Fishing has long been the life blood of the Maldivian economy. Today it still employs half the Maldivian workforce. Formerly, Maldives shipped 90 percent of its fishing catch of tuna in dried form to Sri Lanka.However, because Sri Lanka cut back its imports of such fish, in 1979 Maldives joined with the Japanese Marubeni Corporation to form the Maldives Nippon Corporation that canned and processed fresh fish. Also in 1979 the Maldivian government created the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company. This company controls the processing and exporting of frozen and canned tuna. They also provide a collector vessel. All fishing is undertaken by the private sector and its involvement in processing and export is increasing.
Progress has also been made as a result of fisheries development projects undertaken by the World Bank. Harbour and refrigeration facilities have been improved, leading to a fourfold increase in earnings from canned fish between 1983 and 1985. Further construction of fisheries refrigeration installations and related facilities such as collector vessels were underway in 1994, with funding both from Japan and the World Bank.
The tiny, low-lying islands have an average elevation of a few feet above sea level. The highest elevation of any island is not more than three and a half meters. Although the Maldives were in the direct path of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, little permanent damage resulted to the coral beds and fishing grounds.
The mainstays of the Maldives economy are its fisheries and tourism. Both are intrinsically related to the coral reefs. The fisheries were the dominant sector of the economy until 1985, when the tourism industry overtook the fisheries in terms of its contribution to GDP. However fisheries continue to provide an important source of income for about 20 percent of the population, with about 22,000 individuals involved in full-time fishing activities.