Tuna Fishing in the Maldives

An old technique struggles to thrive in a new economy

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

Freshly catched tuna on boat (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Most people know the Maldives as a vacation destination. Over the past few decades, luxury resorts have provided a foundation for a booming tourism industry. The City of Malé has taken on all the typical characteristics of a modern capital. However, to the north, you can visit islands where people still make a living from fishing and agriculture. 

Pole-and-line fishing for tuna is still at the center of life on the island of Hanimaadhoo. This unique Maldivian technique has been developed over centuries. However, tourism and modernization have begun to displace traditional tuna fishing as a primary economic activity.

Aerial panorama of Hanimaadhoo (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary


In February 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - on his journey to the world's most fragile places - joined a group of young Maldivian fishermen in Hanimaadhoo. 

An island in the Maldives (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Morning sounds in the Maldives

Life in the North of Maldives is as calm as a palm tree in a light breeze.  White sand seems to follow wherever you go.

A fisherman and his boat in Hanimaadho (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

On Hanimaadhoo, you will find an airport and a resort.  But there is no sight of visitors.  

Maldives Fishermen (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The island is inhabited mostly by fishermen and their families. 

Portrait Maldivian fishermen (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Hassan has been fishing since he was a child and still uses the techniques his father taught him.  

Maldivian pole-and-line fishing (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Traditional tuna fishing in the Maldives is known as the pole-and-line technique. It starts by throwing live bait from the boat to attract fish. 

Maldives fishermen sailing (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Younger fishermen, like Ahmed and his colleagues, rely on the pole-and-line technique as well.  They have been sailing all night in search of live bait and now it's time to grab their fishing poles. 

Maldivian pole-and-line fishers catching a tuna (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

A tuna gets hooked and a fisherman swings his pole backward. The fish flies over and behind him, landing on the boat’s deck.

Maldives fishermen pole-and-line fishing (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The small baitfish and splashing water have attracted tuna to the water’s surface. 

Maldives pole-and-line fishing by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Look up!

Maldives fishermen storing tuna (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The entire catch gathers in a pool in the middle of the boat. The physicality of pole-and-line seems to create a relationship between a fisherman and each fish he hooks.

Maldives fishermen making breakfast (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Sailing home now. Ahmed and his colleagues clean and cook a tuna for a well-deserved breakfast. 

Maldives fishermen under the deck (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This traditional method used by Ahmed and Hassan is far more sustainable than commercial fishing, which relies on large fishing nets and multiple baited hooks. However, economic pressures have caused a decline in the use of the traditional method.

Maldives fisherman washing (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary


The future of the small islands like Hanimadhoo still depends on tuna fishing.  Traditional fishing methods remain central to their way of life. How can pole-and-line be preserved in the face of modern economic pressures and climate change?  Will Ahmed and Hassan’s grandchildren know when it’s time to swing the pole backward? 

Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Ahmed Shahud, Ahmed Shareef, Ali Hussan, Ahmed Saleem, Mohamed Hussain, Hassan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps