Status of the Shark Fishery Ban in the Maldives and the Implementation of the National Plan of Action on Sharks - An Update with Notes on Turtles and Seabirds
Up until 1970s, the shark fishery of the Maldives was a traditional one, where large sharks were caught in need of shark liver oil. This traditional shark fishery evolved to more export oriented fisheries in 1970s, when highly targeted fisheries for sharks developed in the Maldives. These were the deepwater gulper shark fishery, reef - associated shark fishery and oceanic shark fishery. Shark fisheries were undertaken by a minor community, and had always been in conflict with important stakeholders such as the pole and line tuna fishery and the booming dive tourism industry. The declining status of shark fisheries, exacerbated by unresolved conflicts with other stakeholders led to declaration of total shark fishing ban in 2010. With the shark fishing ban in place, sharks are now caught as bycatch in the Maldivian fisheries. Larger part of shark catch, 99.9% of total shark catch is now from tuna longline fishery. Shark bycatch from pole and line and handline tuna fisheries are virtually nil; contributing 0.06% and 0.08% respectively to total shark bycatch. In the most recent logbook system, launched in 2012, shark bycatch is to be recorded as species-complexes consistent with IOTC requirements. The new logbook system, though not to species level, also accounts for bycatch of turtles and seabirds. Bycatch assessments for shark species-complexes; hammerhead sharks, thresher, sharks, oceanic white tip sharks and mako sharks have been undertaken for the years 2013 and 2014. By 2014, 18 vessels operate in the tuna longline fishery, many of which joining after mid of 2013. Understandably, with increased fishing effort, the shark bycatch in the tuna longline fishery has increased by more than 50% in 2014 when compared to 2013. The majority of shark bycatch, 62% were released with no damage, while 31% were dead sharks at time of retrieval. Interestingly, the logbook records show no bycatch of turtles in pole and line and handline tuna fisheries. The only bycatch of turtles was from tuna longline fishery, where a total of 24 turtles were caught. Seabirds have not been reported by any fisheries in 2014. Hence, it can be deduced that the fisheries of the Maldives have minimal impact on marine turtles and seabird populations. Maldives have now endorsed, its first National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks in April of 2015. Work is ongoing on determining the effectiveness of the shark fishing ban on reef-associated sharks through a citizen-science programme where data collection is done through dive tourism community.