The designations employed and the presentation of material in the map(s) are for illustration only and do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO concerning the legal or constitutional status of any country, territory or sea area, or concerning the delimitation of frontiers or boundaries.
⇧Part I Statistics and main indicators
This section provides statistics and indicators produced through FAO’s Statistics programmes, available by the year reported for the narrative section.
General geographic and economic indicators
Table 1 – General geographic and economic data – Marshall Islands
(1) Source: EPPSO (2008). Statistical Tables. Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office, Majuro.
(2) GDP estimates are not available for the agriculture sector, but rather for “copra production”, “subsistence”, and “other”. Source: EPPSO (2008). Statistical Tables. Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office, Majuro.
(3) This is the official contribution from EPPSO (2008) – which omits subsistence fishing and small-scale commercial fishing
(4) Re-calculation of fishing contribution to GDP; From Gillett, R. (2009). The Contribution of Fisheries to the Economies of Pacific Island Countries and Territories. Pacific Studies Series, Asian Development Bank, Manila.
FAO Fisheries statistics
Table 2a – Fisheries data (i) - Marshall Islands
Table 2b – Fisheries data (ii) - Marshall Islands
(5) Data from FAO food balance sheet of fish and fishery products (in live weight)
(6) Corrected to reflect actual supply
(7) Source: EPPSO (2008b). Preliminary Employment Statistics for Fiscal Year 2007. Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office, Office of the President, Majuro, Marshall Islands. Note: The cited number of jobs is likely to be a large under-estimate as it is based on social security records and therefore omits employment in small-scale commercial fishing
(8) From Gillett (2009); includes the six fishery production categories: (1) coastal commercial fishing, (2) coastal subsistence fishing, (3) locally-based offshore fishing, (4) foreign-based offshore fishing, (5) freshwater fishing, and (6) aquaculture
(9) Source: www.intracen.org/appli1/TradeCom/TP_TP_CI.aspx?RP=584&YR=2002
Updated 2009⇧Part II Narrative
This section provides supplementary information based on national and other sources and valid at the time of compilation. References to these sources are provided as far as possible.
Production sectorThe Republic of the Marshall Islands consists of an archipelago of 29 atolls and five low coral islands. The two island chains, the eastern Ratak (Sunrise) and western Ralik (Sunset) lie 129 miles apart in a northwest to southeast orientation. Nineteen atolls and four islands are inhabited.
Fish has historically been an important component of the diet of Marshall Islands residents. Although imported food has gained importance since the 1960s, the consumption of fish remains substantial – and is critically important in the outer islands. The money obtained from licensing foreign fishing vessels to operate in the Marshall Islands zone forms a large component of government revenue. Employment related to servicing fishing vessels and processing fish has become significant in the last decade.
The country’s fisheries can be placed into six categories. These categories and the associated production in 2007 are:
Table 3 – Fisheries production by category - Marshall Islands
Main trends and important issues in the fisheries sector The main trends in the fisheries sector include:
(10) This is the catch in the Marshall Islands zone by vessels based outside the country.
(11)The important aquaculture products, black pearls and giant clams, are measured in pieces rather than in weight.Marine sub-sectorThe marine fisheries have two very distinct components, offshore and coastal:
There is much inter-annual variation in the amount of tuna captured by purse seine gear in RMI. A climatic event known as El Niño tends to move the fishery to the east of the Marshall Islands zone.
There is considerable uncertainty concerning the levels of catches from the coastal fisheries. Available information on which estimates could be based includes records of government fish purchases in the outer islands, a household income and expenditure survey in 2002, some specialized fisheries surveys, and data on the exports of fishery products. Using these sources, the production from coastal subsistence fishing is likely to be about 2 800 tonnes and from coastal commercial fishing about 950 tonnes. The latter consist of both food items (e.g. finfish) for domestic consumption and non-food commodities (e.g. trochus, aquarium fish, coral) for export.Landing sitesLocally-based longline vessels unload their catch in Majuro, the capital and largest urban area. Locally-based purse seine vessels transship in Majuro or a port outside the country. Some purse seined tuna is offloaded for processing in Majuro. The foreign-based offshore vessels dispose of their catch either at their home port (mainly in Asia), or is transshipped at Majuro or a port outside the country.
Most coastal commercial catches are landed at the islands which have urban areas: Majuro and Kwajalein. In addition, the government purchases fish in some of the outer islands for transport for sale in urban areas. The outer islands where such purchasing occurs include Arno, Jaluit, Maloelap, Aur, Ailinglaplap, Namu, Likiep and Ailuk.
Subsistence fishery landings occur at villages throughout the coastal areas of the country, roughly in proportion to the distribution of the population.Fishing practices/systemsIn the offshore fisheries of the Marshall Islands:
The two most important non-food fisheries in the country are those for aquarium fish and for trochus:
The Arno Atoll Fisheries Development Project was established in 1989 to develop small-scale coastal commercial fishing in the Marshall Islands. Catches made by the project could be considered indicative of generalized small-scale commercial fishing in the country. The table shows the 15 most important finfish and 10 most important invertebrates landed by the project in recent years.
Table 4 - Important species captured by the Arno Atoll Fisheries Development Project*- Marshall Islands
With respect to export-oriented coastal commercial fishing:
(12) MIMRA (2008). Marshall Islands Tuna Fisheries. Working Paper 16, Fourth Regular Session, Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, 11-22 August 2008, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Management applied to main fisheriesManagement Objectives
The Marine Resources Act, Republic of the Marshall Islands, has a section titled “Objectives and purposes for fisheries management and development”. That section states:
The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority shall take into account the following objectives and purposes [in making] management decisions, including the approval of fisheries management and development plans in accordance with this Act: a) establish priorities for the utilization of the fisheries resources which will provide the greatest overall benefits to the country; (b) ensure the proper conservation of the fishery resource through the prevention of overfishing and the taking of a precautionary approach toward harvesting when information and data about the fishery resource are lacking; (c) base management practices on sound management principles and the best scientific information available, to be gained through national and international research programmes; (d) minimize, to the extent practicable, fishing gear conflicts among users; and (e) develop the fisheries sector in accordance with the best interests of the country.
MIMRA (2009)13 indicates that fishery management objectives of the Marshall Islands are “to support responsible, sustainable fisheries development; and to ensure the preservation of coastal, reef and lagoon resources primarily for nutrition, food security and small-scale sustainable income earning opportunities for the community.” With respect to the tuna fisheries, the document states that the objectives are to improve economic benefit from the fisheries sector within sustainable limits; to promote responsible and sustainable private sector led fisheries developments; and to strengthen institutional capacity to facilitate the responsible development and management of the nation’s fisheries resources.
Measures and institutional arrangements
The management measures for the offshore fisheries of the Marshall Islands are detailed in the “The Marshall Islands Tuna Management and Development Plan”. The two main measures are: (a) a longline licence limit of 65 annual licences to attain bigeye conservation objectives, and (b) unspecified mechanisms for “Reduction of foreign fishing effort to allow for the expansion of domestic fleets”. In addition to the measures documented in the plan, there is also a sub-regional measure that is used by the Marshall Islands and other Pacific Island countries that have a significant amount of tuna purse seine activity: a limitation on purse seine effort in the form of a maximum number of purse seine fishing days in each country.
The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) has the institutional responsibility for offshore fishery management. The Authority formulates and implements management measures as per the Marine Resources Act, Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Management measures for coastal fisheries are not well documented. Although MIMRA responsibilities include coastal fisheries management, the Authority’s current interventions in coastal fisheries are largely oriented to assistance with developing resource management institutional arrangements in the outer atolls, and with fish transporting and marketing arrangements. In practice, the authority for fisheries management is devolved to local island governments. Management measures vary considerably between islands, from virtually no measures to various types of bans. Perhaps the best known ban is the prohibition of taking trochus except during short open seasons.
According to the Marshall Islands mariculture development plan14, a number of outer island communities are now working actively to develop community-based fisheries management plans and establish Marine Protected Areas to protect their marine resources, fish stocks and fish habitats. Key components of these efforts are new initiatives to develop alternative sources of income.
Beger et al. (2008)15 state that marine fisheries management in the RMI was traditionally accomplished at the direction of local chiefs, but this has changed dramatically over the years. One important traditional fisheries management tool implemented by chiefs was the establishment of a “mo”. A mo, like a modern marine reserve, was essentially a spatial management tool that instituted taboos against fishing in particular areas in order to conserve food resources and for the community to live in harmony with the environment. The rules and regulations for mo varied across the archipelago and would often involve rituals and chants. There was the belief that failure to observe the mo could have significant negative consequences, such as a bad storm for the homeward journey or a tragic accident for a member of the visiting party. Other methods for conserving natural resources included seasonal harvesting of different species and other restrictions.
(13) MIMRA (2009). The Marshall Islands Tuna Management and Development Plan (2009-2011). The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, Majuro.
(14) Policies and Priority Actions for Sustainable Mariculture Development in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (2004). The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, Majuro.
(15) Beger, M. D. Jacobson, and S. Pinca (2008). The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In: The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 73.Fishing communitiesThe concept of “fishermen communities” is not very relevant to the Marshall Islands. Those individuals that are involved in the offshore fisheries do not live in separate communities, but rather are widely dispersed around where the vessels are based, the Majuro urban area. Coastal commercial fishers are found mostly in the two urban areas, but they do not reside in specific communities. Nearly all households in coastal villages are involved in coastal fishing activities. It could therefore be stated that all non-urban communities in the Marshall Islands are ‘fishing communities’. Inland sub-sectorThere are no inland fisheries in the Marshall Islands.Aquaculture sub-sector Anon. (2004) emphasizes the major aspects of past aquaculture in the country. These include:
Table 5 - Aquaculture operations in the Marshall Islands
A recent study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB, Gillett 2009) states that in the Marshall Islands in recent years there have been two types of aquaculture with significant production, namely giant clams and black pearls:
(16) Anon (2004). Policies and Priority Actions for Sustainable Mariculture Development in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, Majuro.Recreational sub-sectorAlthough subsistence fishing may have a large social component and be enjoyed by the participants, there is little recreational fishing in the village as a leisure activity. In Majuro and Kwajalein there is some sportfishing (mainly offshore trolling). One hotel/retail company operates a sport charter vessel. The Marshall’s Billfish Club holds an annual fishing tournament (the 2008 tournament was the 26th yearly event), and several “mini-tournaments”. These competitions have prize categories for billfish, tuna, wahoo, barracuda, and bottomfish.
Post-harvest sectorOffshore fishing in the Marshall Islands is export oriented. In general terms, the purse seine catch (almost all tuna) targets canning, while the longline catch targets the Japanese sashimi market. The longline bycatch from locally-based vessels is mostly sold in Majuro, with some being exported frozen or dried to Asia. The retained bycatch of foreign-based longliners is mostly sold in the home ports of those vessels.
The subsistence catch is largely for domestic consumption in the outer islands. Most of the coastal commercial food catch is for sale in the Majuro and Kwajalein urban areas. The exports from coastal commercial fisheries are primarily non-food, with the aquarium fish and coral for USA markets and the trochus for button factories in Asia and Europe. The major food fish exports are the shipments of fish taken as personal baggage on regular commercial flights to Honolulu, Hawaii.
Socio-economic contribution of the fishery sectorRole of fisheries in the national economyA recent study by the Asian Development Bank attempted to quantify the fishery-related benefits received by the Marshall Islands in various categories. The study gave the available information (focused on 2007) on the contribution of fishing/fisheries to GDP, exports, government revenue, and employment. The results can be summarized as:
The government has several strategies to increase the national fish supply. These involve facilitating private sector growth, promotion of aquaculture, and supporting the marketing of fishery products landed in the non-urban parts of the country.
Major factors affecting the local supply of fish are over-fishing near urban areas, transport links to the outer islands, marketing assistance/subsidies, and the production of non-export grades of fish by the offshore fleet.
The annual per capita consumption of fish in the Marshall Islands, based on the 2005 FAO Food Balance Sheet, is 11.7 kg. Various other studies have made estimates ranging between 38.9 and 59.0 kg. Considering the population of the Marshall Islands, 30 kg of fish consumption per capita translates into a 2010 demand for about 1 600 tonnes of fish.
Factors influencing the future demand for fish are a rising population, the price of fish,the relative cost of fish substitutes, the remittances from relatives in the USA, and the payments by the Government of the USA to the Marshall Islands.TradeThe International Trade Centre has an export database derived from mirror data (partner countries trade data). The ITC data for the fishery exports of the Marshall Islands are given in the table.
Table 6 - Marshall Islands export data from ITC (USD thousands)
With exports from coastal fisheries and aquaculture amounting to less than one million dollars, the vast majority of fishery exports of the country are from the offshore fisheries.Food securityAlthough the national per capita fish consumption in the Marshall Islands is not high in relation to neighbouring countries, fish is important in food security. This is because the presently abundant imported food is subject to shocks (e.g. changes in levels of payments by the government of the USA). Another reason is that the most vulnerable communities in the country are those in the outer islands – and they are highly dependent on fish for daily nutrition. For example, a study carried out in 2002 by McCoy and Hart (2002) shows that the annual per capita consumption of “local marine animals” by the 1 915 people on Ailinglaplap Atoll in 2001 was 42.3 kg. It also should be noted that the Marshall Islands atoll environment is not favourable for raising protein alternatives, such as poultry or livestock.EmploymentIn early 2008 the Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office carried out an employment survey in the country17. The survey obtained data from Social Security records “plus EPPSO non-reported estimates”. The results showed that in 2007 there were 281 people with jobs in fishing out of a total of 10 149 jobs in the country (i.e., fishing provided 2.8 percent of the jobs). It should be noted, however, that there is likely to be a significant number of people employed in fisheries jobs that do not make Social Security contributions. The accuracy of “EPPSO non-reported estimates” for these people not captured by the Social Security system is unknown, but seems very low.
An Asian Development Bank study tracked the number of jobs related to tuna fisheries (fishing and post-harvest) over a seven-year period:
Table 7 - Employment in the tuna fisheries of the Marshall Islands*
(17) EPPSO (2008). Preliminary Employment Statistics for Fiscal Year 2007. Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office, Office of the President, Majuro, Marshall Islands. Rural developmentAn important aspect of the government’s fishery development programme is to enhance the livelihoods of fishers in the more isolated parts of the country. The main strategy for doing this is through support to transporting and marketing fish from those areas in the urban areas of Majuro and Kwajalein.
The three latest Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority annual reports (MIMRA 2008, 2007, 2006) give the amounts of fish purchased by the Authority in the outer islands. During the three-year period MIMRA purchased annually an average of 32.6 tonnes of fish for USD 60 784.
Aquaculture development is also associated with rural development. In 2003, the Marshall Islands Mariculture Working Group and Steering Committee formulated a vision for sustainable aquaculture in the country. That vision included “Outer island aquaculture production that links with operations and transportation systems in Majuro”.
Trends, issues and developmentConstraints and opportunitiesSome of the major constraints of the fisheries sector are:
This change to MIMRA resulted in a number of changes to the fisheries development environment in the country. One of the most significant policy-promoted changes is described by ADB (2005)19:
The government embraced an approach to the fisheries sector that went well beyond licensing of foreign vessels. It encouraged spending by foreign fishing boats in the local economy and prioritized establishing onshore fish processing and other support facilities. Taking a global view of the fishing industry, the Marshall Islands formed pragmatic alliances with fishing states and worked with them to improve their financial performance. Instead of trying to displace private sector participants on a small scale, the policy environment favored working with them and attracting investments in service and support activities on a larger scale. The Government, once the driving force behind the domestic fisheries industry, accepted a facilitating and regulatory role.
The development of small-scale fisheries in the Marshall Islands is closely tied to Japanese government aid. The first rural fishing centre, with boats and gear, was established by Japan on Arno in 1989. Freezers, an ice plant and other infrastructure were added in the early 1990s. About this time, Japanese aid was also used to build a MIMRA dock and processing facility for coastal fisheries. MIMRA’s Coastal Fisheries Division has an outer-islands fishing project that collects and helps market fish through two markets and seven fish bases, with assistance from Japan. (Barclay and Cartwright 2006)20.
(18) Source: Stanley, J. (2005). Fishery policy in the Marshall Islands. FAO/FishCode Review. No. 15. Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome.
(19) Source: ADB (2005). Pacific Progress - Asian Development Bank Success Stories in the Pacific Islands. Asian Development Bank, Manila.
(20) Barclay, K. and I. Cartwright (2006). Capturing Wealth from Tuna: Key Issues for Pacific Island Countries. Australian National University.Research, education and trainingResearchThe latest annual report of MIMRA indicates the following research activities21:
Much of the research on the offshore fisheries resources is carried out in cooperation with the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. This has included both national work (e.g. a tuna resource assessment of the Marshall Islands) and work in the Marshall Islands that feeds into regional tuna research (e.g. length frequency sampling of tuna in Majuro).
Fishery resource profiles prepared by the Forum Fisheries Agency23 in 1992 summarize much of the older research carried out on 27 categories of fisheries resources (e.g. trochus, clams).
(21) Source: MIMRA (2008) Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Annual Report 2006/2007. Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, Majuro.
(22) Beger, M. D. Jacobson, and S. Pinca (2008). The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In: The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 73.
(23) Source: Smith, A. (1992). Republic of the Marshall Islands: Marine Resources Profiles. Honiara: FFA Report 92/78, Forum Fisheries Agency, 90 pp, 108 pEducation and trainingEducation related to fisheries in the Marshall Islands is undertaken in a variety of institutions:
The Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation (OFCF) began the current series of fisheries projects in 1992. Assistance has ranged from repairs and restoration of fisheries related facilities to skills, technology and knowledge being transferred. Each year, during the annual OFCF Japan/Pacific Island Nations Fisheries Directors Meeting on Fisheries Cooperation, OFCF receives requests from each country for projects. After conducting field surveys and consultation with each government, the scope of the projects are developed followed by a drafting and signing of the Memorandum of Understanding and Implementation Plan. Recent projects implemented in the Marshall Islands include:
The regional organizations serving Pacific Island countries, including the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the Forum Secretariat, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, have also been active in supporting the Marshall Islands’ fisheries sector.
Institutional frameworkThe Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority was established under the MIMRA Act 1988. MIMRA is the primary agency responsible for exploration, exploitation, regulation and management of living and non-living marine resources in the Marshall Islands. From the perspective of fisheries management in more developed countries, MIMRA may be somewhat unique in that the law requires it to be responsible for both the conservation and management of marine resources as well as their sustainable development.
MIMRA is responsible to a board of directors, of which the Minister of Resources and Development is Chairman. In 1997 it was decided that the activities of MIMRA would henceforth be funded from fishing access fee revenues and that the Authority should have more autonomy from the Public Service structure. The reconstituted board of directors is made up of:
The main private sector stakeholders in the fishing industry are:
Legal frameworkThe MIMRA Act 1988 was replaced by the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Act 1997. This act deals with MIMRA affairs, fisheries conservation/management/development issues, management and development of local fisheries, trade, foreign/domestic based fishing, licensing, and MCS. The section on conservation/management/development covers the following topics:
ADB. 2005. Pacific Progress. Asian Development Bank Success Stories in the Pacific Islands. Manila, Asian Development Bank.
Barclay, K. and I. Cartwright. 2006. Capturing Wealth from Tuna: Key Issues for Pacific Island Countries. Australian National University.
Beger, M.D. Jacobson, and S. Pinca. 2008. The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.pp. 387-416 In: J.E. Waddell and A.M. Clarke (eds.), The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Technical Memorandum. NOS NCCOS 73. NOAA/NCCOS Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment’s Biogeography Team. Silver Spring, MD. 569 pp.
EPPSO. 2008(a). Statistical Tables. Majuro, Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office, Majuro.
EPPSO. 2008(b). Preliminary Employment Statistics for Fiscal Year 2007. Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office, Office of the President, Majuro, Marshall Islands.
Stanley, J. (2005). Fishery policy in the Marshall Islands. Rome, FAO. FAO/FishCode Review. No. 15.
Gillett, R. 2009. The Contribution of Fisheries to the Economies of Pacific Island Countries and Territories. Manila, Asian Development Bank. Pacific Studies Series.
FAO food balance sheet of fish and fishery products (in live weight).
MIMRA. 2009. The Marshall Islands Tuna Management and Development Plan (2009-2011). Majuro, The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority.
MIMRA. 2008(a). Marshall Islands Tuna Fisheries. Fourth Regular Session, Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, 11-22 August 2008, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Working Paper 16.
MIMRA. 2008(b). Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Annual Report 2006/2007. Majuro, Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority.
Barclay, K. and I. Cartwright. 2006. Capturing Wealth from Tuna: Key Issues for Pacific Island Countries. Australian National University.
MMRA. Policies and Priority Actions for Sustainable Mariculture Development in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. 2004. Majuro, The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority.
Smith, A. 1992. Republic of the Marshall Islands: Marine Resources Profiles. Honiara, Forum Fisheries Agency. FFA Report 92/78. 103 pp.
Stanley, J. 2005. Fishery policy in the Marshall Islands. Rome, FAO. FAO/FishCode Review. No. 15.
FAO Thematic data bases
FAO Fisheries statistics