those days. But with the rapid growth of population and tourism, things have changed, fiheries industry also grew and diversified. The demand of fish increased by many fold. Our people have begun to like and enjoy reef fish.

Many people also preferred reef fish for their nutritional and health benefits and indeed for the taste of these varieties which have now become favourite and expensive delicacies. Today, reef fish are more in demand and many people look for a catch of reef fish to arrive the fish market. Groupers, two spot red snappers, travelis, emperors, green job fish, baracudas, hump-back red snappers and rainbow runners are sold once they arrive the market. There are many fishermen and traders engaged in reef fishing. Large qauntities of fresh groupers and two spot red snappers are exported to lucrative markets. Increasing demand of reef fish to the reorts has made this occupation gainful for many fishermen.Thus reef fishing has become very prominent in the fisheries industry.

While reef fish is so much in demand, weekend night fishing tours have also become extremely popular with many people. Groups of friends, families make it a point to go night fishing and enjoy fishing and barbecues and meals prepared out of the freshest fish on board their fishing boats. There is a lot of fun and social bondages enamating from these outings. There are few companies and groups who organise night fishing trips. Ali Moosa, CEO of a popular night fishing service provider says, his company has seven vessels with very convenient facilities and comfort for night fishing. Moosa says they have several packages for interested groups going night fishing ranging from Mrf 7,000 to 4,000 inclusive of vessel, fishing gear, bait fish, barbecue meals prepared on board.

The most common method used for reef fishing is hand linning with fresh fish bait. Some people are so experienced in the fishing techniques they will know what kind of fish they are catching from the sensation of the pull and the bite. Trolling is also a popoular method applied in this kind of fishing. Trolling has also become popular with tourists who catch large fish, colllect their data and leave them to the sea unharmed. They catch large seer fish, marlins and travelis which are easily lured to the flies commonly used in trolling.

While reef fishing and night fishing have several benefits economically and socially, there are also concerns about lack of sound policies and regulations on reef fishing including night fishing. There are also increasing worries about over fishing of reef fish especially groupers and two spot red snappers. Sports and night fishing is good in bringing benefits. But over fishing and damages caused to the reefs in fishing trips has to be minimised. Regulations are urgently required banning some varieties of fish smaller than a certain size. Fishing vessels must also introduce anchonring methods less harmful to the reefs. Vessels must promote and encourage steps to protect the environment.

Throwing plastic bags and empty cans to the sea and throwing undersized fish of many varities is a common scene. There is an urgent need to start an educational and awareness programme to tell the people how much of loss and damage these careless attitudes and behavuiours are causing to our precious natural marine resources and ecosystems so that more people would refrain from such habits. Policing and punishing will not change behaviours in a sustanable manner, but education, knowledge and awareness will make a great difference. This can be achieved through introducing meaningful and effective policies and regulations.

Strong and effective regulatory mechanism must not be to ban or stop these activties, but to continue them in a holistic and sustainable manner for the benefit of all today and in the years to come.

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