This paper explores the development of industrial fishing in the 22 countries and territories in the central and western Pacific Ocean. For the purpose of this short paper, industrial fishing is defined using large vessels, generally greater than 15 m in length, for fishing activity that is mainly carried out in offshore areas.
Industrial tuna fisheries produce about ten times the amount of fish being produced by all of the other fisheries of the region combined. Various forms of industrial tuna fishing were attempted in the past century, but only three types have enjoyed any degree of commercial success: purse-seining, longlining, and pole-and-line fishing.
The first substantive industrial fishing activities were those by the Japanese in the 1920s and 1930s in Micronesia. Following the destruction of fisheries infrastructure during World War II, little industrial fishing development occurred until the early 1950s when Japanese fishing activity resumed in Micronesia. Both Japan and the United States of America became active in establishing tuna bases in several parts of the Pacific Islands area in the early 1960s.
Financial shocks to the Japanese and USA fleets in the late 1950s and 1960s resulted in considerable innovation that both enabled the survival of the fleets and affected their presence in the Pacific Islands area. This included the development of sashimi freezer longlining by the Japanese and the tuna purse-seining by the Americans. Important recent developments in the Pacific Islands area include the entry of tuna vessels from China into the fishery and the development of domestic longlining in most countries.
In both longlining and purse-seining, the other Asian players (Taiwan (Province of China), Republic of Korea, and most recently China) have become increasingly successful. This has not occurred through innovation but rather by coupling existing technology with low production costs and aggressive fishing practices.
Besides industrial tuna fishing, which occurs in the waters of all Pacific Island countries, the only other significant form of industrial fishing in the Pacific Islands region is shrimp trawling in Papua New Guinea. The magnitude of shrimp trawling in the Pacific Islands is actually quite small compared with industrial tuna fishing, with the value of fishing for tuna being about 400 times greater.
Some of the important lessons learned in the development of industrial fishing in the region are: