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Fishing industry in the Maldives

The fishing industry in the Maldives is the island's second main industry. According to national tradition in the words of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, "Fishing is the lifeblood of our nation, it is inborn. From the soil on which we live, to the sea around us, it remains an integral part of our existence. Fishing, and our country and its people, [are] one and shall remain inseparable forever."The Maldives has an abundance of aquatic life and species of fish. Common are tuna,
groupers, dolphin fish, barracuda, rainbow runner, trevally and squirrelfish and many more. Aside from being of essential importance to the economy, fishing is also a popular recreational activity in the Maldives, not only among locals but by tourists. The islands have numerous fishing resorts which cater for these activities.
The Maldives is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, located south west of the southern tip of India. Its population in 2008 was 386,000.There are twenty-six atolls containing 1,192 islets, of which two hundred and fifty islands are inhabited. The low level of islands makes them vulnerable to sea level rises.


Fishing has long been the life blood of the Maldivian economy.Today it still employs half the Maldivian workforce. Formerly, Maldives shipped 90 percent of its fishing catch of tuna in dried form to Sri Lanka.However, because Sri Lanka cut back its imports of such fish, in 1979 Maldives joined with the Japanese Marubeni Corporation to form the Maldives Nippon Corporation that canned and processed fresh fish.Also in 1979 the Maldivian government created the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company.This company controls the processing and exporting of frozen and canned tuna. They also provide a collector vessel. All fishing is undertaken by the private sector and its involvement in processing and export is increasing.

Progress has also been made as a result of fisheries development projects undertaken by the World Bank. Harbour and refrigeration facilities have been improved, leading to a fourfold increase in earnings from canned fish between 1983 and 1985.Further construction of fisheries refrigeration installations and related facilities such as collector vessels were underway in 1994, with funding both from Japan and the World Bank.

The tiny, low-lying islands have an average elevation of a few feet above sea level. The highest elevation of any island is not more than three and a half meters.Although the Maldives were in the direct path of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, little permanent damage resulted to the coral beds and fishing grounds.
The mainstays of the Maldives economy are its fisheries and tourism. Both are intrinsically related to the coral reefs. The fisheries were the dominant sector of the economy until 1985, when the tourism industry overtook the fisheries in terms of its contribution to GDP. However fisheries continue to provide an important source of income for about 20 percent of the population, with about 22,000 individuals involved in full-time fishing activities.


The capital of the Maldives, Malé is known for its busy fish markets.Fish is an integral part of the Maldivian diet and it is a common sight to see office workers in formal white shirts and ties on bicycles after work taking skipjack home to eat. Trolleys packed full of fresh tuna or skipjack are carted around in door to door sales. Tuna however is the most important fish, and in recent years in the Maldives the industry has become more efficient, using tuna waste and residue to be
processed into fishmeal, an animal food supplement, further contributing to the economy.The tuna industry in the Maldives has been greatly helped by The State Trading Organisation which rebuilt the efficient tuna cannery plant on the island of Felivaru.The canning process typically takes four days, and the plant has the benefits of modern technology and even a laboratory for research and quality control.

Fishing fleet

The islands of the Maldives have an extensive fleet of small fishing boats, built domestically, each of which can carry about eight to twelve persons. These boats are called dhonis.In 1995 there were 1,674 vessels, of which motorised vessels for coastal pole and line tuna fishing accounted for 1,407 vessels. Of the remainder, 5 were sailing dhoni (masdhoni), 48 were mechanised dhoni (vadhudhoni), 209 were vadhudhoni with sails, and 5 were rowing boats used to troll reef waters.

Based on a US$3.2 million loan from the International Development Association(IDA), most of the boats were mechanized in the course of the 1980s.Although the addition of motors increased fuel costs, it resulted in doubling the fishing catch between 1982 and 1985. Moreover, the 1992 catch of 82,000 tons set a record; for example, in 1987 the catch was 56,900 tons.

The dhoni, which with its variants, makes up almost the entire fleet, is a small open boat traditionally built from coconut wood, although wood imported from Southeast Asia and fibreglass is increasingly used. Originally sailing craft, nowadays these boats are usually fitted with motors. The main site for building dhonis is in Alifushi Raa Atoll. This boat building is a traditional craft in the Maldives, and young apprentices are still trained by skilled craftsmen. Boats crafted from timber
take about 60 days to complete.

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