Pre-World War II

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Attempts at developing industrial fishing in the region began over a hundred years ago. In August 1899 the USA. Fish commission vessel Albatross departed San Francisco on an 18-month fishery investigation cruise that included areas in what is now French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Guam (Alexander, 1902). The results were disappointing and apparently no follow-up activities occurred. Much more substantial and methodical fisheries development activities were undertaken some twenty years later by the Japanese. After the outbreak of World War I, Japan declared war on Germany in August of 1914 and subsequently wrested control of the German Pacific Island possessions to the north of the equator – what is now known as the Palau, the Federated Sates of Micronesia (FSM), Marshall Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands (referred to in this report as

Figure 2: Main industrial tuna fishing gear presently used in the Pacific Islands region

Gear Type Catch Typical Vessel that Uses Gear Notes
Purse seine      

Mainly skipjack and small yellowfin are caught by purse seine gear. Most catch is for canning.

About 80 percent of the tuna catch in the Pacific Islands region is by purse seine gear. Most of the purse seine catch is taken within 5 degrees of the equator.



Most tuna caught are large size yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore. The prime yellowfin and bigeye often are exported fresh to overseas markets. Most of the albacore is for canning.

About 13 percent of the tuna catch in the Pacific Islands region is by longline gear. There are two major types of longliners: (1) relatively large vessels with mechanical freezing equipment (often based outside the Pacific Islands), and (2) smaller vessels that mostly use ice to preserve fish and are typically based at a port in the Pacific Islands.



Mainly skipjack and small yellowfin are caught by pole-and-line gear. Most catch is for canning or producing

About 7 percent of the tuna catch in the Pacific Islands region is by pole-and-line gear. In the 1980s several Pacific Island countries had fleets of these vessels, but most no longer operate due to competition with the more productive purse seine gear. Most of the catch by this gear is made in Asian waters.



Large-scale trolling targets albacore for canning.

Large-scale tuna trolling is carried out by some vessels based in the Pacific Islands. The actual fishing activity occurs in the cool water to the south of the region.

Source: Gillett 2004.

Micronesia). After the war Japan was awarded control of these islands by a League of Nations mandate. For various reasons, including satisfying economic development obligations under the mandate, Japan directed substantial effort to developing various industries in Micronesia. In the early 1920s an eight-year survey of the marine resources of the area was followed by subsidies from Japan for the purchase of tuna boats, fishing gear, and processing equipment. Three commercial tuna pole-and-line fishing operations were established in Palau in the late 1920s. The Marine Products Experimental Station was established in Palau in 1931, and from this facility surveys on tuna were carried out as far away as the Marshall Islands. Japanese tuna fishermen and fishing companies began entering the area in ever-increasing numbers in the early 1930s. The primary interest was pole-and-line tuna fishing and secondarily tuna longlining, with some tuna trolling trials (Skipjack Programme, 1984; Peatie, 1988).

By the mid-1930s Japanese tuna fishing was well developed in the area with 45 pole-and-line vessels based in Palau, 52 in FSM, and 19 in the northern Mariana Islands. In addition, larger tuna longline vessels of 60 to 100 tonnes fished the area from their bases in southern Japan. Tuna catches in Micronesia reached the highest level of 33000 tonnes in 1937. Most of the production was processed into a dried tuna product “katsuobushi” which was shipped to Japan. There were also at least two tuna canneries in operation. During this period there was little participation by indigenous local residents in the tuna industry; Okinawan fishermen manned the tuna fishing vessels and Japanese operated the processing facilities ashore. All commercial tuna fishing in the area came to a halt during World War II (Skipjack Programme, 1984; Smith, 1947; Rothschild and Uchida, 1968; Wilson, 1971; Ikebe and Matsumoto, 1937).

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