Last month, the BLUE Maldives Project Team, Vivienne Evans and Shaha Hashim, travelled to Male’ to attend the first ever Maldives Marine Science Symposium to present the research of the newly implemented Grouper Fishery and Conservation Project.
Vivienne Evans, project coordinator and Shaha Hashim at the Maldives Marine Science Symposium
The symposium was organised by the Marine Research Centre (MRC), a department of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture with whom BLUE have partnered for the project. The symposium was a great opportunity for the team to share and discuss the project with fellow marine researchers and forge new working relationships. The team presented their preliminary findings and were awarded the prize for the best poster of the day. Prior to the symposium the team spent a week in Male’ and met with project stakeholders as well as with other organisations and institutions to follow up on working opportunities and partnerships.
Shaha and Vivienne in front BLUE’s management plan for the grouper fishery
The grouper fishery in the Maldives is currently at risk of collapse. Groupers are heavily targeted predominantly for the live-fish trade and exported to South East Asia where they are highly valued as a popular food fish reaping prices of over US $100 per individual. Grouper populations and the size of individuals have declined over the past 20 years as a result of overfishing. Current catch size regulations are insufficient to protect the wild grouper stock and existing marine protected areas for groupers lack enforcement. The lucrative trade of live grouper in particular, ensures that high demand continues, despite declines in numbers and the size of individuals taken.
In 2014, the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture approached BLUE to ask for support in implementing a national management plan for the grouper fishery. The project began last month and will continue until at least December 2017.
Vivienne and Shaha with the scientific panel and fellow prize winners
The life history traits of groupers make them particularly vulnerable to the effects of overfishing. They are late to mature which means they have a very low population recovery rate. Recent research by the MRC has shown that some 70-90% of groupers are taken before they have reached sexual maturity. In addition to this, groupers exhibit hermaphroditism whereby individuals begin life as females and change to become males as they increase in age and size. Targeted fishing for large individuals can lead to female dominant populations. Groupers also aggregate in large numbers at very predictable times and places to spawn making them easy targets for fishermen.
BLUE has developed a project to support the delivery of a national management plan for the grouper fishery. The project will collect baseline data on the grouper fishery within Laamu Atoll and identify spawning aggregation sites. The team will be the first to identify length-maturity relationships of grouper species within the Maldives which will be used to inform policy makers of sustainable catch size limits. Throughout the project we will also be raising local awareness of the project and informing fishermen and the local community about the importance and value of sustainable fishing practices through an educational and environmental awareness (EEA) programme.
The Maldives management plan
Six Senses Laamu has kindly funded the majority of the project and are a key stakeholder providing logistical support throughout. Marks & Spencer have sponsored the EEA work and additional funding support from United Nations joint programme on Low Emission Climate Resilient Development (LECReD) will support dive surveys and fishermen interviews.
The ultimate goal of the project is to protect local spawning aggregation sites within Laamu and to facilitate the implementation of scientifically based catch size limit legislation at the national level. Doing so will allow for the regeneration of grouper populations and safeguard the livelihoods of Maldivian grouper fishermen.
Though the Maldives project only began last month, the success of the symposium and preliminary findings from dive surveys prove to be thoroughly encouraging for future work to come. The project team are looking forward to interviewing the fishermen and to the size-maturity sampling which will both begin in the coming weeks.