The Art of Pole & Line Fishing

Fishing has always been an integral part of Maldivian living. It is more than just a mere source of income, but a way of life. It is part of our identity, and reminds us of our ancestral heritage as ocean dwellers and sea farers, exploring a mystical paradise, where home has always been close to the sea. As an island nation comprised of 99% water, the Maldives is heavily dependent on its oceans for its bounty, employment, trade, transport, and more recently, tourism.

Maldivians have been practicing pole and line fishing for centuries. Hooking one fish at a time, this is believed to be the most sustainable method of fishing in the world. Maldivian pole and line fishing exclusively targets skip jack tuna. It has no unintended by catch, and the method also spares juvenile fish, which ultimately contributes to the protection of fish stocks. Sharks, Manta Rays and Dolphins which are common victims of other forms of fisheries such as trawling are safe from pole and line fishing.

A typical day for a fisherman starts before the sun breaks over the horizon. Local dhonis set sail just before the light of dawn, making their way towards the open ocean. Just as the sun comes up, their work begins. Bait fish is thrown to attract the schools of skip jack towards the surface, and before long, the surface of the water bursts into frenzy. This is where the magic happens. Fishing Maldivian style is unique, and the skill exhibited by Maldivian fishermen is unrivalled anywhere else in the world. It takes split seconds for them to haul one in on their barbless hooks. As if magically, the fish gets released off the hook by a flick of the pole. The fish immediately gets placed in ice, and the line goes back in the water to hook another. The exhilaration and the pumping adrenalin during the whole frenzy keep the fishermen going, regardless of neither rough seas nor the ache on their wrists. It’s an endurance game. After hours at sea, as dusk sets in, the dhonis return to their fishing villages with the day’s catch. The life of a fisherman is tough, but it is embraced by the locals as a tradition that defines us as Maldivians.

Much of the fish caught serve as sustenance for the local communities, however, a huge portion of the catch is also exported globally, and is considered among some of the best tuna products in the world. Fisheries is the second largest industry in the Maldives, and in the last decade we have seen the industry take leaps in revolutionizing our tuna products, from the simple frozen tuna to a wide range of products focused on various markets. As times change, the products also took a turn to meet the needs of the modern Maldivian. Ready to cook tuna chunks pre-spiced and marinated, BBQ ready fillets or ready to cook traditional Maldivian curries are some of the products we commonly see in the supermarkets these days. We have also seen daring products being introduced to capture focused international markets. One of the most interesting products that was introduced include the tuna jerkies. Smoked, dried, and sliced into beautiful strips, these products were extremely attractive to international markets. Whether it is canned, frozen, dried or spiced, Maldivian tuna is something us locals cannot replace in our cooking. Even our neighbors in Sri Lanka would agree, where ‘Maldive Fish’ is present in many of their local delicacies, which would never taste the same without our humble tuna.

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