Ibrahim Nadheeh – Skipjack tuna are strong fish; with streamlined bodies built for speed and endurance. So strong in fact that hauling one from the water with a pole, hook and line sometimes requires two fishers.
By skilfully manoeuvring the fishing gear whilst balanced on the back of the Nafaa dhoni (Maldivian fishing vessel), Zaheer and Mujaz demonstrate their strength and dexterity. Shareef tosses handfuls of live baitfish over the side of the boat, whipping the tuna into a feeding frenzy and tempting them to bite the fishers’ lures.
At last, after a carefully angled tug on the pole, a large skipjack tuna flies from the water, rushes through the air and lands on the deck. Zaheer and Mujaz only have a few moments to rejoice in their catch before the hook returns to the water in wait of another tuna. The pace is fast and the air feels alive with the hum of the engine, the crash of the waves and the flutter of freshly caught skipjack tuna on the deck.
This technique is a centuries-old practice known as pole-and-line fishing. Thought to have originated in the Maldives, this method has been passed down through many generations. It is a unique sight, and I consider myself lucky to witness this spectacle on a daily basis. I spend day in, day out on pole-and-line fishing vessels in the Maldives – in fact, today is my 248th day at sea. I am out with the crew of Nafaa dhoni from K. Dhiffushi Island in the Maldives.
It has been a successful trip, catching 3,700 kilograms of bycatch-free tuna, one fish at a time – but I didn’t catch even one. I work behind the scenes, recording data on the numbers and sizes of tuna, baitfish composition, fuel use as well as observing other marine life. The data I collect feeds into scientific reports to inform scientists and policymakers at national and regional levels and ultimately help to determine management measures that are crucial for ensuring the sustainability of the tuna stocks that our local communities depend upon.
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