Maldives protects parrotfish

Parrotfish have been added to the “prohibited species” list in the Maldives, making it illegal to catch the colourful, charismatic fish.

The last time a coral reef fish, the napoleon wrasse, was protected in the Maldives was in 1995.

Under the new Maldives General Fisheries Regulation, it is now illegal to catch, kill or keep all species of parrotfish. As of March 1, 2021, it will no longer be allowed to trade, or display parrotfish or items made from any of its parts in shops and public places.

The new protection comes two months after the #FishForTomorrow campaign, run by the Maldives Resilient Reefs Project of Blue Marine Foundation.

The social media campaign, highlighting the importance of parrotfish to the health of Maldivian coral reefs, was backed by a number of local organisations, celebrities, fisheries scientists and members of the fishing community.

“Abundant and diverse populations of parrotfish are critical to allow our reefs to recover from threats that compromise their health such as coral bleaching,” Shaha Hashim, Maldives Project Manager at Blue Marine Foundation, said.

“Our reefs have weakened over time and these threats are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity over time. Ensuring our reefs are healthy will allow us to protect ourselves and our islands from rising sea levels.”

Parrotfish are colourful and voracious herbivores that spend up to 90 per cent of their day eating algae off coral reefs with their beak-like teeth. This grazing action creates space for coral larvae to settle and promotes coral growth while also preventing coral reefs from becoming overgrown with algae.

They are also responsible for producing up to 80 per cent of the sand on outer reefs that replenishes Maldivian beaches and lagoons.

“Research has shown that reefs with low numbers of parrotfish recover much slower than reefs with abundant parrotfish,” Professor Callum Roberts, a Professor of Marine Science at Exeter University in the UK who has studied coral reefs for more than 25 years, said.

“I commend the Maldives government for this progressive step to protect their coral reefs and boost their ability to bounce back from damage.”

Traditionally, parrotfish were rarely targeted for consumption in the Maldives. However, over the past decade they have started to appear in large numbers in fish markets and shops in Male.

“I have been a reef fisherman for the past 20 years and I have seen an increase in the number of fishers targeting parrotfish. A lot of young people are now catching parrotfish in large numbers on recreational fishing trips,” Yoosuf Abdul Rahman, a local fisher from the island of Dhiffushi in Kaafu atoll, said:

Fishermen have reported declines in the catch of parrotfish, prompting them to support protective measures.

“I have been fishing for a long time and have seen the decrease in the number of parrotfish being caught. I haven’t been able to catch a single parrotfish in three weeks. There is a definite need for protection as a decline has been observed throughout North Male Atoll,” Zuhair, a reef fisherman from the island of Huraa in Kaafu atoll, said.

There are encouraging reports from workers at Male fish market which suggest that some fishers have stopped fishing parrotfish since the ban.

“During Covif-19, I think the number of recreational fishers targeting parrotfish doubled in Male atoll. However, over the past two weeks since the ban, there has been a decrease in the number of parrotfish being brought here,” Ali Hassan, a fisherman who sells his catch to the Male fish market, said.

Blue Marine Foundation hopes that the review of fisheries management plans by the Maldivian government could result in further conservation “wins” in the near future.

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