The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on the government to swiftly address the concerns raised by the fishing community. This call comes in the wake of protests by fishermen in Malé and Madaveli Island, Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll on Wednesday. These protests have brought to the forefront a range of unresolved issues, including unfulfilled electoral promises and contentious policy proposals by the government.

The heart of the fishermen’s discontent in Hulhumalé and Malé lies in the government’s controversial proposal to reintroduce longline fishing. This proposal, which has been met with strong opposition from local fishing communities, has the potential to significantly disrupt their way of life, according to fishermen. In Madaveli Island, fishermen demonstrated against the government’s failure to secure payments for fish purchased by the state-owned Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO).

The MDP, in a statement, condemned the administration for its inability to settle payments owed to fishermen, urging that these dues be cleared before the upcoming Eid al-Adha holidays. The party also expressed concern over the proposed reintroduction of longline fishing, which they argue would disproportionately benefit larger businesses at the expense of local fishermen, likening the government’s plan to selling off Maldivian waters to foreign entities engaged in longline fishing.

Kendhoo MP Mauroof Zakir, representing the MDP, voiced the party’s objections to the government’s plan, stressing its adverse impact on local fishermen. The MDP also urged the government to continue without interruption the projects initiated by the previous government, led by the party, to enhance and promote the fisheries sector, noting that international funding for these projects has already been secured.

MDP Chairperson Fayyaz Ismail, speaking to local media outlet Adhadhu, criticised previous PPM-led governments for allegedly selling off Maldivian waters to foreign companies through the issuance of longline fishing licenses, a practice the MDP government halted to prevent illegal activities in Maldivian waters. The opposition leader also noted the right of fishermen to protest, including near Malé, against the government’s failure to deliver on its electoral pledges.

Additionally, the MDP’s statement highlighted achievements from its tenure, such as the Maldives joining the Organisation of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (OACPS), aimed at eliminating EU taxes on fish imports from the Maldives. The party urged the Muizzu administration to formalise tax waivers with the EU and criticised the administration for halting efforts to establish a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.

The backdrop to these recent developments includes the Maldives’ history with longline fishing within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), where the former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih administration ceased issuing longline fishing licenses in July 2019 to curb illegal activities. However, the current administration’s proposal to reintroduce longline fisheries has reignited concerns and debates over the management and sustainability of the Maldives’ marine resources.