Fisheries and Resources Monitoring System

Pacific Islands Region Marine fisheries
Fishery  Fact Sheet
Review of the state of world marine fishery resources 2009
Pacific Islands Region Marine fisheries
Fact Sheet Citation  
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Overview: In the Pacific Islands Region, fishery resources are critically important as a source of food and employment, a generator of government revenue and a foundation for economic development. The two main categories of marine fishery resources, coastal and offshore, have major differences with respect to species diversity, resource condition and interventions used in their management.

Location of Pacific Islands Region Marine fisheries

Geographic reference:  Pacific Islands Region
Spatial Scale: Regional
Reference year: 2009
Approach: Fishing Activity

Fishing Activity
Fishing Gear: Handlines and hand-operated pole-and-lines  

Type of production system: Industrial
Fishery Area: Pacific, Western Central; Pacific, Eastern Central

Harvested Resource
Target Species: Swordfish; Skipjack tuna; Yellowfin tuna …  

Fishery Indicators

Fishing Activity
Type of production system: Industrial   

Fishery Area

Geo References

The Pacific Islands Region consists of 14 countries and 8 territories located in the WCPO. There is also a substantial area of international waters (high seas) in the region. Figure C3.1 shows the countries and territories, their 200-mile EEZs and the international waters.
The Pacific Islands Region contains about 200 high islands and some 2 500 low islands and atolls. In general, the islands increase in size from east to west, with Papua New Guinea at the westernmost edge having most of the region’s land area.
Figure C3.1 The Pacific Islands Region Secretariat of the Pacific Community
Target Species

Fishing activity in the Pacific Islands can be classified both by area in which the fishing is undertaken and by scale.
Fleet segment

Coastal fishing is of fundamental importance in the Pacific Islands. Much of the region’s nutrition, welfare, culture, employment and recreation is based on the living resources in the zone between the shoreline and the outer reefs. The continuation of current lifestyles, the opportunities for future development and food security are all highly dependent on coastal fisheries resources. Although dwarfed in both volume and value by the offshore tuna fisheries, the Pacific Island fisheries that are based on coastal resources provide most of the non-imported fish supplies to the region. Coastal fisheries harvest a very diverse range of finfish, invertebrates and algae. Unlike the tuna fishery, virtually all the coastal catch is taken by Pacific Islanders themselves, with very little access by foreign fishing vessels. Coastal fishing in the region can be placed mostly in three categories:
  • Small-scale commercial fishing (also referred to as “artisanal”), which can be further broadly subdivided into that supplying domestic markets and that producing export commodities.
  • Subsistence fisheries, which support rural economies and are extremely important to the region';s nutrition and food security.
  • The industrial-scale shrimp fisheries, which in the region only occur in Papua New Guinea.

Flag State
Solomon Islands
Cook Islands
Marshall Islands
Micronesia, Fed.States of
Papua New Guinea
United States of America
Fleet segment

Offshore fishing is undertaken mainly by large industrial-scale fishing vessels. About 1 500 of these vessels operate in the EEZs of Pacific Island countries, mainly using purse seine, longline and pole-and-line gear to catch tuna. A fourth type of tuna fishing, trolling, is not undertaken on an industrial scale in the Pacific Islands, but some industrial tuna trollers are based in the region and troll in temperate waters in the south. The amount of tuna captured by offshore vessels in the region is many times greater than the catch from coastal fisheries. Offshore fishing in the region can be further subdivided into two categories:
  • Locally-based offshore fishing. A survey carried out in 2008 (Gillett, 2008) showed that 269 longline vessels, 56 purse seine vessels and 2 pole-and-line vessels were based in the region. About 1 169 people from the Pacific Islands are employed on these tuna vessels.
  • Foreign-based offshore fishing. About 1 200 foreign-based vessels operate in the waters of Pacific Island countries. Although about 65 percent of the vessels are longliners, about three-quarters of the tuna catch is taken by purse seiners. Most foreign fishing vessels are based in Asia, while some United States-flagged purse seine vessels are based in American Samoa. The licence fees paid to Pacific Island countries by these foreign-based vessels is substantial and, in some cases, the major source of government revenue for some countries.

Flag State
United States of America
And other countries not specified.
Resources Exploited
Shallow-water reef fish
In most of the Pacific Islands, finfish found in relatively shallow water (< 50 m) are the basis of much commercial fishing. About 300 species, representing 30–50 fish families comprise the majority of the catch. The main gear types are handlines, spears and gillnets.

About 20 species are currently exploited in the region, primarily for export to Asia. Recent annual production from Pacific Island countries is about 1 500 tonnes (dried, equivalent to 15 000 tonnes live weight). Villagers can process beche-de-mer into a non-perishable product that can be stored for extended periods awaiting opportunistic transport to markets. “Pulse fishing” is often used to describe the fishery – long cycles in which a period of intense exploitation is followed by a sharp fall in the abundance of the resource with associated difficulty in maintaining commercial exploitation and then a dormant period in which the resource is able to recover.

Aquarium fish and invertebrates
Aquarium fish collectors target a large number of species, with the major families being butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae), damselfish (Pomacentridae), surgeonfish (Acanthuridae) and angelfish (Pomacanthidae). Most aquarium species have the characteristics of relatively small size, bright coloration and good survival in captivity. Many operations also harvest and export invertebrates and “live rock”. An appealing aspect is that aquarium fish are rarely taken for food in the Pacific Islands and, therefore, this fishery does not interfere with subsistence fishing activities.

The topshell, Trochus niloticus, is commercially one of the most important shellfish in the Pacific Islands. Although the natural range of trochus is limited to the western part of the region, the gastropod has been transplanted to almost all Pacific Island countries. It is valued for the inner nacreous layer of the shell, which, along with that of the pearl oysters and some other shells, is used for the manufacture of “mother of pearl” buttons. The annual harvest of trochus in the Pacific Islands in recent years has been about 2 300 tonnes, with five Pacific Island countries providing most of the harvest.

Live reef food fish
The live reef food fish fisheries typically harvest certain groups of fish in the tropical Indo-Pacific region and ship them by air or sea to Chinese communities in east Asia. Sadovy et al. (2003) indicate that, in the main destination markets, the bulk of the trade consists of the groupers (Serranidae). Also taken are snappers (Lutjanidae), wrasses (Labridae), small numbers of emperors (Lethrinidae), sweetlips (Haemulidae), seabream (Sparidae) and members of a few other families. A variety of techniques and gear types are used in live reef food fish fishing.

The commercial lobster fishery in the region is based on three species in the genus Panulirus. The largest fishery occurs in the Torres Strait of Papua New Guinea and targets the ornate spiny lobster (Panulirus ornatus). Smaller lobster fisheries, based mainly on the double-spined lobster (P. penicillatus), take place in many Pacific Island countries. The most common fishing method is walking on reef flats and catching by hand at night.

Nearshore pelagics
Trolling for tuna and other large pelagics just outside the reef is practised in most Pacific Island countries. Fiji, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea probably have the largest production from coastal trolling. The use of FADs increases catches and reduces operating costs.

Deep-water bottom fish
The target of deep-water bottom fishing in the Pacific Islands is a number of fish species (mainly in the families Lutjanidae and Serranidae) that inhabit reef slopes and shallow seamounts between 100 and 400 m. The most active, export-oriented, deep-water bottom fish fisheries in the Pacific Islands are currently in Fiji and Tonga.
Fishing Gear
A varietry of gears is used for the different fishing activities. Here below some example for Coastal fisheries:
Handlines and hand-operated pole-and-lines
Gillnets and entangling nets
Trolling lines
Gear nei
and for Offshore fisheries:
Longlines (nei)
Purse seines
Mechanized lines and pole-and-lines
In 2009, the Asian Development Bank estimated the fishery production in each Pacific Island country. All readily available sources of production information for each country were scrutinized to arrive at a best estimate of national catches in the four fishery categories (Table C3.1).

Table C3.1 - Marine fishery production in Pacific Island countries, 2007

Coastal commercial Coastal subsistence Offshore, locally-based Offshore foreign-based Total
Papua New Guinea
5 700
30 000
256 397
327 471
619 568
Kiribati 7 000 13 700 0 163 215 183 915
Micronesia (Federated States of) 2 800 9 800 16 222 143 315 172 137
Solomon Islands 3 250 15 000 23 619 98 023 139 892
Marshall Islands 950 2 800 63 569 12 727 80 046
Nauru 200 450 0 69 236 69 886
Fiji 9 500 17 400 13 744 492 41 136
Tuvalu 226 989 0 35 541 36 756
Vanuatu 538 2 830 0 12 858 16 226
Samoa 4 129 4 495 3 755 25 12 404
Tonga 3 700 2 800 1 119 0 7 619
Palau 865 1 250 3 030 1 464 6 609
Cook Island 133 267 3 939 0 4 339
Niue 10 140 640 0 790

Source: ADB, 2009.

The six countries that have the most production have large tuna fisheries. With the exception of Papua New Guinea, most of the tuna catch in those countries is taken by foreign-based vessels. Other notable features of the information in Table C3.1 are:

  • a general pattern of decreasing total national catches going from west to east across the region, and from equatorial to higher latitudes;
  • the relatively large contribution of offshore locally based production in the Marshall Islands and, to a lesser extent, Fiji;
  • the relatively large contribution of nontuna production in Fiji.

Figure C3.2 shows that the production from the offshore fisheries is about nine times greater than that of the coastal fisheries (commercial and subsistence). It is easy to conclude that offshore fishing and the tuna resources upon which they are based are very important to the region.
The region’s marine fishery resources can be broadly split into two main categories: coastal (or inshore) and offshore (or oceanic). Coastal resources include a wide range of finfish and invertebrates, while offshore resources are mainly tunas, billfish and allied species.

Figure C3.2 Marine fishery production by volume and by fishery category, Pacific Islands Region, 2007

There are considerable differences between coastal subsistence fisheries and the coastal commercial fisheries of the region.
Table C3.1 above gives estimates of fisheries production for each Pacific Island country for 2007. Figure C3.3 takes the coastal fishing data from the table and shows the annual production by country graphically.
About 70 percent of the overall fisheries production from coastal areas of the Pacific Islands is produced by subsistence fishing. In several countries, well over 80 percent of the coastal catch is from the subsistence sector: Niue, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Subsistence fisheries generally involve a large variety of species, including fish, molluscs, crustaceans, algae and other groups. For example, Zann (1992) reported that in Samoa the subsistence fisheries made use of 500 species. In a study of coastal resources management in the Pacific Islands (World Bank, 2000), residents in coastal villages in five countries identified what they considered were their major coastal resources (Table C3.2).
Dalzell and Schug (2002) reviewed finfish that are important in small-scale Pacific Island coastal fisheries. They state that a typical fishery may harvest between 200 and 300 finfish species, although it is likely that only a few species will dominate landings. About one-third of the coastal catch total is comprised of emperors (Lethrinidae), surgeonfish (Acanthuridae) and snappers (Lutjanidae). Compared with the subsistence fisheries of the region, the coastal commercial fisheries are smaller and take a more restricted range of species, although it may still be substantial. For example, more than 100 species of finfish and 50 species of invertebrates are included in Fiji’s fish market statistics. Total commercial fishery products from the region include reef and deep-slope fish (about 43 percent of total weight), coastal pelagic fish (18 percent), shell products (trochus, green snail and pearl shell, 9 percent), crustaceans (8 percent), beche-de-mer (7 percent) and estuarine fish (6 percent). It may not be appropriate to place the various types of coastal commercial fishing into discrete “fisheries”, especially for the smaller-scale fishing. A single fishing trip often involves the use of several types of gear to make a range of catches. For example, Gillett and Moy (2006) state that during a multiday fishing trip, spearfishers in Fiji characteristically collect beche-de-mer, trochus and lobster, and do some handlining in ition to the main effort of spearing finfish.
Figure C3.3 Coastal fishing production in the Pacific Islands Region, 2007

Table C3.2 - Resources that support subsistence fishing in Pacific Island countries

Country Groups of fishery resources
(descending order of importance)
Fiji Finfish, beche-de-mer, octopus, seaweed, lobster, mud crab and various bivalve molluscs
Tonga Finfish, octopus, lobster, beche-de-mer, turbo, giant clams, seaweed and Anadara
Samoa Finfish (especially surgeonfish, grouper, mullet, carangids, rabbitfish), octopus, giant clams, beche-de-mer, turbo, and crab
Solomon Islands Finfish, beche-de-mer, trochus, giant clams, lobster, turbo and mangroves
Palau Finfish, giant clams, mangrove crab, lobster, turtle and beche-de-mer

Source: World Bank, 2000.

In 2007, about 1.1 million tonnes of tuna was captured in the Pacific Islands Region. Figure C3.4 gives the catch composition by species. About 72 percent of the tuna catch in the region is taken by purse-seining gear, with the remainder by longline, pole-and-line and troll gear. Almost 70 percent of the tuna catch in the EEZs of Pacific Island countries was made by vessels based outside the region. All Pacific Island countries received fees for foreign tuna fishing activity in their waters – the total access fee payments for the countries of the region for 2007 were about US$77 million (ADB, 2009).
Figure C3.4 Composition of the tuna catches in the EEZs of Pacific Island countries
Monitoring System
Fishery statistics in the region
With respect to the quality and coverage of statistics, there are major differences between the region’s coastal fisheries and the offshore fisheries. The offshore statistical systems are in relatively good condition, both at the national and regional level. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has a Statistics and Monitoring Section, whose functions include: (i) the compilation of estimates of annual catches of target tuna and billfish species; (ii) the estimation of annual catches of non-target species; (iii) the compilation
of operational (logsheet) catch and effort data; (iv) data processing on behalf of member countries and territories; and (v) the provision of technical support for port sampling programmes and observer programmes in member countries and territories.
The situation of coastal fisheries statistics is considerably different. For coastal fisheries, the quality of fisheries statistics furnished to FAO by national governments is generally not very good. In fact, the estimation of the production from coastal fisheries by government fishery officers in about half of the Pacific Island countries is largely guesswork. Typically, government fisheries agencies give low priority to estimating the amount of coastal catches. In general, the smaller the scale of the fishing is, the less is known about the production levels, with quantitative information being especially scarce for the subsistence fisheries in most countries.

Coastal fishery resources
In general, the coastal fishery resources are heavily fished and often show signs of overexploitation. This is especially the case in areas close to population centres and for fishery products in demand by the rapidly growing Asian economies. The coastal fisheries are also negatively affected by habitat degradation, which occurs from destructive fishing practices, urbanization, siltation from mining and logging, and competing uses of the coastal zone. On a more detailed level, the degree of exploitation of coastal finfish is generally related to the distance from urban markets. The perishable nature of finfish has a limiting effect on fishing pressure in rural areas. By contrast, the products of commercial invertebrate fishing are mostly non-perishable. The SPC (2008) stated that most sites surveyed in the Pacific Islands were “seriously depleted of commercial invertebrate resources”. Another aspect of the status of invertebrate fisheries in the region is variability. Dalzell and Schug (2002) found that commercial harvests of invertebrates are characterized by boom and bust cycles, and in some cases the bust part of the cycle has persisted with no indication of recovery. The management of coastal fishery resources in many Pacific Island countries is a mixture of several systems:
  • Traditional management. This is most prevalent in rural areas and characteristically involves village leaders restricting the fishing by those outside the community and by various controls on fishing by community members.
  • Central government management. All Pacific Island countries have a fisheries law giving wide powers to the government fisheries agency in controlling fishing activity. For various reasons, the system is mostly ineffective. There is some degree of success, however, in central governments applying point of export restrictions on those coastal resources that are exported.
  • The use of MPAs and similar arrangements. With varying degrees of outside assistance, communities establish an area that is closed to fishing or is subjected to reduced fishing pressure.
Current coastal fishery management measures (both centrally administered and community-driven) tend to be non-quantitative and are intended to protect stocks in a generalized way (Preston, 2008). These include MPAs, size limits (both minimum and maximum), gear restrictions (minimum mesh sizes for nets, bans on torch fishing at night), prohibitions on the use of destructive fishing methods (blast fishing, poisons), prohibitions on the taking of berried females, and seasonal or area closures. Quantitative stock assessments have been undertaken for only a few of the coastal fish stocks in the region, with deep-water bottom fish in Tonga being an example. Some fisheries are managed on the basis of trends in catch per unit effort or, more precisely, perceptions of such trends. Many current management measures are in support of biological objectives. This is most often stock sustainability and prevention of resource collapses (rather than catch optimization). There is also management for purely economic objectives, such as encouraging in-country trochus processing. Cultural objectives, such as the closure of a reef to fishing after the death of a traditional leader to show respect, are also common.

Offshore fishery resources
Offshore fishery resources Although several species of scombrids are found in the Pacific Islands (Areas 71 and 77), four species of tuna are of major commercial importance: skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), bigeye tuna (T. obesus) and albacore tuna (T. alalunga). Table C3.3 gives information on these fish in the WCPO.
Another important target of offshore fishing is swordfish (Xiphias gladius). This is caught by relatively shallow longline gear mainly in the subtropical parts of the WCPO. A few billfish species and some sharks are targeted by specific fisheries, but the usual situation is that they are bycatch in tuna longlining and, to a lesser extent, tuna purse seining. The common billfish are black marlin (Makaira indica), blue marlin (M. mazara), sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus), shortbill spearfish (Tetrapturus angustirostris) and striped marlin (T. audax). The most common shark caught is the blue shark (Prionace glauca).
TABLE C3.3 The tuna species of major commercial importance in the Pacific Islands Region Drawings courtesy of the SPC

Tuna management
The management of the tuna resources in the Pacific Islands (Areas 71 and 77) is complex and involves political, resource and historical considerations. Current management occurs on the national, regional and international levels. A general feature of national level tuna management in the region is the use of tuna management plans (TMPs). In 1998, the Canada–South Pacific Ocean Development Programme cooperated with the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) to produce a detailed TMP for Solomon Islands. The FFA and Canada have subsequently prepared plans, on country request, for Fiji, Kiribati, Palau and Vanuatu. The Asian Development Bank and Australia have also assisted in the formulation of TMPs for the Federated States of Micronesia and Samoa, respectively. The FFA has continued with this process using its own staff and has prepared TMPs for Niue, the Marshall Islands, Tokelau and Tonga. Recently, New Zealand has provided fisheries assistance that includes support for TMPs in the Cook Islands and Solomon Islands. Currently, all Pacific Island countries have prepared national TMPs, and most have been formally adopted. Characteristically, the TMPs give a description of the current national tuna fisheries, the status of the tuna resources, overall government goals in the fisheries sector, specific objectives for the management of the fishery, and the interventions used to obtain the objectives. Tuna resource sustainability is often given as the priority objective in the TMPs. Other objectives are related to increasing employment, increasing access fees, and creating and/or enhancing domestic tuna fisheries. At the regional level, there are a number of tuna fishery management arrangements in the Pacific Islands. All are promoted and coordinated by the FFA. The first measures, introduced in the 1980s and early 1990s, were:
  • In licensing foreign fishing vessels, countries agreed to insist on the Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions for Foreign Fishing Vessel Access (e.g. use of a common regional licence form, requirement to carry observers if requested). These have been progressively added to over the years and now encompass several types of measures, such as the use of vessel monitoring systems.
  • Reciprocal fisheries law enforcement as per the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region.
  • Incentives to locally based industrial tuna vessels as per the Federated States of Micronesia Arrangement for Regional Fisheries Access.
The region’s first conservation-oriented management move in the tuna fisheries was the Palau Arrangement for the Management of the Western Pacific Purse Seine Fishery, which entered into force in November 1995. The arrangement places a ceiling on the number of purse-seine licences that can be issued by the seven Pacific Island countries party to the agreement. The limit was originally set at 164 vessels and has been progressively increased. For several years there, has been discussion about modifying the Palau Arrangement so that purse-seine-vessel fishing days (rather than vessel numbers) are used as the basis for management. In May 2004, a subset of FFA member countries decided to adopt such a scheme and it has subsequently been progressively implemented. In a general sense, the original thrust of regional tuna fishery management in the 1980s and 1990s was to increase foreign fishing access fees. This has been broadened in recent years to include domestic tuna industry development and resource sustainability. The latter objective overlaps with international fishery management efforts in the WCPO. At the international level, a management convention came into force in June 2004 establishing the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The WCPFC adopts “resolutions” that are non-binding statements and “conservation and management measures” (CMMs) that are binding. As of mid-2009, a total of 26 CMMs had come into force. In the December 2008 WCPFC meeting, a crucial CMM was adopted – which may increase the effectiveness of the WCPFC in its tuna management efforts. The objectives of that measure (CMM 2008–06) are:
  • the implementation of a package of measures that, in a three-year period commencing in 2009, results in a minimum of 30 percent reduction in bigeye tuna fishing mortality from the annual average in the period 2001–04 or 2004;
  • ensuring that there is no increase in fishing mortality for yellowfin tuna beyond the annual average in the period 2001–04 average or 2004;
  • the adoption of a package of measures that shall be reviewed annually and adjusted as necessary by the WCPFC, taking account of the scientific advice available at the time as well as the implementation of the measures.

Jurisdictional framework
Mandate: Management.  
Management Body/Authority(ies): Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)
Mandate: Strengthening national capacity and regional solidarity so its 17 members can manage, control and develop their tuna fisheries.  
Source of Information
Marine and Inland Fisheries Service, Fisheries and Aquaculture Resources Use and Conservation Division. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department “Review of the state of world marine fishery resources” . FAO FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE TECHNICAL PAPER. No. 569. Rome, FAO. 2011. Click to open
The bibliographic references are available through the hyperlink displayed in "Source of Information".


Jacek Majkowski of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is acknowledged as initiating this study and providing valuable guidance in its preparation. Garry Preston and Mike McCoy, two Pacific Island fishery specialists, reviewed an earlier version of the manuscript and provided corrections and helpful suggestions. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community is to be thanked for materials, information and responses to enquiries.

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