Species items reported in the FAO capture fisheries production database have been classified as oceanic or living on the continental shelf. Catch trends of oceanic species, further subdivided into epipelagic and deep-water species, have been analysed over a 50-year period (1950-99), while statistics for shelf species have been re-assigned to large marine ecosystems (LMEs) for a shorter period (1990-99) and used to investigate catch patterns among the various LMEs. Oceanic fisheries constitute, both in terms of number of species items and in quantities of recent catches, about 10 percent of global marine catches. Catches of epipelagic species (mostly tunas) and of deep-water species (mostly Gadiformes) have been continuously increasing and reached 8.6 million tonnes in 1999. Oceanic catches by distant water fleets (DWFs), mostly targeting tunas, have been decreasing in recent years although their share of total DWF catches has increased due to the concurrent drop of non-oceanic DWF catches. Trends of oceanic catches and the contribution of DWFs are examined for all FAO marine fishing areas that show different patterns, mainly depending upon whether they are temperate or tropical areas. Eleven clusters of LMEs have been identified on the basis of similarities in their catch composition classified into eleven species groupings. For each cluster, the distinguishing catch pattern and recent trends by species groupings in each LME are discussed, and considered in relation to information on primary productivity and the abiotic characteristics of the LME.