The romantic image of Maldivian fishing normally features the pole and the line, the silver flash of airborne tuna, and maybe that photogenic bloke in the fish market…but there’s a lot more to the industry than this ‘glamour’.
To get the boat to the tuna requires a steady supply of diesel, to bring the tuna to the boat needs a steady supply of live bait, and to get the tuna to market needs a steady supply of ice.
But before that, there’s the small but crucial matter of persuading the tuna to hop onto the dhoni, which requires a steady supply of shiny hooks, and there’s few people more reliable than the husband and wife team of Mohamed Manik and Saaditha Mohamed – the hook-makers of Huvadhu.
Few would argue that Huvadhu atoll is the capital of the Maldives’ fishing industry, with one in every four tuna caught in the country hooked by fishermen from either Gaafu Alif or Gaafu Dhaalu.
Saaditha and Manik’s busy workshop is based in Faresmaathodaa, which is perhaps the fishiest island in the atoll, home to more than a dozen dhonis. Their assembly line, spread out beneath the island’s shade, is the only one of its kind in the southern atolls, if not in the whole country.
Starting life as plain nails (ugly hooklings), future hooks are clipped, hammered, ground, moulded, dipped in acid, plated and feathered to attract even the most fickle of fish. This makeover process has been perfected over 30 years, and the pair can make up to 500 hooks a day.
With fish representing 99 percent of all Maldivian exports, and the south delivering one third of all the Maldives’ catch, it seems likely that Saaditha and Manik have a direct hand in more than one third of the Maldivian fish trade (move over Mifco).
No wonder then that their national importance has been recognised not once but twice – in both 1990 and 2010 – and that business continues to boom.
It’s highly unlikely Maldivian civilisation as a whole would have been able to develop were it not for the tuna – whose flesh is well-suited to being stored and traded, and which is one of the few fish gullible enough to take a hook without bait.
…and it’s unlikely that many of these fish would have made it onto the boats at all in recent decades without the work of Huvadhu’s hook-makers.