The Republic of Maldives is an island nation in South Asia located in the Indian Ocean. The country is made up of a chain of 26 atolls and spans roughly 300 square kilometres. Pelagic fishes are the most important seafood for the population of about half a million people. Reef fishes are heavily used in the tourism industry, of interest both for the diving sector as well as for hotels and restaurants. Tourism is the country’s biggest foreign currency earner and the single largest contributor to GDP. In 2019 over 1.7 million visitors went to the Maldives.
While tuna is the most important seafood export, some reef fishes are also exported. About 600 mt of reef fish were exported in 2010 by a few key traders. Almost all exports were of groupers (including several species that aggregate to spawn) and exports (all by air) were of live and, increasingly, fresh/chilled fish (e.g. Sattar et al., 2012, 2014). Reef fishes are caught across multiple atolls and taken to a holding facility close to the capital, Male, for consolidation, packing and export.
The many atolls and reef channels in the country provide abundant habitats for several aggregating reef fishes. Little was documented about spawning aggregations in the country until the early 2000s and, since that time, several studies have been carried out on reef fishes, their aggregations and their fisheries by the government, Maldives Marine Research Centre and by NGOs
Legislation is in place to protect several known grouper spawning sites, as well as to safeguard juvenile groupers using species-specific minimum size regulations. The Napoleon fish (Humphead wrasse), Cheilinus undulatus is protected from catch and sale year-round, a regulation in place since 1995. The species can be regularly seen in the country especially in reef channel areas and the country is one of relatively few where encounters with this globally threatened fish can be regularly experienced
Epinephelus fuscoguttatus (left) and other groupers (right) being prepared for air export, chilled, in a holding facility off Male, 2019. Credit: Yvonne Sadovy
Sattar, S. A., Ahmed Najeeb, A., Islam, F., Afzal, M. F., and Wood, E. (2012). Fisheries Management of the grouper fishery of the Maldives. Proceedings of the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, Cairns, Australia, 9-13 July 2012 13E
Sattar S.A., Wood E., Islam F. and Najeeb A., (2014). Current status of the reef fisheries of Maldives and recommendations for management. Darwin Reef Fish Project (Marine Research Centre/Marine Conservation Society (UK) 85 pp