Business

Maldives firms expand tuna processing amid popularity of pole-and-line

Maldives pole and line fishermen.

HONG KONG, China — Two Maldives tuna fishing companies are expanding processing capacity to cater for the popularity of the atolls’ pole-and-line caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna in old markets and new.

At the recent Seafood Expo Asia in Hong Kong Ensis Fisheries and Mifco were both displaying tuna products produced in the Maldives, part of a new marketing push for their tuna products.

One of the country’s largest tuna companies, Ensis is building a brand new $18 million tuna cannery which will increase the firm’s production capacity by 50%. The facility — which is scheduled to open in the first quarter of next year — will produce both canned tuna and pouches.

Currently, Ensis produces processes around 25 metric tons of tuna daily.

Mifco, a tuna firm which is 100% owned by a state-owned listed company, has expanded its existing plant with a $2m upgrade. The expansion was completed in February of this year and has raised production capacity from 15t per day to 50t.

Mifco’s annual tuna production now comprises around 15,000t of processed tuna and 15,000t of raw tuna, according to the firm.

The Ensis plant is being built on Hulhulemale, an atoll in the northern part of the chain of atolls, while Mifco’s expanded plant is on Lhaviyani Atoll, also in the north.

Speaking with Undercurrent News at the show in Hong Kong, Adley Ismail, CEO of Mifco, said it is a point of pride for both his firm and his customer’s tuna are caught pole-and-line.

“It’s a point of pride for us and for them. 100% pole and line [skipjack] tuna is sustainable, with zero by-catch. Those people recognize the fishery, and the story behind the fish,” he said.

Customers for the firm’s Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified pole-and-line skipjack tuna include Waitrose and Sainsbury’s in the UK, he said, as well as Woolworths in South Africa. The firm is also in negotiations with US retailers.

“Business has been very good” since the expansion, said Ismail. Production is at full capacity.

According to Ismail, expanding processing capacity enables the firms to enjoy more stable revenues from sales of finished products, and be less exposed to the volatility of unprocessed tuna market.

“Tuna is not easy to catch. Our fishermen are hunters. It’s very labour intensive. When [raw material] prices touched $900 the government helped our company stay alive as we were paying more to fishermen than the market price,” he said.

China market potential

China is not currently a big market for Maldives tuna although growing, said Ismail. At a recent consumer fair his firm participated in in Kunming, Yunnan Province, Southwest China, interest was good, he said. Currently, most sales to the country are of frozen tuna steaks.A free trade agreement between China and the Maldives being negotiated between the two countries could provide a significant boost, however. Chinese tariffs for Maldivian tuna are currently 15%, he said, lower than EU tariffs of 24% and 19% for processed and whole tuna respectively, but still significant.

A free trade agreement between China and the Maldives being negotiated between the two countries could provide a significant boost, however. Chinese tariffs for Maldivian tuna are currently 15%, he said, lower than EU tariffs of 24% and 19% for processed and whole tuna respectively, but still significant.“We have checked the market prices [in China]. Without the duty we should compete with major brands,” he said. He reckons that, because about 40% of tourists now visiting

“We have checked the market prices [in China]. Without the duty we should compete with major brands,” he said. He reckons that, because about 40% of tourists now visiting the Maldives are Chinese, the story of its tuna products should also gain traction in China.In traditional markets like the US and EU and in new ones alike, it is the Maldives’ story and sustainability of pole-and-line tuna fishing which is his company’s best

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