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Part I Overview and main indicators

  1. Country brief
  2. General geographic and economic indicators
  3. FAO Fisheries statistics

Part II Narrative (2017)

  1. Production sector
    • Marine sub-sector
      • Catch profile
      • Landing sites
      • Fishing practices/systems
      • Main resources
      • Management applied to main fisheries
      • Fishing communities
    • Inland sub-sector
    • Aquaculture sub-sector
    • Recreational sub-sector
  2. Post-harvest sector
    • Fish utilization
    • Fish markets
  3. Socio-economic contribution of the fishery sector
    • Role of fisheries in the national economy
    • Trade
    • Food security
    • Employment
    • Rural development
  4. Trends, issues and development
    • Constraints and opportunities
    • Government and non-government sector policies and development strategies
    • Research, education and training
      • Research
      • Education and training
    • Foreign aid
  5. Institutional framework
  6. Legal framework
  7. Annexes
  8. References

Additional information

  1. FAO Thematic data bases
  2. Publications
  3. Meetings & News archive

Part I Overview and main indicators

Part I of the Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profile is compiled using the most up-to-date information available from the FAO Country briefs and Statistics programmes at the time of publication. The Country Brief and the FAO Fisheries Statistics provided in Part I may, however, have been prepared at different times, which would explain any inconsistencies.

Country briefPrepared: June, 2018

Kiribati has a population of 114 400 in 2016, a land area of 810 km2, a coastline of 1 296 km and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 3.55 million km2. Fishing and seaweeds contribution to GDP in 2014 was estimated as USD 13.6 million, 8.6% national GDP. In 2015, the estimated exports of fish and fishery products were valued at USD121.4 million, with tuna as major species exported.

Total capture fisheries production was 63 000 tonnes in 2011 and 172 820 tonnes in 2016 marking a great increase in comparison to previous years. This was due to increased tuna catches which grew from representing 30% of total catch in 2005 to around 96 % in 2016. Subsistence and small-scale commercial fishing is conducted throughout the islands using traditional canoes driven by sail or paddle, from plywood canoes powered by outboard motor and from larger outboard-powered craft. In 2016, an estimated 5 000 people were engaged in marine fisheries, either full or part time. There is a great reliance on marine resources for livelihoods, government revenue, and especially nutrition. According to several sources, Kiribati has one of the highest per capita consumption of fish in the world. FAO estimate of per caput seafood consumption amounted to 76.3 kg in 2013.

Industrial scale of foreign flagged purse seine, longline, and pole-and-line vessels are operating within the Kiribati’s EEZ. Domestic industrial fishing activity in the country during the 1980s and early 1990s was dominated by Te Mautari Limited (TML), government-owned company established in 1981 to develop a pole-and-line tuna fishery in Kiribati’s EEZ.

Coastal fishing is primarily carried out for subsistence purposes and for sales in local markets. In addition, there are some coastal fisheries that are export oriented, mainly aquarium fish and beche de mer (sea cucumber). One of the most productive small-scale commercial fisheries in the Pacific Islands is the tuna troll fishery of Tarawa. The ark shell or blood cockle (Anadara maculosa) inhabits sandy lagoon floors and seagrass beds and supports a fishery of traditional importance in several atolls, including Tarawa.

Eucheuma seaweeds have been cultured in Kiribati since the early 1980s. Kiribati exports small quantities of dried seaweed, mainly from Tabuaeran and Christmas Islands, where it makes a useful addition to household incomes. FAO estimates Kiribati aquaculture production in 2016 to be of 2 tonnes of milkfish and 3 652 tonnes of Eucheuma seaweeds.

Kiribati is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and central Pacific Ocean. Kiribati is also a party to a number of treaties and agreements relating to the management of regional fisheries.
General geographic and economic indicators

Table 1 - General Geographic and Economic Data - Kiribati

Shelf area:

1 212km²

Sea Around US:


Length of continental coastline: 1 143km

World by Map

Fisheries GDP (2014): 8.6% National GDP

Gillet, 20161

(1) Gillett, R. D. Fisheries in the Economies of Pacific Island Countries and Territories. Pacific Community (SPC), 2016.*Value converted by FAO as per UN currency exchange rate

Key statistics

Country area810km2FAOSTAT. Expert sources from FAO (including other divisions), 2013
Land area810km2FAOSTAT. Expert sources from FAO (including other divisions), 2013
Inland water area0km2Computed. Calculated, 2013
Population - Est. & Proj.0.112millionsFAOSTAT. Official data, 2018
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) area3 455 259km2VLIZ

Source: FAO Country Profile

FAO Fisheries statistics

Table 2 in this section is based on statistics prepared by the FAO Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Unit and disseminated in 2017. The charts are based on the same source but these are automatically updated every year with the most recent statistics.

Table 2 — FAO fisheries statistics – Kiribati

      1980 1990 2000 2010 2014 2015 2016
EMPLOYMENT (thousands) 3.831 6.5 9.743 0.35
  Capture 3.831 6.5 9.743 0.35 ..
    Marine 3.831 6.5 9.743 0.35
FLEET(thousands vessels)
Source: FAO Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics
1) Due to roundings total may not sum up

Please Note:Fishery statistical data here presented exclude the production for marine mammals, crocodiles, corals, sponges, pearls, mother-of-pearl and aquatic plants.


Updated 2017Part II Narrative

Part II of the Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profile provides supplementary information that is based on national and other sources and that is valid at the time of compilation (see update year above). References to these sources are provided as far as possible.

Production sector

Kiribati comprises 33 islands, with a total land area of only 810 km2, located in one of the world’s largest exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of about 3.5 million km2. There are three main island groups: Gilbert Islands in the west, Phoenix Islands in the centre and Line Islands in the east. With more water area than land, the people of Kiribati (I-Kiribati) rely heavily on fishing activities for subsistence and commercial purposes.Kiribati’s fishery sector has two main categories: (1) coastal fisheries, which are subsistence and small-scale commercial – also known as artisanal – fisheries that occur in lagoons, reefs, reef slopes and nearshore ocean areas; and (2) offshore fisheries, which are the industrial-scale commercial tuna fisheries in offshore1 waters. Subsistence and small-scale commercial fishing is conducted throughout the islands using traditional canoes powered by sail or paddle, plywood canoes with outboard motors, and larger craft also powered by outboards. Small-scale commercial fishing is concentrated around Tarawa, where a sizable population, cash-oriented economy, and ice and cold-store facilities provide suitable market conditions. A large amount of tuna is captured by the industrial offshore fisheries, but the vast majority of the catch is taken by vessels based outside the country.

Kiribati’s small land area and poor soil limit agriculture production. There is heavy reliance on marine resources for livelihoods, government revenue and, especially, nutrition. By several estimates, Kiribati has the highest per capita consumption of fish of any country in the world. 
Fisheries statistics can be presented in different forms to cater for different purposes. In the statistics published by FAO (Part 1 of this profile), the presentation follows the international conventions and standards used by FAO and its Member States for reporting catches, which are given by the flag of the catching vessel. Accordingly, the fishery production of Kiribati in 2014 published by FAO (as given in Part 1) was 116 710 tonnes.

In Table 3 below, the Kiribati fishery production statistics are based on FAO reporting standards, including estimates of production from other sources. The production shown in the various categories is from “Kiribati-flagged vessels” including (a) small vessels operated by nationals (e.g. canoes and skiffs), and (b) some fishing activity that do not involve a vessel (e.g. reef gleaning). For the offshore category, this is defined as the catch from Kiribati-flagged, industrial-scale fishing operations that are carried out anywhere (i.e. inside or outside the Kiribati zone).

Table 3: Kiribati fisheries production (as per FAO reporting standards)

2014 Aquaculture Freshwater Coastal commercial Coastal subsistence Kiribati-flagged offshore
Volume (tonnes, and pieces where indicated) 255 tonnes and 8 642 pieces 0 7 600 11 400 124 2212
Value (USD)

237 506

0 15 459 836 16 259 016 n/a

The amounts of production given in Table 3 differ from those shown in Part 1. Table 3 consists of production estimated from a variety of sources (see SPC study in Table 4 below). The offshore category in Table 3 is derived from the report of the Kiribati Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development (MFMRD) to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

The fisheries statistics of Kiribati are presented in a different way in a recent study by the Pacific Community (SPC). Instead of catches given by the flag of the catching vessel (as in the FAO statistics in Part 1), the zone where the catch is made (the “offshore foreign-based” and “offshore locally based” columns in Table 4) is reported. These two different ways of allocating catch each have their purposes. Attribution by flag is important for consistency with international conventions, while attribution by zone is important for determining fishing contributions to GDP, and managing revenue from license fees for foreign fishing in a country’s zone. A summary of fishery production from the SPC study is given in Table 4 below.

Table 4: Estimates of Kiribati fisheries production

2014 Aquaculture Freshwater Coastal commercial Coastal subsistence Offshore locally Based3 Offshore foreign-based4
          Both Kiribati- and foreign-flagged vessels
Volume (tonnes and pieces) 255 tonnes and 8 642 pieces5 0 7 600 11 400 510 701 067
Value (USD)

237 506

0 15 459 836 16 259 016 3 606 557 1 111 106 457
(1) In this profile, “offshore” is defined as the area outside the zone normally frequented by small, usually undecked, coastal fishing vessels and is generally greater than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land.(2) This is the sum of Kiribati offshore tuna catches by vessel (gear) type, i.e. purse seine (123 068 tonnes), longline (913 tonnes) and pole-and-line (240 tonnes), reported by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development to the Scientific Committee of WCPFC in 2016 for the year 2014.

(3)In the SPC study “offshore locally based” is the catch in Kiribati waters from industrial-scale tuna fishing operations that are (a) based at a port in Kiribati, and (b) generally harvested more than 12 nautical miles offshore.

(4) “Offshore foreign-based” is the catch in Kiribati fisheries waters from catch from industrial-scale tuna fishing operations that are based at ports outside Kiribati. Under the international standardized System of National Accounts (SNA, 2009), those catches do not contribute to the GDP of Kiribati.

(5) The production of several important aquaculture products is measured in pieces rather than in weight.

Marine sub-sector

Catch profile

In 2014, Kiribati was considered the most productive tuna fishing EEZ in the western and central Pacific. A report on fishing license revenue by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MFED) and MFMRD showed that total annual offshore catches reached a record high of 725 854 tonnes in 2014 (MFED and MFMRD, 2015). This continued an increasing trend from previous years. Catches were dominated by skipjack in all years (Table 5).

Table 5: Total offshore annual catches by target species (tonnes), Kiribati, 2010–2014

Albacore1 3205731 2879201 644
Bigeye15 69329 46133 00526 87939 223
Skipjack167 294151 854406 876225 071572 217
Yellowfin49 00640 610123 04744 618112 770
Total233 313222 498564 214297 487725 8546

As is the case for other countries in the region, estimating the total catches for coastal fisheries in Kiribati has been difficult. There have been several attempts made in both past and recent years to consolidate information on coastal fisheries production (e.g. Dalzell et al., 1996; Gillett and Lightfoot, 2001; Preston, 2008; Gillett, 2009; Gillett, 2016). While coastal subsistence fishing has been predominant in the past, fishing has become more commercialized in recent years; Gillett (2016) has provided an estimate of production from coastal subsistence fisheries for 2014 of 11 440 tonnes valued at USD 16 259 016, and for coastal commercial fisheries of 7 600 tonnes valued at USD 15 459 836. The total number of coastal, artisanal fishing vessels during the same year was estimated to be 4 766 (MFMRD, 2015).

The main general trend in coastal fisheries appears to be the increasing exploitation of coastal resources, especially those close to urban markets. Gillett (2016) gathered findings from various sources and studies to report major influences affecting coastal fisheries in Kiribati in the last few years:

  • An overall increase of 90 percent in the number of boat-owning families from 2005 to 2010. All islands surveyed experienced an increase in the number of boat-owning households except South Tarawa.
  • A noticeable decrease in the fisheries production of Tarawa Lagoon, with a stark example being the ark shell (Anadara sp. – “te bun”). Campbell and Hanich (2014) report that in the early 1990s when harvestable quantities were high, commercial harvesters collected about 1 000 tonnes of clams annually around Tarawa. However, over-exploitation of the resource by both commercial and subsistence harvesting has led to collection levels of less than one-tenth their former size, as well as speculation that the fishery has almost collapsed.
  • Several studies have reported a decrease in the abundance of important coastal fisheries resources: Purcell et al. (2012) for beche-de-mer; Basabe (2012); MFMRD (2013) for aquarium fish on Christmas Island; and Siaosi (2012) for finfish on Abemama Atoll.
  • The trend of increasing commercialization of Kiribati coastal fisheries production, as previously noted by Gillett (2009), continues. An increasing number of islands have refrigeration enabling storage for local sale and shipment to Tarawa.
  • There has been some mention of the purchase of reef fish from outer islands for frozen export to mainland China. While this could be having a positive temporary impact on local livelihoods, it may jeopardize long-term, future food security.
  • According to data from the SPC PRISM website, the population of Kiribati increased 14.1 percent between 2007 (the focal year for the Gillett (2009) study) and 2014 (the focal year for the present study). The long-term trend of rural to urban (South Tarawa) migration has eased.
  • For artisanal tuna fisheries, there has been a decrease in the production of tuna and other pelagic species from trolling from small boats based in South Tarawa. One reason for this could be that the availability of reject fish from tuna transshipment operations in Tarawa Lagoon has driven a number of tuna trollers out of business.
(6) This value was sourced from the Forum Fisheries Agency and MFMRD. It differs slightly from the total value of offshore fisheries production from the SPC study (Table 4). All are estimates and subject to revision
Landing sites

The majority of Kiribati’s offshore catches are destined for export and thus are not landed but rather transshipped locally at three designated ports or at overseas ports. In 2014, 81 percent of catches caught by Kiribati-flagged purse seiners were transshipped in Kiribati as frozen tuna while the remainder were offloaded in other ports, mainly the Marshall Islands (MFMRD, 2015). In the same year, all pole-and-line catches were transshipped locally, while 90 percent of longline catches were transshipped in Samoa (MFMRD, 2015).

In 2012, the Kiribati Government also established a joint-venture tuna processing plant called Kiribati Fish Limited (KFL), based in Betio, Tarawa (MFMRD, 2015). Catches from the company’s vessels are landed and processed at the plant and destined for export to the US and Japan (MFMRD, 2015).

The catches from small-scale commercial fishing are mostly landed in South Tarawa, but much smaller quantities are landed at villages throughout Kiribati. Small-scale commercial landings at locations other than Tarawa have expanded in recent years due to increasing ice production in outer islands. Many islands have cold storage, enabling storage for local sale and shipment to Tarawa. Subsistence fishery landings occur at coastal villages throughout the country, roughly in proportion to the distribution of the population.
Fishing practices/systems

Kiribati’s offshore tuna fisheries include Kiribati-flagged vessels and foreign-flagged vessels, which comprise longline, purse-seine and pole-and-line vessels, with additional support vessels (bunkers and reefer carriers). In the period 2010–2014, offshore tuna catches were mainly caught by purse-seine vessels, which took up to 96 percent of total offshore catches (Table 6). It is presumed that good catches, particularly in 2014, were strongly influenced by El Niño conditions providing favourable fishing conditions (Gillett, 2016). To a certain extent, catch size was also influenced by the number of vessels licensed by Kiribati during the same period (Table 7). According to the Ministry’s annual report to the Scientific Committee of the WCPFC, Kiribati-flagged purse seiners in 2014 concentrated their fishing efforts in the Kiribati EEZ, with some effort expanded to other areas such as the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea and the high seas.

Table 6: Total offshore annual catches by gear (tonnes), Kiribati, 2010–2014

Gear 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Purse seine 209 010 197 759 537 613 280 120 697 176
Longline 11 145 12 137 16 324 11 942 24 046
Others* 13 159 12 602 10 277 5 425 4 632
Total 233 314 222 498 564 214 297 487 725 854

Table 7: Number of Kiribati offshore vessels7 by vessel/gear type, 2010–2014

Gear/vessel type 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Purse seine 6 7 9 13 14
Longline 1 1 4 7 6
Pole-and-line   1 1 1 1
Total 7 9 14 21 21
Source: MFMRD (2015)

Subsistence and small-scale artisanal fishing is conducted throughout the islands. The most common fishing location for fishing households is the lagoon, followed by the lagoon flat, reef flat and outer reef (NSO, 2016). Fishing vessels used include traditional canoes powered by sail or paddle, plywood canoes with outboard motors, and larger outboard-powered skiffs. The skiffs or craft used for artisanal tuna fishing are usually less than 7 m long with 15–40 horsepower engines (MFMRD, 2015). Canoes were the most common type of fishing boat owned by fishing households (NSO, 2016) (Table 8).

Table 8: Number of households and corresponding number and type of fishing boats owned in Kiribati, 2015

  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Not stated
Number of households 17 130 501 104 18 15 2 1 1
  Number of aluminium fishing boats owned
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Not stated
Number of households 17 016 698 41 7 7 1 1 1
  Number of fibreglass boats owned
  0 1 2 3 4 5    
Number of households 17 570 171 25 1 2 3    
  Number of canoes owned
  0 1 2 3 4      
Number of households 15 883 1 743 133 10 3      
  Number of double canoes (waa uoa) owned
  0 1 2 3  
Number of households 17 580 161 30 1  
  Number of other fishing boats owned
  0 1 2 3 5 Not stated  
Number of households 17 645 90 29 3 2 3  

Coastal fishing is by bottom handlining, trolling, pole-and-line fishing, mid-water handlining, spearing, trapping, netting and reef gleaning or collecting. According to the latest population census in 2015, the most common fishing method used by fishing households was net fishing (Table 9). Gillnets of various sizes are the most popular type of fishing nets used in the lagoon and reefs (Ram-Bidesi, 2011).

Table 9: Type of fishing methods used by fishing households in Kiribati, 2015

Fishing method Trolling Line fishing Net scooping Net fishing Collecting Spearing Other Total
Number of fishing households 758 2 193 532 5 849 1 233 1 111 520 12 196

(7) Reported by MFMRD as Kiribati-flagged fishing vessels that have been registered on the WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels to fish in the WCPFC area.
Main resources

Kiribati’s offshore fisheries target four main tuna species: skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), yellowfin (Thunnus albacares), bigeye (Thunnus obesus) and albacore (Thunnus alalunga). In 2014, total offshore catches were approximately 79 percent skipjack, 16 percent yellowfin, 5 percent bigeye and <1 percent albacore (MFED and MFMRD, 2015).

In terms of the status of the above resources in the region, recent information from the Scientific Committee of the WCPFC (WCPFC, 2016) shows that for:

  • skipjack the stock is currently only moderately exploited and fishing mortality levels are sustainable;
  • bigeye recent analysis indicates that overfishing is occurring for the bigeye tuna stock and that to reduce fishing mortality to that at maximum sustainable yield, a reduction in fishing is required;
  • yellowfin the current total biomass and spawning biomass are higher than at levels associated with maximum sustainable yields. Therefore, yellowfin tuna is not considered to be overfished;
  • South Pacific albacore there is no indication that current levels of catch are causing recruitment overfishing, particularly given the age selectivity of the fisheries. It should be noted that longline catch rates are declining, and catches over the last 10 years have been at historically high levels and are increasing.
Compared to offshore tuna fisheries, catch species in Kiribati’s coastal fisheries are diverse, but there is little quantitative stock assessment information available for these species.

Sullivan and Ram-Bidesi (2008) reported the main finfish species sold at the fish market and on the roadside in Tarawa (Table 10).

Table 10: Common fish species sold in South Tarawa, Kiribati

Local NameEnglish Common NameLatin Species Name
BokabokaLeatherjacket fishSiganus sp.
BaweRed-tail snapperLutjanus fulvus
OkaokaOrange-striped emperor fishLethrinus obsoletus
IkanibongPaddletail snapperLethrinus gibbus
MorikoiSpangled emperorLethrinus nebulosus
AtiSkipjackKatsuwonus pelamis
IngimeaYellowfin tunaThunnus albacares
IkariiBonefishAlbula glossodonta
Source: Sullivan and Ram-Bidesi (2008)
A more recent study by Campbell and Hanich (2014) also reported key artisanal and subsistence fishery species (Table 11).

Table 11: Key artisanal and subsistence coastal fishery species in Kiribati.

Offshore artisanalSkipjack tuna
 Yellowfin tuna
 Bigeye tuna
Coastal finfishShark
 Spangled emperor
 Flame angel
Coastal invertebratesSea cucumber (beche-de-mer)
 Ark shell
 Giant clams
 Pearl oyster
 Spider conch
 Spiny lobster
Source: Campbell and Hanich (2014)
Management applied to main fisheries

Offshore fisheries management
At the national level, the management measures for offshore fisheries fall within the mandate of the Kiribati National Tuna Development and Management Plan (2014–2017). Two out of the three goals of the plan have a direct focus on offshore tuna fisheries, i.e. to provide opportunities to harvest and process tuna, and to ensure proper conservation and protection of tuna resources. A Kiribati Shark Sanctuary was also established under the Shark Sanctuary Regulations 2015. It prohibits commercial fishing and finning of five species of shark within all Kiribati waters.

At the subregional level, Kiribati cooperates with other member countries of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which is described below (Box 1).

Box 1: Parties to the Nauru Agreement

The early history of the PNA is given by Tarte (2002):

In February 1982 the Nauru Agreement Concerning Cooperation in the Management of Fisheries of Common Interest was opened for signature. The Nauru Agreement had been negotiated by seven Pacific Island states – Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. This group of countries (later joined by Tuvalu) is known collectively as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). The conclusion of the Nauru Agreement marked the beginning of a new era in Pacific Island cooperation in the management of the region’s tuna stocks. It was an important milestone in the exercise of coastal states’ sovereign rights over their 200-mile EEZs. The PNA group accounts for much of the tuna catch in the Pacific Island region. In 1999, it produced 98 percent of the tuna catch taken from the EEZs of Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members; 70 percent came from three PNA members: PNG, FSM and Kiribati. The group also accounted for 94 percent of the access fees paid to FFA Pacific Island states. By controlling access to these fishing grounds, the PNA group collectively wields enormous influence and power.

The most important fishery management tool of the PNA is the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), which is described in Box 2.

Box 2: PNA Vessel Day Scheme

In 2000, a study suggested that the PNA purse-seine management scheme that was then based on vessel numbers be replaced by a scheme based on purse-seine fishing days. The transition was actually made seven years later. In 2007, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement began implementing the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), transitioning from permitting a total number of purse-seine vessels in the region (205) to permitting a total allowable effort (TAE) in number of purse-seine fishing days (44 703 for 2012; 44 890 days for 2016). Given the volume, value and multi-jurisdictional nature of the fishery, it is arguably one of the most complex fishery management arrangements ever put in place. Its key features are as follows:

  • System of tradable fishing effort (days) allocated to the eight Parties
  • Limit on total effort (TAE) ~ 45,000 days
  • TAE is allocated to Parties based on zonal biomass and historical effort as PAEs (Party Allowable Effort)
  • Fishing days are sold to fleets for fishing in each EEZ
  • Minimum benchmark price for VDS days sold to foreign vessels
  • Fishing days are monitored by satellite-based Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)
  • VMS monitoring is supported by observers on board all vessels
  • Days are tradable between Parties
  • Scheme costs are financed by levies on vessels

Due to the complicated nature of the new VDS system and the various constraints of the government fisheries agencies of the region (e.g. under-funded, under-staffed), it was expected there would be problems in the introduction of the scheme. This is not to say that the VDS has not produced substantial benefits for PNA countries. The system is creating competition for a limited number of days, thereby increasing the value of each day. In practice, the value of a fishing day before the VDS was roughly USD 1 350, but it increased to about USD 5 000 in July 2011 and days were being sold in 2016 for over USD 12 000.

On a different and less tangible level, another benefit is that the VDS moves fisheries management in the region to a desirable rights-based system. That is, fishing rights (such as vessel days) can be defined, allocated, and traded. Consistent with this transition to a rights-based approach, a VDS-style arrangement for management of the tropical longline fishery is being implemented by PNA.

Source: Havice (2013); Campling (2013); Gillett (2014); Clark & Clark (2014)

At the regional level, there has been, and continues to be, a large amount of regional cooperation in the management of Kiribati’s offshore fisheries. Kiribati is a member of the WCPFC, which was established by the 2004 Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. As a member of the Commission, Kiribati is obligated to comply with its conservation and management measures (CMMs). A management plan for fish aggregation devices (FADs) was also developed in 2014 under these measures to ensure sustainable FAD use by offshore fishing fleets. Kiribati participates at meetings of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which manages and controls tuna fisheries in the eastern Pacific (MFMRD, 2013). Kiribati is also a member of SPC, FFA and PNA. The management of the tuna fishery is mainly exercised through the PNA and its VDS (Box 2). In 2012 alone, Kiribati earned USD 60 million from implementing the VDS for purse-seine vessels fishing in its EEZ (MFMRD, 2013).

Coastal fisheries management

Some long-standing fisheries legislation related to coastal fisheries management still exists. It includes prohibitions on the use of explosives, poison or other noxious substances for killing, stunning, disabling or catching fish (Fisheries Ordinance 1977), protection of customary fishing rights (Fisheries Ordinance 1977) and designated ‘prohibited fishing areas’ in coastal areas (Prohibited Fishing Areas (Designation) Regulations 1978).

Preston (2008) reviewed coastal fisheries management in Kiribati and reported that coastal fisheries management was ineffective. Resource-specific regulations existed only for one species (rock lobster) and for bonefish on Christmas Island. There were no quotas and no limits on the number of licences issued, and only two formally established, local fishery management areas (in North Tarawa and on Christmas Island).

In recent years, with the intensifying impacts on Kiribati’s coastal resources, such as increasing population, immense fishing pressure, climate change and pollution, there has been a growing need to strengthen coastal fisheries management. Since 2014, there has been some progress in efforts to strengthen coastal fisheries management in Kiribati. Some recent efforts are highlighted below:
  • A Live Reef Fish Management Plan was developed by MFMRD and approved in February 2017. The plan sets out seasonal fishing closures (SFCs) for the commercial harvesting of seven species of groupers for the live reef fish trade. An Islands Total Catch of 77 100 kg of groupers has also been set as a national total allowable catch, which is then allocated to 14 islands as Island Grouper Entitlements. Other management measures in the plan include access and harvest controls (including licences), a minimum size limit, and prohibited fishing gear and methods.
  • The Community-based Fisheries Management (CBFM) project for Kiribati was initiated in 2014 to empower communities in managing their own coastal marine resources (Uriam, 2016). The approval of Island Councils8 was required to implement the project. In 2015, community-based fisheries management plans were developed for five pilot communities in Butaritari and North Tarawa. Management measures in the plans include establishing marine reserves and the banning of:
  • destructive fishing gear and practices
  • use of small-mesh-size nets and excessively long gillnets
  • splashing water using metal bars to scare fish and drive them towards nets (te ororo)
  • destroying corals to reach fish or octopus
  • fishing on spawning aggregations.
(8) Outer islands have Island Councils, which are composed of elected representatives from the islands’ villages.

Management objectives

Kiribati’s Fisheries Act 2010 provides general guidelines for fisheries management through the development of fisheries management plans with management objectives. However, it does not identify any specific management objectives.

Kiribati’s National Fisheries Policy covers five overarching goals and strategic objectives:
  • Contribute to economic growth and employment through sustainable fisheries, aquaculture and marine resources development.
  • Protect and secure food security and sustainable livelihoods for I-Kiribati.
  • Ensure long-term conservation of fisheries and marine ecosystems.
  • Strengthen good governance, with a particular focus on building the capacity of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development and relevant sectors to implement and support fisheries management, development and monitoring, control and surveillance.
  • Build climate change resilience for fisheries and marine resources in Kiribati.
An integrated fisheries master plan for Christmas Island was also developed with the assistance of SPC for the period 2014–2017 to improve management and sustainable development of the island’s fisheries. Its five main priority areas are coastal fisheries, offshore fisheries, aquaculture, tourism and environment.

Management measures and institutional arrangements

In Kiribati, the main institution involved with fishery management is the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development (MFMRD). The role of this agency is covered in more detail in section 8 below.
Fishing communities

The concept of “fishing communities” has limited applicability to Kiribati, as a majority of households in the country are involved in fishing activities. The Kiribati 2015 census found that a total of 12 196 households (67 percent of total households) had at least one member who fished regularly. The majority of these households fished for consumption purposes and were from South Tarawa and Betio. It could therefore be stated that all villages in Kiribati are “fishing communities”.
Inland sub-sector

There are no freshwater fisheries in Kiribati.
Aquaculture sub-sector

In the past, there have been attempts to culture a wide variety of aquatic species in Kiribati, including seaweed, brine shrimp, cockles, mojarra, mullet, pearl oyster, tilapia and giant clams. Currently, the only significant aquaculture production is milkfish, seaweed and giant clams (Gillett, 2016).

Recreational sub-sector

The only significant sport fishery in Kiribati is on Christmas Island. Overseas tourist anglers visit the island to fish for bonefish and, to a lesser extent, for large coastal pelagic species such as trevallies, wahoo, tunas and occasionally marlins. Christmas Island also attracts small numbers of divers. Tourists originate mainly from the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The sport fishery generates economic benefits for Christmas Island, with an estimated total economic benefit of USD 1.9 million per year (Campbell and Hanich, 2014). This is generated through sport-fishing licence fees, jobs for professional fishing guides, and tourist expenditure in island hotels. In the Line Islands, tourists from the United States primarily target bonefish and trevally (Campbell and Hanich, 2014).
Post-harvest sector

Fish utilization

The majority of Kiribati’s offshore tuna catches are not landed in the country but are destined for export for canning. Offshore fishing vessels either transship locally at three designated ports or at overseas ports. In 2014, 81 percent of catches caught by Kiribati-flagged purse seiners were transshipped in Kiribati as frozen tuna, while the remainder were offloaded in other ports, mainly the Marshall Islands (MFMRD, 2015). In the same year, all pole-and-line catches were transshipped locally, while 90 percent of longline catches were transshipped in Samoa (MFMRD, 2015).

Although there are several Kiribati-flagged purse seiners and longliners, they are not based in Kiribati. Longliners have been feeding fish into the tuna processing plant, Kiribati Fish Limited (KFL), in Tarawa since 2012. Processed tuna from this plant is mainly exported to the US and Japan (MFMRD, 2015).

In the outer islands, catches are mainly used for home consumption or shared. Some excess catch may be salted and dried for later consumption or sale. The Kiribati 2015 census reported that for those households engaged in fishing, 75 percent fished for home consumption only, 19 percent for both consumption and sale, and 4 percent for sale only. Many islands have cold storage, enabling storage for local sale and shipment to Tarawa. In the past, schemes to transport fish to urban markets have met with limited financial success due to the difficulties and cost of maintaining the infrastructure and transporting the product.
Fish markets

Catches taken by small-scale commercial fishers in South Tarawa are mainly sold on the roadside from insulated ice boxes. Some catches are disposed of through small commercial fish markets.
Socio-economic contribution of the fishery sector

Role of fisheries in the national economy

A recent study by SPC (Gillett, 2016) attempted to quantify the fishery-related benefits received by Kiribati. The study gave the available information on the contribution of fishing or fisheries to GDP, exports, government revenue and employment. With respect to estimates of the contribution of fishing to GDP:

  • the last official estimation of Kiribati’s GDP was done in 2012. Provisional estimates for 2014 found that fishing and seaweed made a contribution to GDP of USD 13.6 million, or 8.6 percent of the GDP of Kiribati;
  • in contrast, the contribution of fishing to Kiribati’s GDP was re-estimated using a different methodology by the SPC study in 2016 for the year 2014. It showed a contribution of USD 25.6 million or 16.2 percent of the GDP of Kiribati that year.

Since the introduction of the VDS, there has been a significant increase in total revenue collected by the Kiribati government from the fishing industry in the period 2009–2014 (MFED and MFMRD, 2015). In 2014, the total revenue earned from fishing licence fees alone was USD 116 million, which was 75 percent of total government revenue, exceeding its budget estimate by USD 84.9 million (Gillett, 2016). The total revenue from fishing licence revenue sources was USD 116 million, with transshipment fees being the second most important (unpublished MFED data from Gillett, 2016).

Gillett (2016) summarized Kiribati’s fishery exports from 2009 to 2014 from unpublished data from the Kiribati National Statistics Office:

  • In 2014, fish exports were the major type of commercial fishery export of the country, accounting for around USD 2.5 million in export value. It is unclear what proportion of fish exports are from coastal and offshore catches.
  • Other fishery export products include pet fish, shark fins, seaweed, giant clams and beche-de-mer.
  • Total fishery exports accounted for around 40 percent of total exports in 2014.

As reported in Part 1, FAO import/export data for 2014 show that the value of fishery product exports was USD 133 348 000 and imports were USD 705 000.
Food security


Some fisheries employment information is provided by Gillett (2016) based on the Kiribati 2010 census of population and housing (Table 12).

Table 12: Fisheries employment information by sex, age, and occupation

  Total Both sexes Male Female

Age →

Job category ↓

All 15-24 25-34 35-49 50+ 15-24 25-34 35-49 50+ 15-24 25-34 35-49 50+
Fishing guides 14 3 4 4 3 3 4 4 3 0 0 0 0
Seaweed farmers 126 38 27 44 17 22 18 29 11 16 9 15 6
Coastal fishers 2730 751 749 845 385 707 715 787 362 44 34 58 23
Other fisheries workers (Kereboki etc.) 152 37 49 43 23 31 39 27 12 6 10 16 11
Deep-sea fishers 122 30 34 45 13 29 32 42 12 1 2 3 1
Other fisheries workers 7 2 5 0 0 1 4 0 0 1 1 0 0
Fishery assistants 27 5 9 11 2 5 6 6 2 0 3 5 0
Total 3178 866 877 992 443 798 818 895 402 68 59 97 41
Source: Gillett (2016) from Kiribati 2010 census

A recent review by Gillett (2015) of employment opportunities for Kiribati offshore fishing crew members compared crew jobs between 1997 and 2014. The report found that the total number of jobs on offshore fleets declined by 15 percent. Only purse-seine jobs increased, while they decreased for longliners and pole-and-line vessels.
Rural development

Trends, issues and development

Constraints and opportunities

Major constraints for fisheries sector development include the following:
  • Many of the inshore fishery resources, especially those close to the urban markets, are fully or over-exploited.
  • Small-scale fishers have difficulties in economically accessing the relatively abundant offshore fishery resources.
  • There are difficulties associated with transporting and marketing fishery products from the remote areas where abundance is highest to the urban areas where marketing opportunities are greatest.
  • There is a lack of government orientation to the private sector, which is poorly developed.
  • For export fisheries, operating costs are relatively high compared to those in competing countries.
  • Purse-seine transshipments place substantial amounts of cheap fish on the Tarawa market, causing hardship for small-scale commercial tuna fishers.
Opportunities in the fisheries sector include:
  • increasing the effectiveness of the Fisheries Division by creating incentives to promote private sector development;
  • improving the sustainability of inshore fishery resources by more active management;
  • for industrial fishing, taking advantage of Kiribati’s strengths including: (1) proximity to very substantial tuna resources, (2) the abundant supply of highly productive, competitively priced labour, and (3) the availability of well-trained graduates from the Marine Training Centre.
Government and non-government sector policies and development strategies

As mentioned in Section 4.2.5, Kiribati’s National Fisheries Policy has five overarching goals and strategic objectives:
  • Contribute to economic growth and employment through sustainable fisheries, aquaculture and marine resources development.
  • Protect and secure food security and sustainable livelihoods for I-Kiribati.
  • Ensure long-term conservation of fisheries and marine ecosystems.
  • Strengthen good governance, with a particular focus on building the capacity of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development and relevant sectors to implement and support fisheries management, development and monitoring, control and surveillance.
  • Build climate change resilience for fisheries and marine resources in Kiribati.

Research, education and trainingResearch

The Fisheries Division, usually with the support of external donors or organizations, undertakes fisheries and aquaculture research in Kiribati. The objectives are typically to conduct research on marine resources that have potential for development and to coordinate collaborative research activities with regional research organizations. Recent research projects include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Regional tuna tagging programmes: Kiribati has continued to support SPC’s regional research on tuna resources, whereby a national tag recovery officer based in the country collects tuna tagging information received from observers and local fishers (MFMRD, 2015).
  • Kiribati is also one of the recipient countries of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) project, “Diversification of seaweed industries in Pacific Island countries”. This broadly includes biochemical research analysis of various seaweed products, such as Ulva sp., Acanthophora sp. and Kappaphycus sp.

Education and training

Education related to fisheries in Kiribati is undertaken in a variety of institutions:
  • Academic training in biological, economic and other aspects of fisheries is given at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, and to a lesser extent at universities in New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom.
  • Training courses, workshops and attachments are frequently organized by the regional organizations: SPC in New Caledonia and FFA in the Solomon Islands. The subject matter has included such diverse topics as fish-quality grading, stock assessment, seaweed culture, fisheries surveillance, and on-vessel observing.
  • Courses and workshop are also given by NGOs and bilateral donors.

Foreign aid

Bilateral programmes of technical cooperation, collaboration and assistance in fisheries have been provided by the Governments of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and USA, and by multilateral donors including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Asian Development Bank (ADB), FAO and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). Kiribati also enjoys technical assistance, or the channelling of multilateral donor assistance from various regional agencies including FFA, SPC and the University of the South Pacific (USP).

A few ongoing projects in 2017 with MFMRD include the second phase of the Community-based Fisheries Management project (partnered by the ministry, ACIAR, SPC, the University of Wollongong and WorldFish), improving community-based aquaculture, sea cucumber (sandfish) culture, sustainable coastal fisheries, maritime safety awareness and artisanal tuna data sampling (T. Teemari, personal communication, May 2017). Upcoming projects with the ministry include revitalizing milkfish pond farming in the outer islands, milkfish cage farming, and aluminium boat welding in South Tarawa (T. Teemari, personal communication, May 2017).
Institutional framework

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development (MFMRD) is the Kiribati Government agency responsible for developing and managing the nation’s fisheries as well as other marine resources (marine aggregates, deep-sea minerals). The ministry comprises Administration and Finance sections as well as the two main technical divisions, the Fisheries Division and Mineral Resources Division. The Coastal Fisheries Branch alone currently employs around 82 staff (T. Teemari, personal communication, May 2017).

The Fisheries Division comprises three technical branches:

  • The Oceanic Fisheries Branch, which deals with tuna fishery licensing and access arrangements, operation of the vessel monitoring system, deployment of observers and other relevant activities.
  • The Coastal Fisheries Branch, which deals with development and management of coastal and inshore fishery resources.
  • The Aquaculture Research and Development Branch. It was previously a section of the Coastal Fisheries Branch but is now separate under the current organizational structure.

Each branch is managed by a Principal Fisheries Officer, under the overall supervision of the Director of Fisheries. A separate unit of the division exists to deal with fishery issues in Christmas Island and the Line Islands, which administratively falls under the Aquaculture Research and Development Branch, along with the division’s extension and research vessel. A competent authority, the Kiribati Seafood Verification Agency (KSVA), was established to regulate and control fish processing establishments and make provision for the verification of all seafood exports (Campbell and Hanich, 2014). KSVA is a unit managed under the Coastal Fisheries Branch.
Several other institutions in Kiribati are considered fishery stakeholders, including government ministries and other agencies. Campbell and Hanich (2014) list the relevant ministries and agencies and summarize their involvement:

  • Eight government ministries have direct involvement in fisheries:
  • The Ministry of the Environment, Lands and Agriculture Development (MELAD) is responsible for evaluating the environmental impacts of marine resource export developments and is also concerned with the protection of subsistence fisheries, and the protection of marine habitats and marine life.
  • The Ministry of Communications, Transport and Tourism Development (MCTTD) maintains the register of the operators of vessels flying the Kiribati flag, including their nationality, and clearance of vessels entering port.
  • The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives (MCIC) is charged with evaluating foreign investment in the marine resources sector and local companies involved in marine product export, and with supporting private sector development.
  • The Ministry of Health regulates food safety and food imports, including fish.
  • The Ministry of Line and Phoenix Islands Development (MLPID) coordinates fishing activities in these islands.
  • The Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which houses the police and maritime services, plays an important role in fisheries compliance and enforcement.
  • The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MFED) houses fisheries statistics data, such as from the household income and expenditure survey and fisheries exports. It is also the recipient agency of the foreign fishing access fees.
  • The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) liaises with Island Councils on local fisheries bylaws and outer-island development activities.
  • Other agencies:
  • Civil organizations with involvement in fisheries are mostly active in Tarawa (Campbell and Hanich, 2014). They include the Betio Fishermen’s Association, Tarawa Fishermen’s Cooperative, and Nareau Tuna Boat Owners’ Association, which is an amalgamation of three former associations (Katonu Tuna Boat Owners’ Association, Causeway Tuna Association and Bonnano Tuna Association (Campbell and Hanich, 2014).

The major regional institutions involved with fisheries in Kiribati are FFA (Honiara) and SPC (Noumea). Other players are the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Office in Majuro, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) in Suva, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Apia, and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva. The various characteristics of those institutions are given in Table 13.

Table 13: Pacific Island regional organizations involved in fisheries

  FFA SPC Other regional organizations with fishery involvement
Main area of emphasis Providing management advice on tuna fisheries and increasing benefits to Pacific Island countries from tuna fishing activities. Most aspects of coastal fisheries and scientific research on tuna. Fisheries are only one aspect of SPC’s work programme, which also covers such issues as health, demography, and agriculture.

PNA – subregional grouping of countries where most of the purse seining occurs;

SPREP – environmental aspects of fisheries;

USP – School of Marine Studies (SMS) is involved in a wide range of training;

PIFS – major political initiatives, some natural resource economics; leads trade negotiations with EU, which have a major fisheries component.

Inter-regional relationships

The FFA/SPC relationship has had ups/downs over the years. It has been most difficult in early 1990s, tremendous improvement in mid/late 1990s.

An annual colloquium has helped the relationship. The staff who have moved between the two organizations have made a noticeable improvement in understanding.

Much of the success/benefits achieved by FFA/SPC cooperation depends on the personalities of FFA’s Director/Deputy and SPC’s Director of the Division of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems.

At least in theory, all regional organizations come under the umbrella of PIFS. Their activities are coordinated to some degree by the Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific (CROP), which has a Marine Sector Working Group that meets at least once per year, but is limited by lack of resources for follow-up.

FFA originally provided secretariat services to the PNA, but the PNA broke away from FFA in 2010. Currently, there are some sensitivities in the relationship – but it appears to be improving.

Main strengths Direct contact with its governing body many times per year results in a high degree of accountability. Mandate of tight focus on tuna eliminates considerable dissipation of effort. Noumea being a pleasant place to work, there is considerable staff continuity. The Oceanic Fisheries Programme often sets the standard for tuna research in the world. Documentation of work is very good.

Because PIFS is under the national leaders, it is considered the premier regional organization.

PNA has achieved considerable success and credibility in such areas as raising access fees, 100 percent observer coverage, eco-certification, high seas closures, and controls on FADs.

USP is centrally located in the region and its SMS has substantial infrastructure.

SPREP has close ties to NGOs active in the marine sector.

Membership Australia and New Zealand, plus Cook Is., FSM, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Is., Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Is., Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu Includes the major metropolitan countries, all Pacific Island countries, and the French/UK/US territories; the most inclusive of any regional organization.

PNA: FSM, Kiribati, Marshall Is., Nauru, Palau, PNG, Solomon Is. and Tuvalu.

USP: Cook Is., Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Is., Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Is., Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

SPREP: 21 Pacific Island countries and territories, plus Australia, France, New Zealand and USA.

PIFS: same as FFA

Source: Adapted from Gillett (2014)

The Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean entered into force in June 2004 and established the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Kiribati is a member of the commission, along with 26 other countries. The WCPFC has its headquarters in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, and has held 13 annual meetings to date.

Legal framework

The main fisheries law of Kiribati is the Fisheries Act. The current (2010) Act’s purpose is to make provision for the promotion and regulation of fishing and fishing industries in Kiribati and its fishery limits.

Important aspects of the Act are as follows:

  • The Minister is empowered to appoint a Director of Fisheries and any other fisheries officers and licensing officers the Minister considers necessary for the Act.
  • The President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet, has wide powers to make regulations relating, inter alia, to the licensing of foreign fishing vessels, the conditions to be observed by foreign fishing vessels, the conservation and protection of all species of fish, prohibited fishing gear and methods, and the organization and regulation of marketing, distribution and export from Kiribati of fish and fish products.
  • There is provision for fishery management plans.
  • A regulatory framework for the operation of fish processing establishments is created.
  • There is provision for prohibiting the taking of fish in any sea or lagoon area or on any reef forming part of the ancient customary fishing ground of the people, except by members of the concerned group or under a licence granted at the discretion of the Minister.
  • There is a prohibition on the use of explosives, poisons and noxious substances for the purpose of catching fish.
The Act has been amended several times. The most recent amendment was made in 2009 to take away the discretionary power of the Court to forfeit a vessel or its catch, gear, instruments or appliances, equipment, stores and cargo when found guilty of breaching the provisions of the Fisheries Ordinance.

Other legal instruments relevant to fisheries include:

  • the Marine Zones (Declaration) Act 2011, which defines and establishes internal waters, the archipelagic waters, the contiguous zone, the territorial sea, the 200-nautical mile EEZ and the continental shelf of Kiribati;
  • the Fisheries (Pacific Island Parties’ Treaty with the United States of America) Act 1988, which implements the Treaty on Fisheries between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America.
  • the Native Lands Code, which gives legal recognition to ownership of fish traps, reefs and fish ponds;
  • rules concerning fishery practices declared by many of the Island Councils throughout Kiribati.
Several fisheries regulations have been promulgated under the Fisheries Act, although the majority are long-standing, e.g. the Prohibited Fishing Areas (Designation) Regulations 1978, Fisheries Conservation and Protection (Rock Lobsters – Panulirus species) Regulations 1979, Fisheries (Processing and Export) Regulations 1981, Fisheries (Vessel Licences) Regulation 1982, and the Shark Sanctuary Regulations 2015.More information on Kiribati’s fisheries legislation can be found on the FAOLEX database (http://www.fao.org/faolex/country-profiles/general-profile/en/?iso3=KIR).

Map courtesy of SPC


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