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The Pacific Islands Region

In general, the Pacific Islands increase in size from east to west. Most islands rise steeply from the deep ocean floor and have very little underwater shelf area. Coral reefs characteristically surround the islands, either close to the shore (fringing reef) or further offshore (barrier reef), in which case a coastal lagoon is enclosed. The area includes many atolls, which are the remnant barrier reefs of islands that have subsided. Some of the more recent islands in the area lack coral reefs. Mangrove forests often border the inshore waters, especially of the larger islands, and provide habitat for the juveniles of many important food fish.

Because of the relatively small size of most islands, major bodies of fresh water are not widespread in the sub-region, with substantial rivers and lakes only being found in some of the larger islands of Melanesia. The small land areas of most islands create limited freshwater and nutrient runoff, resulting in low enrichment of the nearby sea. The ocean waters of the area are usually clear and low in productivity. Upwellings occur in the boundaries between currents and in other localized areas, and have important implications for the harvesting of marine resources.

The dispersed nature of the region's land among this vast area of water has several consequences for fisheries management. In regard to inshore resources, the presence of numerous patches of land and their associated coastal and coral reef areas, separated by large distances and sometimes abyssal depths, means that many species with limited larval dispersal can be effectively managed as unit stocks. On the other hand, management of shared stocks of highly migratory species such as tunas can only be effective if carried out on a multi-country basis. The presence of extensive areas of international waters (high seas) among the region's EEZs greatly complicates the region's fishery management efforts.

Fishery Statistics in the Region

The long time series of FAO catch statistics used in the compilation of the Catch Profiles for other regions are aggregated by FAO Statistical Area and thus cannot be used where the region to be reviewed incorporates parts of one or more areas, as is the case with the Pacific Islands. In addition, much of the region's tuna catch is taken by distant-water fishing nations (DWFNs) and is thus reported by FAO in the catches of other statistical areas.

EEZs of Pacific Island countries and territories, and the SPC statistical area

For coastal fisheries, the quality of fishery statistics furnished to FAO by national governments is generally not very good. At a recent FAO fishery statistics workshop, problems of these statistics were identified (FAO 2001):

On the other hand, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC, formerly the South Pacific Commission), as a service to its member governments, compiles statistics for the oceanic fisheries. Both the quality and coverage is considered to be quite good.

Considering the realities of fishery statistics in the region, most of this chapter is based on other (non-FAO) data sources, particularly the statistics and estimates produced in various forms by the SPC, the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Several different geographic areas are used to describe the "region" for fishery purposes. In roughly descending size, the areas are: the central and western Pacific ocean, the US South Pacific Tuna Treaty area, SPC statistical area, FAO statistical area 71, SPC area, and the EEZs of Pacific Island FFA-member states. Since 1999 SPC usually reports regional tuna information for the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). Accordingly, unless otherwise noted the regional tuna catches given below are for the WCPO.

The boundaries of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean

Fishery Resources

The region's fishery resources can be broadly split into two main categories: oceanic, and coastal or inshore.


Pacific Island fisheries can be categorized in several ways. One of the most commonly used is the scale of the operation:

It has been estimated that there are about 25,000 non-motorized and 17 000 motorized fishing vessels operating in the Pacific Islands (McCoy, 1991). These range from simple canoes to sophisticated purse seiners over 70 m in length, many of which are equipped with helicopters.


Volume (t)

Value (US$)

Industrial tuna

1 074 113

1 900 000 000



9 043,618


83 914

179 914,623


24 327

81 800,664


1 1883 300

2 170 758 905

Estimated production volume an value of Pacific Island fisheries, 1999 (Gillett et al. 2001)

The distinction between subsistence and commercial fishing is becoming increasingly blurred in many areas as monetization of rural economies proceeds and growing amounts of marine produce are traded for cash. In addition, the region's principal coastal fishery export products (trochus and beche-de-mer) are produced in a manner which resembles subsistence rather than commercial fishing.

In the Pacific Islands region, tuna is not only the most important of the fishery categories, it produces almost ten times the amount of fish as all of the other fisheries of the region combined. In terms of value, tuna fisheries are worth over seven times that of all other fisheries combined. The landed value of tuna catches from the region was estimated at about $375 million in 1982 (Clark, 1983), $1.2 billion in 1993 (World Bank, 1995), $1.6 billion in 1994 (FFA, 1995), $1.7 billion in 1995 (FFA, 1996), and $1.9 billion in 1998 (Van Santen and Muller, 2000).

Oceanic Resources

Resource status

Tuna catches in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean 1972-1999

Source: SPC

Regional Fisheries Cooperation

Fisheries cooperation, fostered by the regional organizations, is a prominent feature of the Pacific Islands. The region has three organizations with major involvement in fisheries matters and several others with peripheral involvement:

  • The South Pacific Commission (SPC) headquartered in New Caledonia has a fisheries programme which is primarily concerned with scientific research on the tuna fisheries and with research, development, and management of the coastal fisheries for the 22 countries and territories in the Pacific Islands.

  • The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) headquartered in the Solomon Islands is concerned primarily with economic and policy aspects of the offshore tuna fisheries in the 14 independent Pacific Island countries plus Australia and New Zealand. The FFA has achieved a high degree of success in coordination leading to the regional and international treaties.

  • The South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) headquartered in Apia Samoa has a number of initiatives relevant to the fisheries of the region, including work on protected species, marine biodiversity, and the Pacific Islands component of the International Waters Programme of the Global Environment Facility.

In addition, to these three regional organizations, there are regional programmes important to fisheries at the University of the South Pacific (USP) and the South Pacific Applied Geo-Science Commission (SOPAC), and the Forum Secretariat.

About 1.6 million tonnes of tuna, as well as an unknown amount of by-catch, have been caught in the western and central Pacific each year in the 1990s. According to the SPC Standing Committee on Tuna and Billfish, (SCTB 2000), the estimated total tuna catch for 1999 was 1 718 776 mt, the second highest total catch on record after 1998 (1 900 290 mt). With respect to the four main tuna species in the catch, the SCTB reports:

In general, the major tuna stocks on which the fishery is based are not believed to be biologically overexploited at present. On the contrary, SPC scientists believe that present skipjack catches could be increased. There is, however, some evidence for a declining trend in bigeye catch rates.

Like most other fishing methods, industrial tuna fishing results in the capture of non-target species, or by-catch, including:

The Western Pacific Warm Pool

The Western Pacific Warm Pool is one of the 56 biogeochemical provinces defined by Longhurst (1995) and corresponds to the definition of a Large Marine Ecosystem (LME), i.e. a zone of 200 000 sq. km. or more, characterised by distinct bathymetry, hydrography, productivity and trophically dependent populations. LMEs have been described as regional units for the management of fisheries in accordance with the principles of UNCLOS, and can provide a framework for the achievement of UNCED commitments (Lehody et. al., 1997).

The Western Pacific Warm Pool is a zone of low productivity which can extend over 80° of longitude and which has the warmest surface waters of the world's oceans. It produces virtually 100 percent of the purse-seine catch, 90 percent of the pole-and-line catch and 60 percent of the longline catch of tunas in the region. The pool's boundaries are dynamic, moving in response to oceanographic features. The warm pool can undergo spectacular displacements of over 40° of longitude (nearly 4 000 km) in less than 6 months as part of the El Niño/ La Niña phenomenon. Tuna abundance and yields are also displaced east-west by the same phenomena, and the geographic location of catches of the US purse-seine fleet can be accurately predicted several months in advance based on both the east-west movements of the 29°C isotherm, and variation in the Southern Oscillation index (a measure of the difference in barometric pressure between the eastern and western Pacific rims).

Location of the Warm Pool (within 29°C isotherm) and US purse-seine tuna catches during La Niña events (from Lehody et. al., 1997)

Location of the Warm Pool (within 29°C isotherm) and US purse-seine tuna catches during El Niño events (from Lehody et. al., 1997)

The Warm Pool appears to encompass a functional ecological unit which includes fish stocks, their prey, predators, and various physical factors, and which is of global significance. Apart from the highly visible commercially-exploited elements of the ecosystem, there are many other trophic levels of plankton, fish, sharks, marine mammals and birds. The sustainable utilisation of the Warm Pool's resources could be enhanced if the various components of the ecosystem were to be studied and managed as a coherent whole rather than in isolation from each other.

In recent years there is a growing amount of concern over the by-catch in the tuna fisheries of the region. Reasons for this include attention to obligations in international treaties and in non-biding international agreements, increasing involvement of environmental non-government organizations in the issue, and the closure in 2000 of the swordfish longline fishery in Hawaii. It is generally agreed that a more precise knowledge of the situation, to be obtained primarily through increased observer coverage, is an important foundation upon which any future management measures should be based.

Much of the tuna purse seine catch in the region is caught in the equatorial region. This area of warm surface water has become known as the western Pacific warm pool (see box).

Oceanic Fisheries

There are four major tuna fishing areas in the world: that of the Pacific Islands, the eastern Pacific (average annual tuna catches of about 525 000 mt), west Africa (385 000 mt), and the western Indian Ocean (450 000). The Pacific Islands fishery dwarfs the other three in volume (see graph) and because a large component of the catch is for the high value sashimi market, the relative value of the Pacific Islands tuna is even higher

The World's Major Tuna Fishing Areas

Industrial tuna fishing is carried out mainly by distant water fishing nations including China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Philippines, Taiwan China and USA. The Forum Fisheries Agency, a regional fisheries organization based in the Solomon Islands, has estimated that in August 2000 there were 949 foreign fishing vessels licensed in the region, made up of 716 longliners, 194 purse seiners, and 39 pole-and-line vessels.

These vessels pay fees for fishing in the exclusive economic zones of Pacific Island countries. In many cases, these fees make up a substantial portion of all government revenue. Estimates of access fees paid to Pacific Island countries in 1999 are:

An International Tuna Fleet

Industrial tuna fishing vessels of 27 different nations - 15 Pacific Island countries and 12 Distant-water fishing nations (DWFNs) - have operated in the Pacific Islands region during the last 25 years, and vessels of 20 countries operated in 1999. However the vast majority of the regional tuna catch harvested by the vessels of five DWFNs - Japan, Rep. of Korea, China, Taiwan China, and the United States. In 1999 these fleets harvest 72 percent of the tuna catch in the Pacific Islands region.

Numbers of Fishing Vessels on the FFA Regional Register

(Licensing period: 1/9/99 to 31/8/00)


Purse Seiner

Pole/ Line






In late 1999 there were about 174 US, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwan China tuna purse seiners operating in the Pacific Islands region, along with about 20 other vessels of other nationalities. These vessels represent about 40 percent of all the large tuna seiners in the world.


Purse seine


Total (US$)


5 128 000

9 199 000

1 405 000

15 732 000



16 693 026


16 693 026

Korea, Rep. of

3 492 000

6 250 000


9 742 000

Taiwan China

2 099 000

10 642 000


12 741 000


500 000



500 000

FSM Arrangement[1]


579 357


579 357


90 000

4 200 000


4 290 000


11 309 000

47 563 383

1 405 000

60 277 383

Source: Gillett et al. (2001); Units: US$

In the 1970s and 1980s, few Pacific island nations were fishing on a large-scale for tuna. Recently, their participation in tuna fishing has increased with the advent of small-scale longline fisheries for sashimi-quality yellowfin and bigeye tuna. The nominal catch attributed to Pacific Island nations has also grown with re-registration to countries in the region of longline and purse seine vessels from Asia.

Tuna Catches in the WCPO by Gear Type

Source: SCTP (2000)

In the WCPO the main industrial fishing methods are purse seine, longline, pole-and-line and troll. The majority of the catch is harvested by vessels from Asia and the United States. Some 60 percent by weight was taken by purse seine gear, with the portion by pole and line vessels and longliners being 17 percent and 11 percent respectively. Trolling and artisanal methods harvest the remainder.

Although the purse-seine fishery took over three -quarters of the total catch volume in 1998, it accounted for only about 59 percent of the total value, while the longline fishery, with only 11.5 percent of the volume accounted for 27.5 percent of the value (Van Santen and Muller, 2000). The final destination of most purse-seine caught tuna is canneries, while longline tuna is mainly destined for the higher-value sashimi market in Japan. There are five tuna canneries in the region: two in Pago Pago in American Samoa (see box), and one each in Levuka in Fiji, Noro in Solomon Islands, and Madang in Papua New Guinea.

Pago Pago - the tuna town

Pago Pago is on the island of Tutuila which lies approximately half way between Auckland, New Zealand and Honolulu, Hawaii. Since 1900 Tutuila and four other smaller islands have comprised the U.S. territory of American Samoa of about 200 square km of land and 47 000 residents.

The tuna products shipped overseas from Pago Pago, nearly a half-billion dollars per year, are virtually 100 percent of all exports. Direct employment at the canneries accounts for nearly half the non-government jobs in American Samoa and the two canneries alone employ over 3 000 Pacific Islanders. In addition, the tuna fleet spends in excess of US$30 million in port each year. The fairly small place now has 25 superseiners, 80 longliners, refrigerated transport vessels, two major canneries, a can factory, a 3 000 tonnes marine slipway, and a busy net repair facility.

U.S. law has helped Pago to become a tuna fishing centre. Unlike mainland U.S., non-U.S. flag vessels are permitted to land fish in American Samoa. The biggest legal advantage, however, concerns tariff provisions - fishery products can be exported to the U.S. duty free if the local component is a least 30 percent of the value. This is a substantial advantage as canned tuna imported into the U.S. from other countries are subject to a 35 percent duty for an oil pack or from 6 percent to 12.5 percent for tuna canned in water.

The tuna fisheries provide income to Governments of the region and employment for Pacific Islanders, but has the potential to provide much more. Less than 0.25 percent of the catch from the regional tuna fishery enters the domestic food supply of Pacific Island countries, even though a substantial amount of fish is discarded at sea due to being undesirable species or the tuna being too small. Fees paid for access to tuna resources by distant-water fishing nations equate to less than 4 percent of the catch value, and only a small proportion of crews of the industrial tuna vessels operating in the region are Pacific Islanders. Increasing the benefits they derive from tuna resources is a development objective of many countries in the region.


The new legal regime of the seas and the declaration of 200-mile EEZs gave Pacific Island countries a great deal more power to manage their fishery resources. The collective size of their EEZs and a strongly regional approach to management have allowed a progressively increasing degree of control over the region's international fishing activities.

Despite the high value of the tuna fishery, many of the benefits that it generates have historically flowed out of the region. Until recently efforts by Pacific Island states to manage the resource have focussed principally on trying to improve this situation by forcing licence revenues upwards and, more recently, promoting greater domestic participation in the fishing industry and associated service activities, and increasing the number of local people employed. Much of this has taken place on a regional basis, mainly through the Forum Fisheries Agency.

Current management arrangements include a multilateral treaty with the USA, the Niue treaty on regional surveillance arrangements, harmonized minimum terms and conditions of access among bilateral arrangements, a ban on catch transshipment at sea, strong biological and compliance observer programmes, and the introduction of a compulsory satellite-based vessel monitoring system.

In recent years management has also come to focus more on resource sustainability. This has been prompted both by the continued expansion of the fishery (especially in some areas) and by the requirements of the Implementing Agreement (IA) for UNCLOS. The region's first conservation-oriented management move was the Palau Agreement for the Management of the Western Pacific Purse-Seine Fishery. The Arrangement entered into force in November 1995 and placed a ceiling on the number of purse-seine licenses that could be issued by the seven Pacific Island countries party to the agreement.

In the past few years most Pacific Island countries have developed tuna management plans. These plans, mostly developed with assistance of the Forum Fisheries Agency using Canadian funding, have been effective catalyst in many countries for the creation of an awareness of tuna management issues.

After four years of complex negotiations between the coastal states of the WCPO and states fishing in that region, the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean was opened for signature in September 2000[2]. The objective of the Convention is to ensure, through effective management, the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks in the western and central Pacific Ocean. For this purpose, the Convention establishes a Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The Convention applies to all species of highly migratory fish stocks within the Convention Area, except sauries.

Coastal Resources

Coastal fisheries resources are of fundamental importance in the Pacific Islands. Much of the region's nutrition, welfare, culture, employment, and recreation are based on the living resources in the zone between the shoreline and the outer reefs of the region. 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 region's coastal fisheries provide most of the non-imported fish supplies to the region and hence have a crucial role in food security. Coastal fisheries harvest a very diverse range of finfish, invertebrates and algae by thousands of subsistence, artisanal and commercial fishers throughout the region. Unlike the tuna fishery, virtually all the coastal catch is taken by Pacific Islanders themselves, with very little access by foreign fishing vessels.

Statistics on coastal fisheries are not readily available, and those that are available are often unreliable. The present production estimates are typically 'guesstimates' produced by agricultural censuses, household surveys, or nutrition studies. Visser (2001) reviewed the fishery statistics in the region and concluded that subsistence fishing is almost never included in national fishery statistics and artisanal fisheries are at best only partially covered near the administrative center and extrapolated over the whole nation.

In order to encourage an improvement in the information on the coastal fisheries of the region, Dalzell et al. (1996) using a wide variety of sources available at the time, made a concerted effort to estimate coastal fishery landings in each Pacific island country. ADB (2001) updated those estimates for the 14 independent countries of the region. These estimates are shown in the table opposite.

Consumption of Coastal Fish

If Papua New Guinea, with its largely inland population is excluded, the regional per capita consumption of fish from coastal areas, about 35 kg annually, is quite large. For some of the individual countries (eg. Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tokelau) dependence on fish from the coastal zone as a food source is remarkably important and is among the highest in the world. According to FAO data, fish (of which the vast majority is from coastal areas) represents 38.7 percent of the total animal protein intake in the Pacific Islands region which is much greater than the world average of 16.1 percent.

Estimated annual coastal fisheries production in Pacific Island countries (Dalzell et al. 1996, Gillett and Lightfoot 2002)


Fisheries production (t)




American Samoa




Cook Islands




Fed. States of Mirconesia

5 000

5 000

10 000


21 600

9 320

30 920

French Polynesia

3 691

2 352

6 043






10 000

6 000

16 000

Marshall Islands

2 800


3 244









New Caledonia

2 500


3 481

Northern Marianas

2 825


2 966


1 250


2 115

Papua New Guinea

26 000

5 500

31 500

Pitcairn Islands





4 293

2 876

7 169

Solomon Islands

13 000

3 200

16 200






2 863

4 173

7 036




1 100


2 700


2 930

Wallis & Futuna





102 008

42 175

144 183

* Estimates in bold are those updated in 2002

In general, Pacific Islanders have a strong tradition of eating fish and this preference often takes precedence over economic considerations, especially in Micronesia and Polynesia. Fresh fish will frequently be purchased even though it is more expensive than the alternatives, often imported mutton flaps, turkey tails, or canned meat.

It is also important to note that this food-related importance of coastal resources appears to be increasing. The table below gives the results of three studies and suggest an increasing trend.

Trends in per capita fish consumption

SPC has published estimates of coastal fisheries production in the region on three occasions. The results are not strictly comparable due to different methodology, but the general trends are instructive.

Historical Estimates of Coastal Fisheries Production


Coastal fisheries production (t)

Population of region

Per capita fish supply from coastal fisheries (kg)



31 420

3 150 000


Van Pel (1961)

Late 1970s

55 130

4 410 000


Crossland and Grandperrin (1979)

Early 1990s

108 242

6 068 000


Dalzell and Adams (1994)

Total fish consumption in the Pacific Islands has a strong relationship to coastal fisheries production, so annual per capita fish consumption has probably increased substantially during the last three decades. In some outer island areas it is estimated to be more than 200 kg per year.

Subsistence Fisheries

According to the best available information, the subsistence fisheries of the Pacific Islands region capture about 102 000 mt per year, or about 70 percent of the total harvest from coastal areas. In some countries over 80 percent of the coastal catch is from the subsistence sector. In all Pacific Island states these fisheries make extremely important contributions to household food security, dietary health and import substitution.

In a recent review of benefits from Pacific Island fisheries, ADB (2001) estimated that the contribution of subsistence fisheries to gross domestic product was actually quite large in a number of Pacific Island countries. In Samoa "non-monetary fishing" represents about 5 percent of GDP. In Tuvalu "non-market fishing" is about 7 percent.

The latest Regional Economic Review (World Bank 2000a) studied the value of subsistence fisheries for food security in selected Pacific Island countries. It was concluded that the value of annual subsistence production of finfish and shellfish in protein equivalent was US$6.7 million in Fiji, $18 million in Kiribati, 13.9 million in the Solomon Islands, and $14.7 million in Vanuatu.

Despite this importance, governments in the region characteristically have not focused much attention on the subsistence fisheries sector. Studies, development initiatives and management efforts of the government fisheries agencies are usually oriented to the commercial fisheries sector. Much of what is known about subsistence fisheries of the region arises from the attention of NGOs, academics, women's programmes, nutrition workers, and regional/international organizations.

Subsistence fisheries generally involve a large variety of species, including fish, molluscs, crustaceans, algae, and other groups. For example, Zann (1992) reports that in Western Samoa the subsistence fisheries make use of 500 species. In a recent study of coastal resources management in the Pacific Islands (World Bank, 2000b), residents in coastal villages in five countries identified what they considered were the major coastal resources. They were:


Important Coastal Resources (descending order of importance)


Finfish, beche de mer, octopus, seaweed, lobster, mud crab, and various bivalve molluscs.


Finfish, octopus, lobster, beche de mer, Turbo, giant clams, seaweed, and Anadara.


Finfish (especially surgeonfish, grouper, mullet, carangids, rabbit fish), octopus, giant clams, beche de mer, turbo, and crab.

Solomon Islands

Finfish, beche de mer, trochus, giant clam, lobster, Turbo, and mangroves


Finfish, giant clams, mangrove crab, lobster, turtle, and beche de mer.

Subsistence fishing tends to be most important in rural areas, but as rural economies become increasingly monetised the amount of fish being traded for cash grows and there is a gradual move away from fishing for home consumption or to meet social obligations, and towards fishing as a means of generating cash income.

Typical characteristics of subsistence fisheries in the Pacific Island are: specialized knowledge often passed down through generations, labour intensive operations sometimes involving the entire community, sharing of the catch amongst the community, social restrictions/prohibitions, and specialization of activity by gender.

Characteristically, women are involved in inshore fishing activity, such as reef gleaning and invertebrate collection, and the preparation of food from the products of fishing activities. Men are usually involved in the more strenuous work of fishing further offshore, for large species of fish, and in diving activities. There are, however, important exceptions to this generalization. Several observers of the Pacific Island subsistence fisheries situation estimate that fishing activity by women actually results in a greater amount of family food than produced by men.

Although there has been several development projects attempting to commercialize aspects of fishing in subsistence communities, they have usually met with limited success. On the basis of studying the fish marketing situation in many Pacific Island countries Carleton (1983) concluded: "the basic structure of the subsistence sector is not conducive to the regular supply of fish to urban communities in sufficient quantities to satisfy demand."

Commercial Coastal Fisheries

Compared to 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, over 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), sea cucumber (7 percent), and estuarine fish (6 percent).

Estimated annual exports of major coastal fisheries commodities from the Pacific islands region (data from SPC)



Sea cucumber

1 500 tonnes (dried, equivalent to 15 000 t live weight)

Trochus shell

2 300 tonnes of shell

Pearl shell

400 tonnes (mainly spent farmed shell)


About 1 tonne, with a value of more than US $ 100 million

Deep-water snappers (mainly Tonga)

300 tonnes

Giant clam (mainly Fiji)

20 tonnes of adductor muscle

Live groupers

Unknown but growing

Aquarium fish

Small in tonnage but relatively large in value

Much commercial production from coastal areas in the Pacific Islands is exported. In general, the region exports high value commodities (see table above), while importing mainly inexpensive food supplies, such as canned mackerel. Much of the traditional export commodities are actually harvested by 'subsistence' type fishers, processed in some cases, and then sold on to middlemen for subsequent further processing and re-sale in bulk quantities.

Fisheries development effort in the region have largely been oriented to export products. With the increased global demand for fishery products and subsequent price rise, the incentive to export will increase. As this trend continues, there is some cause for concern. Some of the export-oriented fisheries have interfered with traditional sources of food (e.g. giant clam exports) and have even been destructive (live fish trade to Asia). In some cases the benefits of export fisheries are concentrated into a few individuals, while the adverse side-effects may be experienced by many (e.g. the export of live coral). Information on the quantity of exported fishery products is often insufficient to gauge the benefits of the fishery or assess the sustainability of these export fisheries.

Commercial coastal fishing operations can be very small-scale (e.g. women in many countries who glean reefs for a few hours and then sell the majority of what they have obtained) or much larger, such as fishing for Tonga bottomfish in which the fishers are out for week-long trips in vessels up to 15 meters in length. In general, the larger the scale, the more likely that the fishers are employees of a non-fishermen who own the vessel. Most of the typically small vessels fishing for flying fish in the Cook Islands are operated by their owner, some of the catamarans fishing in Western Samoa are owned by non-fishing businessmen, while most of the active snapper boats in Tonga are not owned by the people that crew them.

During the past decade, the commercialization of coastal fisheries has increased considerably. The commercial coastal catch in the Federated States of Micronesia increased significantly in the 1990s. A mid-1990s survey of coastal fishing on the major island of Fiji showed that the commercial catches were considerably higher than that estimated from an extrapolation of the results of a survey done during the previous decade.

Some of the more notable resources and associated new developments in coastal fisheries of the Pacific Islands include:

Trochus: Although the natural range Trochus niloticus is limited to the western part of the region, the gastropod has been transplanted to almost all Pacific Island countries. The annual harvest of Trochus niloticus in the region in recent years was about 2 300 metric tonnes with an export value of about US$15 million. Although this is not great in purely financial terms, the impact is substantial. Because little or no equipment is used in the collecting of trochus and because the shells may be stored for long periods prior to shipment to market, trochus is one of the few commercial fisheries feasible for remote communities. In several Pacific Island countries trochus provides an important source of cash income at the village level, especially since the demise of the copra industry.

Sea cucumber: About 20 species are currently exploited in the region, primarily for export to Asia. Like trochus, villagers can process sea cucumber into a non-perishable product which 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. For example, in Papua New Guinea over 500 mt of sea cucumber was harvested annually in the early 1990s, but a few years later the abundance was so low that complete export ban was being considered.

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 to 50 fish families comprise the majority of the catch. Yields in the region have been estimated to be between five and fifty kg per hectare per year (Wright 1993). Commercial export of shallow water reef fish is not a major industry; most of the overseas shipments of these fish are made by Pacific Islanders as airline baggage during visits to Guam, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand.

Deep-slope snappers and groupers: These fish are found on slopes 100-400 meters in depth off most Pacific Islands. Because they receive a high price in overseas markets and are under-exploited in most countries, deep-slope snappers and groupers have been the subject of considerable development interest in the 1970s and 1980s. Many operators have subsequently converted to small-scale tuna longlining, with only Tonga harvesting substantial amounts at present.

Lobsters: The commercial lobster fishery in the region is based on three species in the genus Panulirus, one of which, P. ornatus, supports a sizeable fishery of up to 400 tonnes in the area between Papua New Guinea and northern Australia. In the rest of the region, a remarkably large number of export-oriented lobster fishing efforts have been attempted, but most have failed due to rapid depletion of what initially appeared to be a substantial resource.

Aquarium fish: Aquarium fish collectors target a large number of species, with the major families being butterfly fish (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. Collection operations have been established in most Pacific Island countries in the past 20 years. An appealing aspect is that these fish are rarely taken for food in the Pacific Islands and therefore this fishery does not interfere with subsistence activities. The nominal reported FOB value of exports of aquarium fish for the year 1999 are available for a few countries: Fiji US$178 000, Marshall Islands US$473 000, Vanuatu US$16 500, Cook Islands US$73 500, and Kiribati US$1 160 000. The relatively recently-established aquarium fish industries in the Kiribati and the Marshall Islands now account for 78 percent and 95 percent of all fishery exports from those countries respectively.

Live food fish: Starting in Palau in the mid-1980s, many live food fish ventures have operated in the Pacific Islands, especially the western part of the region. The target species, typically groupers (Serrandiae) and coral trout (Plectropomus spp.), are exported to markets in large Asian cities. Although there is considerable interest in several countries developing this lucrative fishery, there have been numerous problems in the past with the use of cyanide and the unsustainable targeting of spawning aggregations. Although the fishery is attracting considerable attention in the region, there are no estimates of the volume or value of the trade of live fish in the Pacific Islands.

Sport game fishing: This a specialized form of small-scale commercial fishing which is growing in importance in the region. The target species range from large coastal pelagics to bonefish. Sport fishermen, especially tourists, spend money on vessel charter, accommodation, provisions and shore-side recreation. There are presently sport fishing operations in most Pacific Island countries. Another aspect of this fishing is the international tournaments held annually in most countries of the region

Management of Coastal Fisheries

The importance of coastal resources is matched by the range of challenges facing them. The most serious problems are:

A less obvious problem affecting coastal resources is the loss of biodiversity. Many commercially important species (eg. sea cucumber, pearl oysters) have been over-fished to the point of exhaustion, making it no longer economic to harvest them in many areas. Worse still, some coastal species have been harvested nearly to the point of biological extinction. These includes the coconut crab, some species of giant clams, most species of turtles, and mangroves in some island groups.

In former times most coastal communities in the Pacific Islands had some type of management of adjacent marine resources. This was often in the form of community leaders restricting access by outsiders, as well as through various kinds of harvest bans for residents. The current thinking is that those mechanisms worked reasonably well in the context in which they were used, but it should be noted there have been a multitude of other changes in management conditions, including:

The net result of these changes appears to be a marked decreased in effectiveness of the former systems of coastal resource management.

Although there is considerable variation between Pacific Island countries, the general pattern is that, during the colonial period, centralized forms of resource management were introduced to most Pacific Island countries by the mainly expatriate fishery administrators. Adams (1997) states that the first 50 years of the 20th century were characterized by government indifference to marine issues. Starting in the mid-1950s most Pacific Island governments introduced various forms of centralized coastal resource management, most typically through various restrictions (gears, seasons, quotas, areas) stipulated as regulations under national fisheries laws. Although the new central regimes were often supported by legal systems, there was little technical backup or enforcement activity, especially in the areas away from urban centers.

Centralized management was also characterized by the fairly optimistic assumption that, through biological and economic studies of coastal resources, it would be possible to optimize the benefits from a fishery. In general, the sophistication of those studies did not come close to matching the government capability or desire to implement management.

Starting in the early 1970s, both fisheries managers and the environmental community began using marine protected areas as management tools. Recognizing the difficulties associated with restriction-oriented coastal management, there have been many decades of efforts to encourage inshore fishers to diversify into deep-slope or offshore fisheries (bottomfish/tuna). There is a long history of aquaculture promotion in the region and one rationale for this that the culture of marine organism could lead to reduced pressure on coastal resources. Campaigns to raise the awareness of coastal residents are another widely-used management tool, particularly by environmental agencies.

Among fishery managers there is growing recognition that, to improve effectiveness, much of the management of coastal fisheries resources must be devolved to the community level. This trend is also noticeable among the conservation community, where the initial failure of attempts to establish conventional marine protected areas has led to heightened efforts to involve communities in formulating and following conservation agreements. There are, however, large differences between Pacific Island countries with respect to community coastal fisheries resource management, in terms of political will, legal basis for lower level initiatives, available funding, and actual community management activities.

There is also a growing awareness that the realities of fishery statistics in the region dictate that a different approach is required for the information to manage fisheries (see box on dataless management).

Dataless management

There is a increasing realization that the challenge of collecting stock assessment data on widely-dispersed, multi-species tropical reef fisheries is so great as to be effectively insurmountable. For instance Johannes (1998) has estimated that it would take 400 man-years of scientists time just to provide a basic, statistically-valid estimate of reef fish abundance around Indonesia's coast. Tropical countries cannot afford such research, and even if they could it would be grossly cost-ineffective. In the face of such challenges, fisheries managers are beginning to look at the prospects of dataless management.

Dataless does not mean management without information. In the Pacific islands, dataless management has been carried out for centuries, in the form of customary marine tenure. In most cases modern, science-based fishery management methods have failed to produce better results than traditional systems, and in many the outcome has been resource failure.

Customary marine tenure does not necessarily optimize fishery production, and may lead to differences in management arrangements from one locality to the next. However it is generally easier and more cost-effective to have communities to enforce their own management rules than it is to carry out centralized policing. In addition, community-based management systems are often in line with the precautionary principles of fisheries management.

In a recent World Bank study, coastal fisheries management was examined at 31 locations in the Pacific Islands. One of the important conclusions of the study was there is an urgent need to reduce overall fishing effort. Although many of the communities surveyed had adopted restrictions to fishing by outsiders, few were effective in regulating their own harvest. Further efforts are needed to raise the awareness of traditional leaders of the benefits to restricting fishing effort, and especially the most efficient fishing technologies (Bettencourt and Gillett, 2001). That study also made observations on fisheries management regulations, and concluded that some of these rules work better than others. Three types of rules were perceived by communities as having the best compliance:

[1] An arrangement providing for preferential access for purse seine vessels of Pacific Island countries that are parties.
[2] The source of this information is the website of the Preparatory Conference.

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