April 2002



Main landing places

Commercial fishing vessels, which comprise a handful of locally-based deep-bottom fish  and sport-fishing charter boats, mainly unload their catches in Port Vila. Artisanal vessels which carry out deep-bottom hand-line fishing and trolling for pelagic species land their catches in Port Vila, Luganville and Malekula.  Coastal commercial  catches in 1999 are estimated to be about 230 t.

 Subsistence fishery landings, estimated at 2,700 t in 1999, occur throughout the archipelago roughly in proportion to the distribution of the coastal population. A small amount of the subsistence catch is transported to urban areas for sale.

Estimated landings by principal site (tonnes)


Coastal commercial



Port Vila




Luganville/ Santo
















Catches by foreign-based vessels were about 118 t in 2000. These fish are not landed in Vanuatu, but rather delivered to canneries in Levuka, Fiji and Pago Pago, American Samoa. 


 Broad objectives

The main objectives underlying fisheries development and management in Vanuatu, paraphrased from the Third National Development Plan, are:

  • to maximise the economic returns and other benefits from the exploitation of marine resources to the people of Vanuatu, particularly the indigenous population;

  • to promote the rational exploitation of marine resources while ensuring that they can be exploited in a sustainable manner over the long-term;

  • to promote and encourage the growth of the private sector;

  • to avoid development activities that imply an ongoing, recurrent cost to Government.

The following fisheries development and management objectives are taken from the Department of Fisheries’ 1997 draft Policy Statement:

  • to manage, develop and protect the nation’s fisheries resources and its marine, coastal and aquatic environments in such a way as to conserve and replenish them as an asset for future generations;

  • to utilise the nation’s fisheries resources in support of economic growth, social betterment, human resource development, employment creation and a sound ecological balance;

  • to pursue effective strategies, including the continued improvement of administrative and legal machinery, for managing fisheries resources and their exploitation;

  • to rationalise national planning, research, education, extension and monitoring capacity in regard to fisheries;

  • to increase access by fishing communities to the cash economy;

  • to improve Vanuatu’s nutritional standards by encouraging and managing subsistence and small-scale fisheries production;

  • to provide technical support to provincial and local government bodies, to the private sector, and to other agencies in the execution of fisheries projects.

The report of a review of the fisheries sector in Vanuatu by the Asian Development Bank in 2000 stated: “Apart from a series of brief statements relating to maximising economic development and promoting rational exploitation of marine resources mentioned in the Third National Development Plan, produced more than 10 years ago, there is no recent policy statement for fisheries”.

Overview of government management strategy

The government’s management strategy nominally consists of two major elements:   

  • For the commercial fisheries – the use of formal fisheries management plans;

  • For the subsistence and village based fisheries – devolution of management responsibility to local communities.

The Fisheries Act (1982) requires the Director of the Fisheries Department to prepare and keep under review, plans for the management and development of fisheries in Vanuatu waters. According to the law, each plan shall: (a) Identify the fishery and assess the present state of its exploitation; (b) specify the management and development measures to be taken; and (c) specify the licensing programme to be followed for each fishery, the limitation, if any, to be applied to local fishing operations and the amount of fishing, if any, to be allocated to locally based foreign fishing vessel.  The law also states that in preparation of each fishery management and development plan, the Director must consult with the local fishermen, local authorities, other persons, and government departments affected by the plan.

With respect to the existing status of fisheries management and development plans, the 2000 ADB fisheries sector review states: “To date, no fishery in the country has operated under a formal management plan.”  Subsequent to that review, a Vanuatu Tuna Management Plan was formulated using assistance from the Forum Fisheries Agency.

With respect to management strategy, an important shift in policy appears to have occurred recently. According to the 1999 Annual Report of the Fisheries Division, “the direction being taken by the Department, away from relentless pursuit of a narrow set economic development opportunities, and towards a broader range of both development and management activities”.  The report suggests that the broader range of activities should include greater emphasis on management of reef resources, rather than on commercial finfish fisheries.

Description of Main Management Systems for Major Fisheries

Tuna fisheries  

With the assistance of the Forum Fisheries Agency a Vanuatu tuna management plan was formulated.  The document “Republic of Vanuatu Tuna Management Plan – A National Policy for the Management of Tuna Fisheries” was produced in April 2000 and subsequently adopted by the government in 2001.

In the plan the management of tuna fisheries in Vanuatu covers:

  • All highly migratory tuna species including Albacore tuna, Yellowfin tuna, Bigeye tuna, and Skipjack.

  • All other species taken in the course of fishing for tuna.

With respect to the scope of the plan, it should be noted that the Tuna Management Plan covers all Vanuatu waters including the consideration of the area of the Vanuatu EEZ around Mathew and Hunter Islands1.  It also covers Vanuatu flagged tuna fishing vessels wherever they fish 2.

Several regional fisheries management arrangements to which Vanuatu is a signatory have implications for the management of tuna in Vanuatu:

  • Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions for Foreign Fishing Vessel Access;

  • Treaty on Fisheries Between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America;

  • Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region

Vanuatu is a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, but the convention is not yet in force, nor have the details of management mechanisms been articulated.

According to the tuna management plan, the objectives of tuna management in Vanuatu are:

  • To ensure that the exploitation of the tuna resources that are found in and pass through Vanuatu waters is compatible with the sustainability of the stocks throughout their range;

  • Within the limits of the sustainability objective, to ensure the harvest is taken in a way that maximizes the long term economic and social benefits received by the peoples of Vanuatu;

  • To contribute to the food security of Vanuatu people;

  • To meet regional and international responsibilities for tuna management.

The tuna management plan specifies a large number of strategies in four goal categories:


  • VMS on all foreign vessels (including carrier vessels) and larger local vessels;

  • Observer Programme;

  • Port Sampling Programme;

  • Active management of log sheet information;

  • Coordination with aerial and surface patrols;

  • Regular compilation and review of data;

  • Negotiation of MCS agreements with neighbouring countries;

  • Improved enforcement of terms and conditions.

Management tools:

  • Improvements to licensing system; categories, uniform terms and conditions;

  • Administrative procedures and requirements for monitoring and controlling Vanuatu flagged tuna vessels;

  • Actively participation in regional management. (MHLC for example);

  • Procedures to minimize environmental and social impacts.


  • An active Tuna Management Advisory Committee;

  • Creation of a Fisheries Management Account to implement “User Pays” system and ensure the necessary resources are available;

  • Increasing the capacity of Fisheries Department;

  • Cooperation and coordination between all agencies involved in enforcement;

  • Maintaining the Tuna Management Plan as a living document;

  • Support and input to the review of the Fisheries Act and implementation of required Regulations;

  • Resolution of EEZ boundaries.

  • Programme funded from fees and penalties that are part of the Tuna Management Plan;
  • Development of an FAD programme;
  • Expansion and clarification of duty exemptions;
  • Obtaining information and support for tuna fishery development;
  • Legislation to facilitate fish exports;
  • Vanuatu crew requirements in license terms and conditions;
  • Crew support and training programmes.

The tuna management plan indicates that, in comparison to the past management strategies, more emphasis is placed on improved monitoring, control, surveillance and licensing systems with a particular focus on foreign vessels; the management of Vanuatu flagged vessels; and strengthening linkages between organizations with common interests.

Management measures include:

  • A maximum number of licenses for the various tuna fishery categories: 100 tuna longline and 10 tuna purse seine licenses;

  • TACs for the major species of tuna taken in Vanuatu waters: 10,000 mt albacore, 3,000 mt yellowfin, 1,000 bigeye, 3,000 skipjack;

  • Certain areas are to be closed to fishing, including marine reserves and particular seamounts;

  • Prohibited gear types: Pelagic drift net fishing for tuna and tuna like species is not permitted.

It is premature to judge the effectiveness of the measures stipulated in the tuna management plan as the plan was formally adopted just s few months ago and it has not yet been fully implemented.  Specific measures, such as the licensing of foreign vessels and collection of access fees, have been in place for many years, albeit under a different licensing regime.  A review by the Asian Development Bank in 2000 of the licensing and fee situation associated with the Vanuatu tuna fishery suggested that the major bilateral licensing arrangement was deficient both in monetary and compliance terms.

The Fisheries Department, the Vanuatu Maritime Authority (VMA), the Police Maritime Wing, and the State Law Office all have enforcement responsibilities under the tuna management plan:

  • Fisheries Division is responsible for cross checking VMS and Telex reporting data provided by the Maritime Wing with log sheets to ensure compliance with reporting requirements and maintaining a database of total tuna catch and by-catch in Vanuatu waters;

  • VMA is responsible for all direct interactions with foreign flagged vessels operating outside of the Vanuatu EEZ including informing them when they are authorized to fish by Fisheries Department and maintaining a record of all Vanuatu flagged foreign tuna fishing vessels and their catches and activities;

  • Maritime Wing is responsible for operation and management of VMS, receipt and management of Telex reports and cross checking with VMS to make sure they are complete and accurate, operation of patrol boat and coordination of air and surface surveillance.

The roles of these various institutions are coordinated by a Tuna Management Advisory Committee (TMAC) chaired by the Director of the Fisheries Division.

With respect to the roles of major stakeholders in Vanuatu tuna fisheries, the Fisheries Act requires that management plans must be formulated with wide consultation including: local fishermen, local authorities, other persons affected by the plan, government ministries or departments affected by the plan; and fisheries management authorities of other states in the region sharing the same or interrelated stocks.   In the preparation of the Vanuatu Tuna Management Plan, there were numerous focus meetings, public meetings, and interviews with a wide range of concerned parties. The individuals consulted are listed in an appendix to the plan.

According to the tuna management plan, information for the management is acquired through:

  • The requirement for VMS on all foreign vessels and larger local vessels;

  • An active Observer Programme;

  • Port Sampling Programme;

  • Active management of log sheet information;

  • Coordination with aerial and surface patrols;

  • Regular compilation and review of data;

  • MCS agreements with neighbouring countries;

  • Improved enforcement of information aspects of bilateral licensing arrangements .

Subsistence fisheries

There is no single, well-articulated “management system” for the subsistence fisheries in Vanuatu. Because most of the management of subsistence fisheries in Vanuatu has a similar legal basis, uses similar types of interventions, and is constrained by many of the same factors, it could be categorized as a “system” for discussion purposes. 

The management system covers a vast array of marine resources. Research by the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Vanuatu in 1990 indicated 467 species of finfish in six major fish families: Pomacentridae, Scaridae, Labridae, Acanthuridae, Siganidae, and Chaetodontidae.   Research by ORSTOM in the 1980s on village-level fisheries in Vanuatu indicated that 43% of the marine inshore catch was finfish, 34% was shellfish, 21% was lobster, and 3% was octopus.

There are no bilateral or regional management arrangements in force with respect to the species covered by this fisheries management system.

Although there are general statements of government objectives in the management of inshore fisheries (see earlier section), because most of the inshore fisheries are managed by local communities, the de facto objectives set by the communities are the objectives that are the most relevant.   Given the many different culture groupings in Vanuatu, there are a variety of management systems and associated objectives.  It can be stated, however, that many of the systems’ objectives relate to safeguarding the fishery resources to enable them to continue their contribution to the local food supply.

In some respects, what could be termed the government management strategy is to have local communities and traditional authorities responsible for management, with technical guidance being provided by the Fisheries Department.  This management situation is described by Johannes (1994)3:  “Vanuatu’s Fisheries Department realizes that managing most of its coastal fisheries from Port Vila is impossible. The costs of research, monitoring, and enforcement, in the multitude of small fisheries associated with Vanuatu’s several hundred coastal villages would outweigh the benefits by several orders of magnitude. But the Department is beginning to play a vital indirect role in management by working in the villages to help combine local knowledge with modern research based knowledge to improve village based management.”

The specific management measures used by the large number of coastal communities vary from area to area, but many of the systems involve community leaders restricting access by outsiders, as well as various kinds of harvest bans (area, species, season) for residents.  Reduction fishing effort to prevent over-exploitation of resources is often, but not always, the intent of these measures 4.

Naviti and Aston (2000)5 indicate that traditional approaches to coral reef conservation in Vanuati have been supplemented by a range of measures introduced by government and NGOs, particularly marine protected areas They give 15 examples on 6 islands of marine protected areas established under customary tenure arrangements.  The stated management objectives for most of the areas is to “protect marine resources”.

With respect to the effectiveness of the measures, it appears that they work well where traditional tenure facilitates effective local control of fishing activities.  One study 6 indicated this traditional resources management is not effective unless (a) traditions remain strong, (b) immigration has not led to sectors of the population not responding to local institutions, (c) cosmopolitan influences are relatively weak, and local leaders are committed to resources management.   These conditions are usually not met in urban or peri-urban areas.   The general thinking among observers of the fisheries situation in Vanuatu is that the customary management of subsistence fisheries works better than the previous strategy consisting of well-intentioned but under-resourced central management efforts from the Fisheries Department.

Enforcement of customary management is generally carried out by the residents of the management area concerned. The enforcement is often more effective when directed at outsiders, as opposed to residents of the area concerned.  As customary management arises from within the communities, it is sensitive to local stakeholders concerns.  The degree of direct stakeholder input into management decisions can vary considerably between communities. Generally, information for management is acquired by direct observation of the abundance of the species concerned.  In villages where the Fisheries Department has had some presence, much technical information (e.g. spawning seasons, size at maturity, what management strategies have worked elsewhere) has been provided by Department staff.

Coastal commercial fisheries

As for the subsistence fisheries, there is no single, well-articulated “management system” for the coastal commercial fisheries in Vanuatu.  As there has been considerable efforts directed to management of these market-oriented fisheries, some discussion of the details is warranted.

The species covered by the “system” includes deep-bottom fish, reef and inshore pelagic fish, coconut crab, lobsters, trochus, green snail, beche-de-mer, and aquarium fish.  The harvested resources are for both local consumption and export. It has been estimated that shell represents 90 percent of total marine product exports from Vanuatu.

There are no bilateral or regional management arrangements in force with respect to the species covered by this fisheries management system.  The possible exception is that the giant clams are covered under schedule 2 of CITES, which requires the approval of government authorities in the country of origin in order to be imported into a CITES signatory country.

Although an articulation of the objective of management of the coastal commercial fisheries is not readily available, they appear to be the maximization of the economic returns and other benefits from the exploitation of marine resources to the people of Vanuatu, while ensuring that they can be exploited in a sustainable manner over the long-term.

Judging from past action and legal requirements, the strategies adopted by the Fisheries Department appear to consist of resource surveys, followed assessment of stock condition, formulation of management plans, and enforcement of the measures.  Where the resources are located in nearshore areas and are under the control of traditional authorities, there is the intention of having the management carried out by those authorities with technical input from the Fisheries Department, much as the situation for the subsistence fisheries.  For the exported marine products, especially shell products, there is a parallel strategy of controlling aspects of harvesting through the buyers.  For example, export size restrictions result in the buyers having little interest in purchasing under-size shells. 

An important aspect of the strategy is promoting awareness of management initiatives.  With the assistance of SPC, fisheries regulations have been translated into the national language and colour posters of species and size limits have been produced.  Awareness tours are also made by the Fisheries Department to many of Vanuatu’s coastal communities.

It should be noted that stock enhancement (i.e. placement of hatchery reared juveniles on the reef), primarily for the trochus and clam fisheries, is considered by the Fisheries Department to be a viable management strategy.

The national measures applied vary considerably according to the resource concerned. Examples of measures are as follows:

  • Trochus – minimum shell base diameter of 9 cm, restriction on the export of raw shell;

  • Green snail – minimum basal diameter of 15 cm, restriction on the export of raw shell;

  • Beche de mer – annual quota of 35 mt;

  • Coconut crabs – closed season and quotas (time and amount varies by area), minimum size limit of 9 cm carapace length, ban on taking crabs with eggs;

  • Lobsters - minimum size limit of 7.5 cm carapace length;

  • Shallow water reef fish – ban on capture using explosives and poisons;

  • Aquarium fish – requires permission of the Minister for export;

  • Giant clams – no specific domestic measures in place but covered by CITES.

In addition to these national measures, those commercial resources which are harvested in inshore areas under traditional management are sometimes subject to local measures.  Most often this consists of the closure of areas to harvesting activities, but also includes banning of particular gear types (e.g. gillnetting, spearfishing) and other measures.

With respect to the performance, it should be noted that there are major complications in the strategy/measures due to problems with:

  • Province jurisdiction - Provincial governments, having been granted administrative control over an area extending up to 6 nautical miles from shore, are assuming more involvement in fisheries administration, and this overlapping jurisdiction is causing considerable confusion for attempts at management by the Fisheries Department.

  • Management plans – although formal fisheries management plans are required by the Fisheries Act (1982), as of the end of 2001 only the management plan for the tuna fisheries has been formulated.

Jimmy (1995)7 reviews some of the problems with the management of Vanuatu’s commercial fisheries. He cites inefficiency of enforcement by the Fisheries Department, lack of information on harvested quantities, and outdated legislation.  Jimmy concludes that most of the resources are not being managed properly and others do not have legislation controlling their exploitation. On the other hand, management by communities appears more promising.  Naviti and Aston (2000) conclude that the capacity to manage and monitor the reefs at the national level is currently very limited, whereas management by local communities is more effective.

Under the Fisheries Act (1982) enforcement of national management measures is the responsibility of “authorized officers”, which is any fisheries officer, any police officer not below the rank of sergeant or any other Government officer designated by the Minister. In practice, enforcement is the responsibility of one officer based at Fisheries Department headquarters in Port Vila. Fifteen cases of violations were prepared for prosecution by the Fisheries Department in 1999, but none were prepared in 2000.

It is intended that information required for management decisions is obtained through periodic surveys and from reports on harvested quantities. In 1996 an FAO consultant9 reviewed the information available for management and concluded “An important source of information on which to base management decisions is statistical data on resource harvesting activities. However, this is an area of significant weakness in the Department. During the present study attempts were made to obtain up-to-date information on landings and exports of a range of species, but these were unavailable or, where available, were blatantly incorrect”. 

Fishery legislation  

The main legislation dealing with the management of fisheries in Vanuatu is the Fisheries Act (1982). The Act contains provisions concerning:

  • Fisheries management and development plans

  • Fishery access arrangement

  • Foreign fishing licenses

  • Stowage of fishing gear by foreign vessels

  • Minister’s power to enter into agreements or arrangements on harmonisation of licensing and enforcement

  • Regional register of foreign fishing vessels

  • Foreign investment in fisheries

  • Local fishing vessel licenses

  • Minister’s power to authorise scientific research operations

  • Applications for fishing licences

  • Minister’s power to refuse to issue or renew fishing licences

  • Conditions of fishing licences

  • Fees, royalties and other charges

  • Period of validity of fishing licences

  • Suspension and cancellation of fishing licences

  • Appeals against refusal to issue or renew, suspension and cancellation of fishing licences
  • Fishing for marine mammals prohibited in Vanuatu waters

  • Prohibition of use of explosives and poisons for fishing

  • Marine reserves

  • Licensing of fish export processing establishments

The Act was amended in 1989.  Changes include certain definitions (e.g. definition of a local fishing vessel), powers of the Minister to enter into foreign fishing agreements, and observers.

Other relevant instruments include the Decentralization and Local Government Regions Act (1994), laws relating to the issue of Business Licences (CAP 173), the Maritime Zones Act (1981) and various Land laws. There is no single document that brings together in one place all the various legislative provisions relating to fisheries.


There are no published estimates of the value of investments or subsidies in Vanuatu’s fisheries sector. 

Apart from infrastructure, the major government fisheries-related asset is the South Pacific Fishing Company longline base at Palekula, Espiritu Santo Island in the north of the group.  Originally established in 1957 with Japanese Mitsui & Company, the facility consisted of a main wharf, slipways, cold storage, two bait freezers, two quick-freeze rooms, unloading area, engine room, large brine block ice makers with crusher, a loading facility, housing and workshops. The facility closed in 1986 with the relocation of the longline fleet to Fiji and American Samoa.  Ownership was turned over to the government and there have been many attempts to revitalize the base in the past fifteen years but none have been successful.  The marine slipway was used until the late 1990s, but is now closed.

The major private sector investment in fisheries are the trochus processing facilities, aquarium fish holding facilities, and the sportfishing vessels. For the small-scale fisheries, the major investments are in skiffs, outboard engines, and fishing gear.  Outrigger canoes are commonly used for village level fishing.

With respect to subsidies, it should be mentioned that there is a scheme in which qualified fishermen are eligible for duty-free fuel, about 65% of the full commercial price.  It is doubtful that this could be considered a subsidy as this duty-free price is considerably more than the full commercial fuel price in neighboring countries.


Projections for the supply and demand for fish are unavailable for Vanuatu. Nevertheless, some crude estimates can be made by combining present fish consumption information with forecasts for population increases.

The population of Vanuatu in 1999 was 193,219.  Depending on migration and changes in fertility, the 2025 population is likely to be between 345,900 and 383,600.  Taking the midpoint, this would be 1.89 times the 1999 population.

There have been several attempts to calculate fish consumption in Vanuatu in recent years. These estimates have ranged from 15.9 to 25.7 kg per person per year.

If it is assumed that annual per capita consumption is 20.8 kg, then Vanuatu consumed about 4,000 mt of fish in 1999.  If the population expands 1.89 times between 1999 and 2025 as indicated above, and per capita fish consumption remains the same as in 1999, about 7,500 mt of fish will be required in 2025.


The Fisheries Department

Responsibility for the development and management of Vanuatu’s fisheries is vested in the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry and Fisheries. The Department is headed by the Director of Fisheries and has three main sections: (1) Resource Assessment, Management, and Computer Information; (2) Administration and Finance; and (3) Rural Fisheries Development Programme. In the mid-1990s a total of 29 staff were employed in the Fisheries Department. In 1999 the figure dropped to 15 permanent officers as a result of the government’s Comprehensive Reform Programme.  The Department is headquartered in Port Vila, the national capital, but has a major out-station and training centre in Luganville, on the island of Espiritu Santo, as well as extension officers in each of Vanuatu’s six provinces.

Other fisheries-related institutions

The Vanuatu Maritime Authority (VMA) is a new agency, established in 1999 under the Maritime Authority Act. The Authority oversees the operations of both the Vanuatu International Shipping Registry (VISR) and the domestic registry, and is ultimately responsible for issues relating to safety and Vanuatu’s compliance with international agreements on shipping and maritime affairs. VMA has fisheries management responsibilities under the tuna management plan. The Authority is based in Port Vila,  managed by the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs. It employs a handful of staff who carry out vessel inspections, manage the domestic shipping register, and liaise with VMSL in regard to management of the VISR.  As of September 2001 the VISR had 524 vessels of which 99 (18.9%) were fishing vessels

Governments of the six provinces of Vanuatu are becoming more involved in fisheries development and management. Several reviews have noted the limited staff and capacity to support this involvement.

The Vanuatu Fishermen’s Association is a grouping which represents mainly the interests of Vanuatu crew on foreign fishing vessels. 



The Mathew and Hunter area, disputed with New Caledonia, is about 190,00 sq km.

The Vanuatu International Shipping Registry as of September 2001 had 524 vessels of which 99 (18.9%) were fishing vessels. 

Johannes, R. (1994). Government –Supported, Village-Based Management of Marine Resources in Vanuatu. Report 94/2, Forum Fisheries Agency, Honiara.


Some reviews have noted that marking the death of a chief or a circumcision are the objectives of management interventions.


Naviti, W. and J.Aston (2000). Status of Coral Reef and Reef Fish Resources of Vanuatu. Regional Symposium on Coral Reefs in the Pacific, Noumea.


Whyte, J, B.Thaman, A.Tapisuwe, S.Siwatibau, B.Tamata, and J.Kalotap (1999). Community-Based Regimes for the Management of Marine Resources: Concepts Sustainability. FSPI Island Consulting, Port Vila, Vanuatu.


Jimmy, R. (1995). Current Management Policies and Problems of the Inshore Fisheries of Vanuatu. Workshop on the Management of South Pacific Inshore Fisheries, South Pacific Commission, Noumea.


Preston, G. (1996). Masterplan for the Sustainable Management and Development of Vanuatu’s Inshore Fisheries Resources. TCP/VAN/4552, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.