The three major tuna fisheries rely on the utilization of bait. The pole-and-line fishery for skipjack tuna and the hand-lining for yellowfin tuna use various types of live baits while the long-lining for large yellowfin tuna relies on frozen bait. An annual total of 68,000 tons of tuna are caught from the pole-and-line fishery using an estimated 6,800 tons of live bait caught from reef associated lagoons.
In recent years, local tuna fishermen have been experiencing a general, usually seasonal, shortage in bait availability impacting their fishery. Fishermen reportedly have to travel long distances in search of live bait which greatly reduce the fishing time. There is a current need to manage the live bait situation in the Maldives and to reduce the cost of the fishing by providing the fishermen with a cheaper, reliable alternative.
Coral reefs are highly vulnerable to climate change. Increased sea surface temperatures brought on by climate change is putting our fragile coral reef ecosystems under stress. Maldives experienced its first mass coral bleaching in 1998 and coral reefs were still recovering when the 2015-16 bleaching hit. It is to be expected that climate change associated natural events will continue to affect the countrys coral reefs. Action is required to minimize the negative impacts on livelihoods of Maldivian fishing communities resulting from the impact on our bait resources.
Development of aquaculture of potential bait species is seen as one possible solution to the issue of bait availability and increasing fishing pressure. It is anticipated that in addition to the reliable, year-round supply of bait, cultured bait species will contribute significantly to minimize the impacts of the fishing pressure on wild bait species and coral reefs.
Hatchery-bred milkfish (Chanos chanos) has successfully been used as bait in the longline fishery for large yellowfins. Although not commercially practiced yet, cultured milkfish has been successfully trialed in the poleand-line fishery in Indonesia and Kiribati. Hatchery-produced milkfish has potential for being developed as a bait species to address the bait shortage in the Maldives.
This project is developed with the objectives of:
- Supplementing the live bait requirement of the pole-and-line tuna industry using hatchery-bred milkfish fingerlings.
- Minimizing the impacts of fishing pressure on wild bait species and coral reefs.
The project involves the establishment of a central milkfish hatchery that will supply bait-sized fish, and the development of distribution centres close to fishing communities and/or other fisheries related service providers.
The hatchery will be initially Government operated, with the possibility of alternative operation modalities in the future. Government will initially fund the operation of the hatchery facility. Bait will be sold to the fishing vessels at a reasonable price, and the revenue generated will be utilized to run the operation in the future. While the hatchery design and construction phases are in progress, broodstock conditioning activities will be carried out at the Marine Research Centres Mariculture Training and Demonstration Facility at Maniyafushi Island, Kaafu Atoll.