Fishermen in Malé and Madavaeli Island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll have started protests against the government, citing unmet electoral pledges and controversial policy proposals. The demonstrations, one of which began early Wednesday near Hulhumalé’s yellowfin tuna jetty, are a direct response to the government’s plans to reintroduce longline fishing, which has sparked widespread opposition among local fishermen.

Organised by the Bodu Kanneli Masveringe Union (BKMU), a representative body for yellowfin tuna fishermen, the protest saw participation from over 50 fishing vessels. As the day progressed, the protestors expanded their demonstration to the Izzuddin Jetty area in Malé. The fishermen are demanding an end to the government’s plans to reintroduce longline fishing and a reduction in fuel prices in Hulhumalé. They are also calling for an end to discussions on reintroducing longline fisheries, arguing that such a policy shift would disadvantage local fishermen and disproportionately benefit larger businesses.

The BKMU has expressed grave concerns regarding the potential impact of reintroducing longline fishing. It suggests that it could severely undermine the pole-and-line fishery and impose significant financial hardship on local fishermen and their investors. “Such a move could result in significant financial strain on pole-and-line fishermen and their families,” the union warned in a statement.

One fisherman’s statement encapsulated the community’s sentiment: “Once longline fishing for yellowfin tuna is reintroduced, it poses a significant threat to the livelihoods of fishermen. Permitting longline fishing for factories will lead to a decrease in demand for the catch from traditional fishermen. The administration must prioritise fulfilling its electoral pledges before proceeding with such measures.”

This controversial decision, announced by Fisheries Minister Ahmed Shiyam, aims to maximise the utilisation of the yellowfin tuna quotas allocated by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). With a quota of 47,517 metric tonnes for 2022, the Maldives is positioned as a significant player in the Indian Ocean tuna fishery, second only to the European Union (EU).

As the protests unfold, Minister Shiyam has engaged with demonstrators at the Izzuddin Jetty, acknowledging the government’s current financial and economic challenges as obstacles to fulfilling its electoral promises. He highlighted the administration’s efforts to navigate through the economic downturn while attempting to uphold the promises made by President Mohamed Muizzu.

“Given the present financial circumstances, we find ourselves unable to fulfill our commitments immediately. I am here to inform you about the efforts we [the government] are making towards realising our pledges. The promises made by President [Muizzu] can only be actualised once we achieve the necessary financial stability and improve our fiscal health,” Minister Shiyam clarified.

Among the contentious issues is the proposal to reintroduce longline fishing—a move the government considers a strategy to enhance income across various sectors, including fisheries, to ameliorate the fiscal situation. However, Minister Shiyam admitted that a final decision is pending as discussions continue.

Simultaneously, another wave of protests has erupted in the southern atolls, where fishermen are decrying the government’s failure to ensure payments for fish purchases by the state-owned Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO).