With fish stocks under threat around the world, responsible fishing and sustainability within the seafood industries are critical to many local communities who rely on fish as their staple diet. International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF), a charity working across the globe to develop responsible practices in tuna fisheries, has seen the value tourism can have in promoting sustainable fishing practices. In this guest article IPNLF explain their work in the Maldives and their Responsible Tourism Initiative.
Love the planet by eating like a local in the Maldives
Maldivians eat tuna for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Luckily, these fish swim in abundance in the surrounding waters where local fishers have been using responsible methods to catch tuna one at a time for centuries. One-by-one fishing methods support healthy marine environments and the livelihoods of coastal communities.
Through a new partnership initiative between tourist resorts and the IPNLF, tourists visiting the Maldives can learn the story behind the tuna and how choosing sustainable seafood has a positive impact on our planet.
The two driving industries of the Maldivian economy
The Maldives is famed for its white sands, turquoise water and exclusive luxury hotels. Since the opening of the first resorts in the 1970s, tourism to these archipelagic islands has boomed. In 2013, the number of tourists that visited the Maldives exceeded 1 million; a trend that has continued since. Tourism is the number one industry for the island nation, contributing to more than a quarter of the national GDP and providing thousands of job opportunities for locals.
Second to this is fishing, a more traditional industry that has been operating in the marine rich waters since records began. The thousands of fish species offer food security and nutrition for coastal communities. With such a high dependence on marine resources, Maldivian fishers catch tuna in the most responsible way possible – one at a time – by pole-and-line or handline. Both are deemed the most environmentally friendly and socially responsible techniques.
Up until very recently, the potential for a mutually-beneficial collaboration of these two driving industries of the Maldivian economy had not been fully realised. Historically, this was because the responsible fishing efforts of the Maldivian one-by-one tuna fishers had gone largely unrecognised by the local tourism industry. Consequently, most tourists returned to their home countries without any exposure to this important local culture and livelihood.
The Responsible Tourism Initiative
IPNLF now actively works to bring these two leading industries – tourism and fishery – together to further strengthen the sustainability of their activities. Last year saw the launch of the Responsible Tourism Initiative engaging both sectors to increase the awareness of, and demand for, local sustainable seafood.
This initiative aims to generate a shift towards responsible seafood sourcing. This in turn will reward small-scale operators, conserve the longevity of fish stocks and coastal marine resources and protect a critical food source for developing nation populations.
Resorts and hotels, with holidaymakers from all around the world, offer the opportunity to reach a wide international audience with messages of sustainability. Through this initiative, IPNLF highlights the ways that these messages can be conveyed, and the settings in which to apply them to best resonate with guests to the Maldives.
Every interaction counts
Employees dealing with customers at a resort act as brand ambassadors, organising memorable experiences for guests and imparting knowledge on local culture and customs. Critically, interactions between employees and customers have the potential to influence whether that guest will return. As visitors’ first port-of-call for local insights and information, resort employees have the potential to play an important role in educating visitors about local, sustainable seafood and the fishery on their doorstep.
To support interactions between employees and guests, IPNLF ran a staff training session with its project partner, Soneva Jani. The training session provided the staff with the knowledge and understanding about the value of the local, sustainable fishery, and the skills to communicate that knowledge, increasing their confidence in communicating with guests.
A unique experience
IPNLF is also encouraging resorts to offer cultural experiences to immerse tourists into local island life. Meeting and interacting with a fisher, watching the tuna being unloaded, visiting the fish market or learning how to create local delicacies are truly unique experiences that the Responsible Tourism Initiative aims to promote. After all, it’s not everyday that you can witness the trail of your own food.
Telling a story
A package of communication resources is available to hotels and resorts signed up to the initiative, and include high-quality photos, videos, infographics and more; you’ll probably see them on display around the resort facilities and dining outlets of the Maldives, or even on your favourite social media platform. These resources help to tell the unique story of the centuries-old fishing culture, and the importance of supporting traditional, sustainable fisheries.
Holidaymakers to the Maldives now have the opportunity to learn about sustainability and the importance of responsible practices within the tuna fisher industry, inbetween sunbathing and enjoying cocktails by the saltwater pool. By delivering memorable resort experiences, IPNLF hopes that guests will take home a piece of paradise and from that moment ask: is my tuna caught using a responsible method such as pole-and-line or handline; is my tuna from the Maldives?
If it is, they know they can eat it and enjoy it, safe in the knowledge that local people are too, and dream of soon returning to paradise.
Joanna Eames, Communications & Outreach Officer, IPNLF
Joanna is a marine biologist with a wealth of experience in marine field work and marine science education. She joined IPNLF after working as a resident marine biologist in luxury resorts in the Indian Ocean where she engaged both staff and guests on the topics of marine ecosystems and ocean conservation. Her knowledge and insight of sustainability practices and communications within the hospitality industry were well-suited to the task of developing the Responsible Tourism Initiative and expanding the IPNLF Member network.