Hunting reef sharks is now banned throughout Maldivian waters. The government decision has made the Indian Ocean archipelago the first nation in the region to outlaw the practice.
Shark numbers have plummeted in the Maldives in recent years because a significant minority of fishermen target sharks for their lucrative fins, which are used in shark-fin soup, a luxury Asian dish.
Once its fins have been cut off, the shark is often returned to the sea where it suffocates over many painful hours.
In 1998, the government imposed a 10-year moratorium on shark fishing within the seven “tourist atolls” because of concerns about the impact the practice was having on the tourism industry – many people are attracted to the Maldives because it offers the opportunity to snorkel and scuba dive with sharks and other marine life.
But there is no reliable way to determine whether a shark fin on the market has been taken from a tourist atoll or from elsewhere in the Maldives. And because the fish migrate between atolls, legal hunting has led to a noticeable decline in shark populations in the reefs surrounding the tourist resorts.
The new ban prevents fishermen from hunting reef sharks in all of the Maldives’ 26 atolls and for up to 12 nautical miles (22km) off the atoll coasts.
It will be extended in one year’s time to include a ban on hunting oceanic sharks such as tiger sharks and whale sharks, Dr Ibrahim Didi, minister for fisheries and agriculture, said. “The protection measures