The other side of “Why are you wasting your catch?”

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The news that grabbed the recent headlines have been subjected to fishermen across the country. The record catches, the prospering fisheries, the hefty disbursements and more. Most headlines stood firm on the fishermen’s side, with odes of praise. However, as the local media garner a massive online presence, it also welcomes an unfiltered and unadulterated public opinions.

Past week, similar headlines along the lines of “fishermen waiting in long queues” flashed across the local media, attracting skepticism of the public, and echoing usual chants that mount pressure on the Government – mainly about increasing the capacity of the fish processing and the relative complexes across the country; a plea that has been justified beyond any reasonable doubt.

However, the public’s opinion, or rather, a disapproval was towards the fishermen. Checking out the comments on social media posts by the local media sharing their news, the public was rather ‘furious’ as the fishermen “reportedly discard their daily catches”.

Public’s unfamiliarity

As people whose livelihoods depended on tuna, a headline that reads ‘fishermen discard their daily catches’ naturally would be infuriating. Not only it is an unacceptable action, it also damages the centuries-old tradition of sustainable fisheries Maldives flaunts.

With the sentiment fueled, the public opted to throw tantrums induced by patriotism and ignorance, daring not ask the fishermen “what happened?’, or ever bother to read the entirety of the news articles published by journalists across all local media platforms.

The news headline do say “fishermen waiting in long queues”, which is why some vessels opted to discard some of their catch. However, a question arises as to why they had to discard their catch. “Why can’t they bring those tuna back to the island and distribute to the islanders, or even sell them?”, had been the most posed question.

As per all reports on any discarding of the catches, it was mainly due to lack of cold storage on the fishing vessels to keep the tuna up to the quality or grade that is acceptable for the fish processing complexes – the second plea by the fishermen across the entire nation that rely heavily on exports produced by its blue economy.

Fishermen’s nightmares

Fishermen rely heavily on cold storages installed in their vessels to keep their catch fresh – at least until it has been processed (weighed) by fishing complexes. The cold storages are not industrial deep freezers, but storage units that require ice to maintain the optimum temperature.

The ice required for the cold storages are acquired from ice plants in various islands across the country. Fishermen had reportedly complained regarding the limited ice they get.

Limited stock of ice maybe satisfactory for smaller vessels that can only store a limited amount of catch. However, a limited stock of ice for larger vessels that can and do aim to catch hefty catches have major setbacks.

With limited ice in storage, and waiting in queues reportedly for days, fishermen faces conundrum regarding the optimum quality of the fish for processing. Fishermen reportedly opted to discard part of their catch to keep at least some catch for processing.

The hardworking men earn via the disbursement by fishing complexes, and they need to save at least an amount of catch till processing.

MIFCO had reported they are processing nearly 800 tonnes of tuna daily, in the past few weeks, with about dozen vessels contributing nearly 200 tonnes of tuna weekly. The fish processing company also revealed the recent catches are larger in size, contributing another hassle of increasing the freezing process, requiring more ice.

These numbers are staggering in comparison with the amount of ice the fishermen receive for their cold storages and the capacity of fish processing in the country.

Catch and release

It is common knowledge that raw tuna, if they are left out without processed for too long or if they aren’t stored in ice before they’re processed, they become spoiled.

With ice already utilized to save the catch they require to process, there aren’t enough left to keep any remainder of tuna in optimum temperature. Therefore, by the time fishermen reach back to their respective islands, the tuna they caught would’ve gone bad beyond consumption. To avoid any grave circumstances, the fishermen opt to do the lesser evil and ‘throw away their catch’.

Reportedly there have been instances where some fishermen deliberately discarded their fresh catch into the ocean and to government offices as an act of protest. These instances have not been repeated recently, other than the discarding of tuna to avoid further wastage.

Moving forward

Reflecting on all the reports recently, there are ways to avoid wasting of tuna catch. Cold storage upgrading has been a talk floating amongst the fisheries industry. Currently, the Government is undertaking a study in collaboration with Japanese Government to inspect the cold storage mechanisms on the fishing vessels. What the study unveils would further pave way in enhancing the storages.

The two most imperative steps have to be taken by the Government. That is increasing the fish processing capacity to avoid long queues and to increase availability of ice at ice plants to provide fishermen with adequate volumes of ice to keep their hefty catches intact.

This has been the ultimate plea of the fishermen for years, as high fishing seasons always come with these two songs played on repeat. While the Government has assured they are taking necessary steps to bolster the fish processing and to increase the availability of ice, fishermen are left waiting until the promises come into fruition.

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