Alice Miller; talking fish with fishers

Dr Alice Miller (IPNLF Director, Social Research & Programmes) gains an insight into the lives of one-by-one fishers in the Maldives.
The IPNLF team watched traditional pole-and-line fishing in action! © IPNLF

Since joining IPNLF a key aspect of my work has been to support research to understand the social and economic contributions of one-by-one fisheries to the people behind them – the fishing communities. Too often, we consumers see fish on our plates or in cans with very little appreciation of the work that has gone into catching them, or who the people are behind the fish. When we choose a product caught by one-by-one tuna fishers, as the name suggests, these are tuna caught one-at-a-time. Therefore, in buying fish caught in this way, we can directly support the livelihoods and wellbeing of the coastal fishers responsible for the catch.


With this in mind, it was with great excitement that in February I set out on my first trip to the Maldives – often called “the home of pole-and-line” tuna. This was an opportunity to learn about these amazing fisheries in person, to speak with fishers and to get out on a pole-and-line vessel for the first time. While I didn’t get an opportunity to try out my as-yet untested fishing skills, the trip was enormously useful, providing the inspiration for a social and economic monitoring programme in the Maldives (more on this to come later). While this programme is in planning, I thought it was worth sharing some insights from the conversations I had with fishers while out fishing, to give a flavour of the people catching the tuna we eat. 

"My name is Mohammed Hussein*, I’m 58 years old, have been fishing since I was 15 years old and for the past seven years have worked as a chummer (1). In this role, I earn between MVR20-30,000 (£1000-1400)/month during peak season and MVR8-10,000 (£350-500)/month during the low season. This is my only source of income and is needed to support 12 dependents - my direct and extended family. I have five children, four boys and one girl, all of who finished school at GCSE level.

Fishing has been in mine and my wife’s family for many generations and currently - my direct family, and around 20 men from my greater family, work in fishing or in boat construction. My son is even working as a fisher on this boat with me today.

To me, the benefit of being a fisherman includes the freedom of being at sea and not having to work under someone else. Fishing also means I can offer food and security for members of my community when they are in need."


"I’m Hassan Ali*, I’m 31 years old and work as a general fisher on this vessel. I have been a fisher for ten years but only for one month on this particular vessel. Fishing is my family’s only source of income and this can vary from MVR7000-15,000 (£300-700)/month depending on the season. I have two children, both boys, aged eight and three and at this stage who knows what they will work as; I have no ambition for them to be one specific thing. There is some history of fishing in my family, my father was a fisherman but in my generation, I am the only one of my brothers and sisters that is a fisher.

The way I see it, there are many advantages to the fishing way of life that far outweigh office work. I also get a sense of happiness from fishing, which is priceless."


Being able to speak to these fishers and other workers from the supply chain in person provided me with insight into the importance of this traditional fishery to the community, and a heightened sense of the direct social benefits the people living in these coastal communities derive from one-by-one tuna fisheries. IPNLF are already active in bringing the human story behind these fishers to the forefront of our discussions about sustainability  and it has never been more important that we continue with this work. So, keep an eye out for updates on our continued social research work and the Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme Vessel Improver Programme pilot – a world first for tuna fisheries.


*Names have been anonymised.

(1) A chummer is responsible for throwing livebait from the fishing vessel to draw the tuna towards the fishing platform.