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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
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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: March 2018

Marshall Islands has a population of 53 000 in 2016, a land area of 181 km2, a coastline of 2 106 km and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.131 million km2. Fisheries contribution to GDP in 2014 was estimated as USD 26.31 million. Fish imports were estimated at USD 2.7 million and export value at USD 72.5 million in 2015.

In the Marshall Islands, fish has historically been an important component of the diet of residents. Total production in 2015 was 89 600 tonnes with tunas species accounting for 97 percent. Estimated per caput fish consumption amounted to 18.3 kg in 2013 (live weight equivalent). 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.

Current issues

The main trends in the fisheries sector include:
  • A relatively steady number of foreign longline, purse seine and pole-and-line vessels licensed to operate in the Marshall Islands zone during the present decade;
  • A large increase in the fishing contribution to GDP and in the fishery exports of the Marshall Islands during the present decade; and
  • A general perception among fishery stakeholders that the quality of fisheries governance in the country has improved in the present decade.
Offshore fisheries are focused on tunas and consist of longlining, purse seining and pole-and-line fishing. These are conducted by vessels under the Marshall Islands flag as well as those under foreign flags.Coastal fishing is carried out for subsistence purposes and for sale in local and export markets. There is considerable uncertainty concerning the levels of catches from the coastal fisheries. Some estimates indicated that the production from coastal subsistence fishing is likely to be about 2 800 tonnes and from coastal commercial fishing about 950 tonnes.


A large number of aquaculture activities have been carried out in the Marshall Islands. Most aquaculture efforts in the past have focused on marine invertebrates, such as black-lip pearl oysters, giant clams, trochus and corals.

International Governance

Marshall Islands 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. Marshall Islands hosts the Secretariat of the Party of Nauru Group in Majuro.
General geographic and economic indicators

Table 1 - General Geographic and Economic Data - Republic of the Marshall Islands

Shelf area:

20 891 km²

Sea Around US:


Length of continental coastline: 2 106 km

World by Map

Fisheries GDP (2014): 14% National GDP

Gillet, 20161

*Value converted by FAO as per UN currency exchange rate

Key statistics

Country area180km2FAOSTAT. Official data, 2013
Land area180km2FAOSTAT. Official data, 2013
Inland water area0km2Computed. Calculated, 2013
Population - Est. & Proj.0.062millionsFAOSTAT. Official data, 2019
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) area2 009 620km2VLIZ

Source: FAO Country Profile

FAO Fisheries statisticsTable 2 in this section is based on statistics prepared by the Statistics and Information Branch of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department and disseminated in 2018. The charts are based on the same source but these are automatically updated every year with the most recent disseminated statistics.

Table 2 — FAO fisheries statistics - Republic of the Marshall Islands

      1980 1990 2000 2010 2013 2014 2015
EMPLOYMENT (thousands)              
  Aquaculture 0.08 0.06
    Marine 4.20
FLEET(thousands boats)
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

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) consists of an archipelago of twenty-nine atolls and five low coral islands. The two island chains, the eastern Ratak (Sunrise) and western Ralik (Sunset), lie 208 km apart in a north-west to south-east orientation. Nineteen atolls and four islands are inhabited.

Fish has historically been an important component of the diet of the Marshall Islands population. Although imported food has become more important since the 1960s, the consumption of fish remains substantial and is critical in the outer islands. The money obtained from licensing foreign fishing vessels to operate in the Marshall Islands zone is a large component of government revenue. Employment related to servicing fishing vessels and processing fish has become significant in the last decade.

The capital of the Marshall Islands, Majuro, possesses much of the necessary infrastructure and facilities for fishing vessel activities. The port in Majuro is one of the country’s most important assets for overall economic development as well as for tuna fisheries. The lagoon area fronted by “downtown” Majuro offers secure anchorage for transshipping purse seiners and frozen fish carriers. Facilities in Majuro include a floating dry dock; a deep‐water harbour with container-handling facilities; a fish base complex equipped with a bulk ice facility and a satellite chiller plant at the airport for air shipment; a 1 million litre, bulk fuel storage bunker facility; regular international shipping services; and an international airport. In addition, Majuro has many stores well stocked with supplies and goods, mostly imported from the US. Ebeye, the Marshall Islands second largest urban centre, is also equipped with fishing facilities such as a protected harbour and marina and fish base (McCoy et al., 2015; MRAG, 2011).

Fisheries statistics can be presented in different forms, to cater for different purposes. In the Marshall Islands statistics published by FAO in 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 and aquaculture production of Marshall Islands in 2014 published by FAO (Part 1) was 78 727 tonnes.

In Table 3 below, the Marshall Islands fishery production statistics include the catch by Marshall Islands-flagged vessels, the catch by small boats (which do not carry a flag) and the catch from fishing activities that do not involve a vessel (e.g. reef gleaning). The offshore category in the table is defined as the catch from Marshall Islands-flagged, industrial-scale fishing operations that are carried out anywhere in the western and central Pacific Ocean (i.e. inside or outside Marshall Islands waters).

Table 3: Marshall Islands fisheries production in 2014 (as per FAO reporting standards)






Marshall Islands- flagged offshore



10 000 pieces2


1 500

3 000

79 562



50 000


4 350 000

6 000 000


The amounts of production given in the above table differ from those shown in Part 1. The table gives production estimated from a variety of sources (see SPC study below), whereas the quantities given in Part 1 are generally those reported to FAO by the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA). The major difference between the above table and the data in Part 1 is in the category “Marshall Islands-flagged offshore”. The amount listed in Table 3 for this category is from the official report of the Marshall Islands to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (MIMRA, 2015a).

A recent study by the Pacific Community (SPC) presents the fishery statistics of the Marshall Islands in a different way from that of FAO. The SPC study reports the amount of catch in Marshall Islands fishery waters, regardless of vessel flag. In the study, the catches are placed in different categories, which is useful for other purposes, such as administration of the foreign fishing that occurs in the fishery waters of the Marshall Islands. A summary of fisheries production from the SPC study is given in Table 4.

Table 4: Fisheries production in Marshall Islands waters







locally based3



     Both Marshall Islands- and foreign-flagged vessels
Volume (tonnes)

10 000 pieces


1 500

3 000

85 918

29 754

Value (USD) 50 000


4 350 000

6 000 000

133 530 000

38 700 638

Source: Gillett (2016)

Some comment is required to explain the difference between the information in this table and that in Part 1 of this profile:

  • Catches can be given by the flag of the catching vessel (as in the FAO statistics in Part 1), or by the zone where the catch is made (the “offshore foreign-based” and “offshore locally based” columns in the table above). These two different ways of allocating catches 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 licence fees for foreign fishing in a country’s zone.

  • There is no fisheries statistical system covering the categories of aquaculture and coastal subsistence/commercial fishing. The estimates above were made by a study carried out by SPC in 2015 that examined a large number of fishery and economic studies covering the last two decades. It is likely that the basis of the information for the three categories in the FAO statistics in Part 1 was a more informal conjecture by a nominated person in MIMRA.

  • Aquaculture production in the Marshall Islands includes non-food items, such as coral and giant clams for the aquarium trade.

(2) The production of several important aquaculture products (e.g. giant clams) is measured in pieces rather than in weight.

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

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

Catch profile

The marine fisheries have two very distinct components, offshore and coastal:

  • Offshore fisheries are focused on tuna and consist of longlining, purse seining and pole-and-line fishing. These are conducted by vessels that are both locally and foreign based.

  • Coastal fishing is carried out for subsistence purposes and for sale in local and export markets.

The Marshall Islands paper submitted in mid-2015 to the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (MIMRA, 2015a) states:

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) continued to operate 10 purse-seine vessels fishing throughout the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). The total catch by the national purse-seine fleet in 2014 was 79 562 metric tonnes, of which 18 percent was taken within the RMI exclusive economic zone (EEZ). There was no national longline catch recorded as the longline vessels formerly flagged to RMI were reflagged to FSM in 2013.

MIMRA (2015a) gives information on the 2014 catches of the offshore fleets that operate in the waters of the Marshall Islands:

  • The domestically based, foreign longline fleet comprises vessels from China, Chinese Taipei and FSM. Those vessels were operated under Marshall Islands Fishing Venture, Ltd, which is a subsidiary of Luen Thai. All longliners that operate in the Marshall Islands zone are based in Majuro except for the Japanese longline vessels, which offload their catch in ports in Japan. Total longline catches increased from 6 002 tonnes in 2013 to 7 798 tonnes in 2014.

  • Available logsheet data indicates that the total catch by purse-seine fleets operating in the RMI EEZ increased from 27 608 tonnes in 2013 to 43 571 tonnes in 2015. Thirty-three percent of the catch was taken by the Marshall Islands fleet followed by twenty-six percent by the US fleet.

Catches in recent years, by main gear type, in Marshall Islands waters are given in Table 5.

Table 5: Catches, by main gear type, in Marshall Islands waters (2010–2014)

 Purse seineLongline
201013 7945 663
201116 5655 081
201217 7776 390
201327 6086 002
201443 5717 798
Source: MIMRA (2015a); units - tonnes

There is considerable uncertainty concerning the levels of catches from coastal fisheries, which are not covered by a statistical system. Available information for estimating catch levels 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 exports of fishery products. Using that information, an SPC study (Gillett, 2016) made a crude estimate of the total coastal fisheries production in Marshall Islands in 2014:

  • The coastal commercial component was estimated to be 1 500 tonnes. Considering MIMRA buying prices in the outer islands and prices paid to fishers in Majuro, the dockside value of the 2014 coastal commercial catch was about USD 4 350 000. The coastal commercial catch consists of both food items (e.g. finfish) for domestic consumption, and non-food commodities (e.g. trochus, aquarium fish and coral) for export.

  • Coastal subsistence catches were estimated to have been about 3 000 tonnes in 2014. The value of subsistence production was estimated to be USD 6 million per year.

The lack of a fisheries statistical system for coastal fisheries prevents the identification of quantitative trends in these fisheries. There is, however, a general perception that the important coastal resources are increasingly subject to over-exploitation close to urban areas.
Landing sites

The domestically based, foreign longline fleet lands its catch in Majuro. The foreign-based longline vessels that operate in Marshall Islands fisheries waters (all Japanese) land their catch in Japan.

Some of the purse-seine catch is landed in Majuro for use at the Pan Pacific tuna loining plant. The vast majority of the purse-seine catch by the domestic purse-seine fleet and by foreign fleets fishing in Marshalls Islands waters is transshipped in Majuro or another Pacific Island port for eventual landing at an Asian port. MIMRA (2016) states that an estimated 704 purse-seine transshipments were undertaken in Majuro in 2015, with a provisional total of 444 393 tonnes transshipped.

Most coastal commercial catches are landed at the islands that have urban areas: Majuro and Kwajalein. In addition, the government purchases fish in some of the outer islands – including Arno, Jaluit, Maloelap, Aur, Ailinglaplap, Namu, Likiep and Ailuk – for transport for sale in those urban areas.

Subsistence fishery landings occur at villages throughout the coastal areas of the country, roughly in proportion to the distribution of the population.
Fishing practices/systems

The Marshall Islands report to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (MIMRA, 2015a) gives information on the number of Marshall Islands-flagged tuna vessels in recent years (Table 6).

Table 6: Number of Marshall Islands-flagged fishing vessels active in the WCPO (2010–2014)

 Longline Purse seine
GRT0–1010–5050–200200–500 0–500500–1 0001 000–1 5001 500+
20100040 0073
20110040 0073
20120040 0073
20130030 0073
20140000 0073

McCoy et al. (2015) give information on the 10 Marshall Islands-flagged purse seiners. Six are owned by Koo’s of Taiwan, three by Pan Pacific Fisheries (PPF) and its parent company in China, and one by MIMRA.

  • Koo’s vessels were all built in Taiwan between 2002 and 2010. Their fish-carrying capacities range from about 900 to 940 tonnes. The newer vessels show a slight increase in overall length, from 62 to just under 65 m. In addition to its purse seiners, Koo’s also owns three fish carriers with capacity in the range of 1 500 to 2 000 tonnes.

  • The MIMRA purse seiner is the oldest of the Taiwanese-built vessels, having been built in 1999. It is also the smallest at just over 60 m, with a carrying capacity of 900 tonnes.

  • PPF’s three Marshall Islands-flagged purse-seine vessels were built in China (2) in 2010 and Spain (1) in 1992. The PPF vessels are considerably larger than Koo’s: the two Chinese-built vessels are just under 72 m in length with a carrying capacity of 1 100 tonnes. The Spanish-built vessel is of similar length with a carrying capacity of 1 740 tonnes.

MIMRA (2016) states that 225 foreign-flagged vessels were licensed to fish in the Marshall Islands in 2014. They consisted of 50 longliners, 162 purse seiners and 13 pole-and-line vessels.

In the coastal fisheries, capture methods for food fish are diverse. They include spearing, handlining, trolling, gillnetting and cast-netting. Paddling and sailing canoes are widely used for subsistence fishing in the outer atolls, while most small-scale commercial fishing is conducted from craft of 4.5–6 m in length, powered by outboard motors in the 15–40 horsepower range.

Aquarium fish and trochus are the two most important non-food coastal fisheries in the country:

  • An aquarium fishery has operated in Majuro for more than 15 years, with one principal operator and several smaller ones. Virtually all the catch is taken from the Majuro lagoon and outer reef, by both freediving and scuba diving. It has been estimated that around 3 000 fish of up to 50 species are exported each week.

  • Trochus were transplanted to several atolls in the Marshall Islands from Chuuk and Palau by the Japanese in the 1930s. Enewetak atoll is the location for most of the Marshall Islands trochus catch. Trochus is collected either by freediving on the reef or gleaning while walking on the reef.

Main resources

MIMRA (2015a) gives the catch composition of the purse-seine and longline catches in the waters of the Marshall Islands (Tables 7 and 8).

Table 7: Composition of the purse-seine catch

201017913 058557013 794
201132115 448791516 565
201228316 9165641417 777
20131 16525 796641627 608
20142 41940 5965381843 571
Units: tonnes

Table 8: Composition of the longline catch

20102423 3011 4177035 663
20111333 1641 0876975 081
20122544 0271 3727376 390
20132372 9722 0147796 002
20141724 6802 3466007 798
Units: tonnes

In terms of the status of its fish resources, the four major species of tuna in the Marshall Islands mix freely with those of neighboring countries in the western and central Pacific. Recent information from the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (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 the maximum sustainable yield, a large reduction in fishing mortality 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 in an overfished state;

  • 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.

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. Table 9 shows the 15 most important finfish and 10 most important invertebrates landed by the project in recent years.

Table 9: Species capture by the Arno Atoll Fisheries Development Project

English nameScientific name English nameScientific name
Finfish Invertebrates
Forktail rabbitfishSiganus argenteus Elongated clamTridacna maxima
Rainbow runnerElagatis bipinnulata Bear's paw clamHippopus hippopus
Humpback snapperLutjanus gibbus Scaly clamTridacna squamosa
Parrotfish (white)Scarus longiceps and Scarus spp. Pacific asaphisAsaphis violascens
Marbled grouperEpinephelus fuscoguttatus, E. microdon and Epinephelus spp. Smooth beach clamAtactodea sp.
Yellowfin tunaThunnus albacares Turban shellTurbo spp.
Parrotfish (blue and green)Scarus spp. TrochusTrochus niloticus5
RudderfishKyphosus cinerascens and K. bigibbus  Money cowriesCypraea moneta and C. annulus
Surgeonfish (black)Acanthurus olivaceus and Acanthurus spp. Ellodid snailPila luteus
Dash-dot goatfishParupeneus barberinus OctopusOctopus spp.
Convict surgeonfishAcanthurus triostegus   
SkipjackKatsuwonus pelamis   
Orangespine unicornfishNaso lituratus   
Yellowstripe goatfishMulloidichthys vanicolensis   
Bigeye emperorMonotaxis grandoculis   
Source: MIMRA (unpublished data)

With respect to export-oriented coastal commercial fishing:

  • in the aquarium fishery about 50 species are taken, with the most common being the flame angel fish (Centropyge loriculus);

  • the trochus fishery is based on a single species, Trochus niloticus.

Documentation on the catches from subsistence fishing is not readily available. However, it is likely that subsistence catches are similar to those made by small-scale commercial fishing at the Arno atoll (listed in the table above), excepting species (mainly skipjack) that are caught by motorized fishing craft trolling outside the reef. Those species are less common in subsistence catches.

An interdisciplinary study of market forces and nearshore fisheries management in Micronesia (Rhodes et al., 2011), which used a variety of sources, commented on the status of coastal fisheries resources in the Marshall Islands (Box 1).

Box 1: Status of coastal fisheries resources

The current status of coastal fisheries resources in the Marshall Islands (RMI) is overfished or fully exploited. Common signs of fishery decline include lower catch volumes, spawning aggregation loss, smaller fish sizes and reduced catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE). In some areas, late-maturing, slower-growing species such as the green bumphead parrotfish (B. muricatum) have become virtually extinct, while top predators are rare in some atolls. Fish populations have also been impacted on nearby reefs (e.g. Arno), as a direct result of fishing subsidies. The main drivers of overfishing in RMI are population pressure and fish exports to overseas markets. Local demand is manifested in RMI’s strong subsistence and commercial market fisheries, which exert significant pressure on available resources. According to local NGO and fisheries resource management representatives, overfishing has occurred in the majority of fishing grounds proximate to Majuro, with commercial demand increasingly being met from the outer islands. Overexploitation of nearshore fish resources close to Majuro is driven by unsustainable fishing practices and under-valued fish pricing, similar to other Micronesian jurisdictions. Overfishing has been exacerbated by scuba and night-time spearfishing.

(5) Also known as Tectus niloticus.
Management applied to main fisheries

The offshore fisheries in the Marshall Islands are managed on national, subregional, and regional levels:

  • On the national level, the management measures for the offshore fisheries of the Marshall Islands are detailed in the Marshall Islands Tuna Management and Development Plan. The plan was prepared pursuant to Section 25 of the Marine Resources Act 1997.

  • On the subregional level, the Marshall Islands cooperates with the other countries that are members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which is described below.

  • On the regional level, the Marshall Islands is a member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) that was established by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The Marshall Islands and the other 26 members of the commission enact tuna management measures at the annual WCPFC meeting. From the Marshall Islands perspective, the most important recent measure is the Conservation and Management Measure for Bigeye, Yellowfin and Skipjack Tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

A crucial aspect of the management of the offshore fisheries in the Marshall Islands is the PNA and its Vessel Day Scheme. 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 (FSM), Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea (PNG) 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 state 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 Islands 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 the 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 arrangement 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
  • There is a minimum benchmark price for VDS days sold to foreign vessels
  • Fishing days are monitored by a 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 and Clark (2014)

While the PNA’s minimum price for a fishing day is USD 8 000, about one-third of MIMRA’s fishing days are being sold in 2017 at prices ranging from USD 10 000 to USD 12 500 per day. The Marshall Islands share of the 45 000 total allowable fishing days is somewhat less than 3 000 days (Johnson, 2017).

Although oceanic fishery management tends to dominate MIMRA’s agenda, the Authority encourages the development of coastal management plans for outer islands. These conservation and management plans are essential to maintaining sustainability in local fisheries (MIMRA, 2015b). A key component of this process is work with outer island communities, including local governments and traditional leaders, to develop resource management plans. MIMRA staff engage with outer island communities to build understanding of the need for a management plan, identify resources essential to the sustainability of these remote communities, and draft a sustainable management plan for inshore or coastal fishery resources (www.mimra.com).

National plans for coastal fisheries have been developed by MIMRA, including:

  • Sea Cucumber Regulations, which promote the sustainable use, proper conservation and management, and export of sea cucumbers by providing for certain conservation and management measures, prohibiting the export of sea cucumbers without authorization by the MIMRA Director, and providing for certain prohibitions. Under the Regulations, MIMRA deals with issuing licenses for export, while the local government deals with issuing harvesting licenses. Licences can only be granted to three exporters of sea cucumber under the regulations.

The traditional system of management in the Marshall Islands is described in Box 3 (Rhodes et al., 2011).

Box 3: Traditional marine management in the Marshall Islands

In the Republic of the Marshall Islands, all land and nearshore resources are owned and managed under a matriarchal lineage. In the past, customary marine tenure (CMT) was strong in RMI, with a traditional leader of the highest ranked family group on the island or atoll filling the role of “paramount chief.” This chief also controlled surrounding marine ecosystems, including coral reefs. A chief could apply a taboo to any section of a reef to control fishing. Otherwise, the residents of any atoll or island were permitted to fish along any section of the reef. However, outsiders were strictly prohibited from exploiting the resources of an atoll without obtaining permission from the chief. In 1934, following colonization, the Japanese declared reef areas open to everyone. By 1958, a researcher noted that “…the power of the paramount chief has become weakened since the arrival of the foreigners, but the concept that the right to exploit the marine resources of an atoll is the prerogative of the inhabitants of that atoll still persists”. Today, traditional CMT still exists in RMI, but has declined in importance, with varying degrees of effectiveness depending on geographical location. Paramount chiefs control the laws regarding fishing times and fishing areas for the reefs they have tenure over. Adjacent coral reef and lagoon areas near Majuro are open access, whereas outer islands and atolls are still controlled under traditional CMT. The current conservation action plan seeks to strengthen CMT throughout the country.

Management objectives

The Marshall Islands Tuna Management and Development Plan states that that the national goals 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.

Although MIMRA responsibilities include coastal fisheries management, the Authority’s current interventions in coastal fisheries are largely oriented to assisting with developing resource management institutional arrangements in the outer atolls, and fish transporting and marketing arrangements. In practice, the authority for fisheries management is devolved to local island governments. Management objectives and measures vary considerably between islands, ranging from virtually no measures to various types of bans. Perhaps the best-known measure is the prohibition on taking trochus on several islands except during short open seasons.
Fishing communities

The concept of “fishing communities” has limited applicability to the Marshall Islands. Nearly all households, especially those away from Majuro, are involved in fishing activities. It could therefore be stated that most villages in the Marshall Islands are “fishing communities”.
Inland sub-sector

There are no inland fisheries in the Marshall Islands.
Aquaculture sub-sector

A large number of aquaculture activities have been carried out in the Marshall Islands. Table 10 lists many of them.

Table 10: Aquaculture operations in the Marshall Islands since the late 1980s

Activity Species Location Time Period
Public and educational
Kwajalein giant clam mariculture Smooth giant clam from Palau (Tridacna derasa)



Namdrik Black Pearl Project

Black-lip pearl oyster

(Pinctada margaritifera)



Giant clam hatchery/

Outer Island Farmers Program

Fluted clam

(T. squamosa)

Ailuk, Aur, Jaluit, Likiep, Maloelap, Ujae, Wotje


Likiep Clam Farm

Elongated giant clam and giant clam (Tridacna spp., mostly maxima and gigas)



Arrak Experimental Pearl Oyster Hatchery

Black-lip pearl oyster

(P. margaritifera)


2001– present
Arrak Demonstration Pearl Oyster Farm

Black-lip pearl oyster

(P. margaritifera)



Seaweed cultivation


(Eucheuma cottonii)




Arno Clam Hatchery

Elongated giant clam

(Tridacna spp., mostly maxima) and potentially rabbitfish (Siganus spp.)



Giant clam aquaculture

Giant clam

(T. gigas)

Mili 1988

Mili Giant Clam Farm

Giant clam

(T. gigas, T. squamosa,)

Wau Island, Mili


Marshall Islands Mariculture Farm

Giant clams (esp. T. maxima and T. crocea), hard and soft coral, live rock

Wau Island, Majuro


RRE Pearl Oyster Farm at Arno

Black-lip pearl oyster

(P. margaritifera)


RRE Pearl Oyster Farm at Jaluit

Black-lip pearl oyster

(P. margaritifera)


BPOM Pearl Oyster Farm at Arno

Black-lip pearl oyster

(P. margaritifera)

Arno (relocated from Majuro in 2002) 1998–present
Woja Pearl Oyster Hatchery

Black-lip pearl oyster

(P. margaritifera)

Majuro (requires modifications to be operational)


Outer Island Pearl Oyster Development Project

Black-lip pearl oyster

(P. margaritifera)



Source: Anon. (2005)

Hambrey Consulting (2011) states that current aquaculture production in Marshall Islands consists of relatively steady but small production of tridacnid clams for the aquarium market, as well as small amounts of hard and soft corals for the same aquarium trade and sporadic production of black pearls.

An SPC study (Gillett, 2016) scrutinized all readily available sources of information on aquaculture in the Marshall Islands, including the Hambrey report, export documentation, views of MIMRA officials, and MIMRA annual reports. The study concluded that annual aquaculture production in Marshall Islands in 2014 consisted of giant clams, pearls and hard and soft corals, producing an estimated 10 000 pieces worth USD 50 000.

Mariculture development and management in the Marshall Islands is guided by traditional land tenure, national policy and legislation, local government bylaws and institutional arrangements that allow government bodies to coordinate decision making and proactively integrate non-governmental interests. Governance of mariculture on a national level exists in the form of policy, agencies and their mandates, and specific requirements under a number of legislative acts. In contrast to fisheries, existing legislation can be interpreted as enabling for mariculture development rather than prescriptive. There are no regulations for mariculture activities issued under the Marine Resources Act or any other statute. Establishment of a mariculture facility or project requires approval from the Director of MIMRA and clearance from the Manager of the Environmental Protection Agency in relation to possible environmental impacts (Anon., 2005).
Recreational sub-sector

Although subsistence fishing may have a large social component and be enjoyed by the participants, there is little recreational fishing in villages as a leisure activity. In Majuro and Kwajalein, there is some sport fishing (mainly offshore trolling). One hotel/retail company operates a sport charter vessel based in Majuro. The website of the Marshalls Billfish Club (www.billfishclub.com) states that since 1983, the club has been the biggest proponent of sport fishing in the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, organizing more than 140 sport fishing tournaments.

The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Act defines “sport fishing” as “the use or hiring out of a fishing vessel or services thereof for recreational fishing purposes, but does not include commercial fishing”. Although sport fishers must comply with fisheries legislation, there is no specific management of sport fishing in the country.
Post-harvest sector

Fish utilization

Fish processing for export in Majuro is undertaken by the Marshall Islands Fishing Venture (MIFV) and Pan Pacific Fisheries (PPF). There is also some small-scale local processing for the domestic market. McCoy et al. (2015) give details of the three operations:

  • MIFV’s plant processes fresh, longline-caught fish from the company’s vessels and produces loins and other sashimi-grade products for air shipment to the US and Japan. Only fish over 15 kg are loined according to the company. It also processes lower- grade tuna (below B grade) as carbon-monoxide-treated steaks and loins for freezing and shipment to the US. Longline bycatch is frozen for containerized shipment to Asia. The volumes of fresh/frozen value-added products (e.g. loins, including those treated with carbon monoxide) exported to the US increased from 2011 to 2013 as the parent company expanded distribution of its products in the US through its Hawaii and Seattle-based distributor.

  • PPF took over and refurbished a defunct loining plant on leased land in Majuro, which had gone bankrupt in 2004. After refurbishing and expanding the plant, PPF began processing loins in 2009. The plant currently processes a maximum of about 20 tonnes per day, far below installed capacity. The company also has an oil-fired fishmeal plant that processes scraps and rejected fish from the loining plant. PPF sources about 90 percent of its raw material from its own fleet. According to the MIMRA Annual Report for 2014, a total of 3 768 tonnes of precooked tuna loins and related products were exported to various markets in 2014.

  • A small amount of sun-dried fish jerky for local sale is produced by the Outer Islands Fish Market operated by MIMRA in Majuro. The facility, built with aid from Japan with operations heavily subsidized by MIMRA, sells primarily reef fish brought in by MIMRA’s outer-islands fish collection scheme. The facility, which can produce up to 100 two-ounce bags per day of fish jerky from tuna and marlin, reports strong local demand for the products.

During 2014, Majuro became the busiest tuna transshipment port in the western Pacific as the volume of fish offloaded from purse seiners to carrier vessels for transport to offshore canneries rose 73 percent compared to 2013, from 182 382 tonnes to 315 909 tonnes. The number of transshipments nearly doubled, from 270 in 2013 to 495 in 2014 (MIMRA, 2015b).

Air freight support is provided to MIFV by its sister company, Asia Pacific Air (APA). APA operates three Boeing 727 freighters that fly between Guam and Hawaii, with stops in Pohnpei and Majuro to pick up fish and deliver air freight. The highest quality bigeye and yellowfin are carried to Guam for transfer to larger, wide-body passenger jets for markets in Japan and sometimes China. Processed fresh yellowfin and bigeye are sent to distributors in Hawaii and the US mainland in a variety of forms: loins, saku blocks and poke. APA plans to add a Boeing 757 freighter that will add further capacity to the route. 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 aquarium fish and coral going to US markets and trochus to button factories in Asia and Europe. Food fish exports mainly consist of shipments of fish taken as personal baggage on regular commercial flights to Honolulu, Hawaii.
Fish markets

Offshore 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.

Market access and the availability of transportation is an important component of success for the three commercial entities involved in the tuna sector in the Marshall Islands. According to McCoy et al. (2015):

  • Koo’s has for some time had direct access to the Japanese katsuobushi market in southern Japan for its catch. Since that market prefers smaller skipjack and discounts the larger sizes, Koo’s can also market the larger sizes in Thailand or other canning destinations. It can segregate its catch for the various markets via transshipment in Majuro using its own fleet of carriers. As Majuro is a major transshipment port, Koo’s can also market its catch and utilize other buyers’ carriers when its own are unavailable.

  • MIFV has several marketing channels, depending on the product. Fresh yellowfin and bigeye, mostly B grade or lower, can be airfreighted to markets in the US as headed, gilled, gutted or loined tuna, or processed into saku blocks and other product forms depending upon the market. Fresh yellowfin and bigeye (B+ and A grade) can be sent gilled and gutted to Japan via Guam as airfreight. Yellowfin and bigeye (C grade) can also be processed into steaks, loins and other product forms, then treated with carbon monoxide and frozen for containerized shipment to the US.

  • PPF must ship all its products by container – refrigerated for frozen, cooked loins, and dry containers for fish meal. To a large extent, shipping costs determine the markets that can be accessed. At one time, there was demand from Papua New Guinea for blood meat, the red meat from tuna-loin processing that is used for fish meal. PPF shipped frozen bags there for processing. This was discontinued, however, because high freight costs resulted in a lack of profit and the blood meat was again diverted into fish meal.

The Compact of Free Association between the Marshall Islands and USA, as approved by the US Congress, contains a trade provision relating to tuna. The Compact allows duty free entry to the US of tuna in airtight containers, but not in oil, at quantities up to 10 percent of total United States consumption of tuna during the previous calendar year. An identical provision exists in the Compact between the Federated States of Micronesia and the US, but the quota must be shared between the two countries.

The Outer Islands Fish Market Center (OIFMC) and the Kwajalein Atoll Fish Market Center (KAFMC) provide fresh fish to the Majuro and Ebeye markets. In the case of Ebeye, in addition to fish, local produce from the outer islands is sold, injecting cash into their economies. In 2014, OIFMC purchased 50 tonnes of fish from nine outer atolls, paying local fishermen USD 116 853.13. This fish was transported by OIFMC vessels to Majuro for sale. KAFMC paid outer islands fishermen from five atolls and islands USD 28 473 for fish, and local residents another USD 3 105.29 for produce that was transported by KAFMC vessels to sell on Ebeye Island. Fish-market staff work with outer-island fishers to enforce quality standards and size limits on the fish purchased (MIMRA, 2015b).
Socio-economic contribution of the fishery sector

A recent study by SPC (Gillett, 2016) attempted to quantify the fishery-related benefits received by the Marshall Islands and other Pacific Island countries. The study gave the available information on the contribution of fishing to GDP, exports, government revenue, employment and nutrition. Unless otherwise noted, the information in this section is from that study. Role of fisheries in the national economy

The 2014 Marshall Islands Statistical Compendium (including the national accounts) was prepared by the Graduate School USA, Pacific Islands Training Initiative, Honolulu, Hawaii, in collaboration with the Economic Planning, Policy and Statistics Office (EPPSO) of the Marshall Islands. The Statistical Compendium contains the official estimate of the fishing contribution to the GDP of the Marshall Islands. The SPC study examined the official methodology and, using its independent estimate of the value of fisheries production, re-estimated the fishing contribution.

  • The official contribution showed a 2014 fisheries contribution to GDP of USD 26.3 million, or 14.1 percent of GDP.
  • The contribution of fishing to GDP was re-estimated by the SPC study for the year 2014. It showed a contribution of USD 55.1 million, or 29.5 percent of GDP.
  • The major difference between the official and SPC estimates is that the official estimate includes industrial fish processing and excludes most of the operations of the locally based, industrial fishing vessels. The SPC methodology more closely follows the standardized System of National Accounts (SNA, 2009).

The 2014 Annual Report of MIMRA (MIMRA, 2015b) indicates that the Marshall Islands received USD 16 920 802 as access fees for foreign fishing in 2014. Access fees represented about 16.4 percent of government revenue for that year.

Marshall Islands exports can be considered as essentially fishery products, copra and coconut oil. The official 2014 Marshall Islands Statistical Compendium shows exports from 2008 to 2014 (Table 11).

Table 11: Major exports of Marshall Islands (USD million)
















Copra/ coconut oil 4.4 2.0 2.4 3.6 3.0 3.2 2.7
Fish 0.8 2.8 8.5 19.6 24.8 21.0 14.6
Coconuts and fish 5.2 4.8 10.9 23.2 27.8 24.2 17.3
Fish as % of all major exports 15.4% 58.3% 78.0% 84.5% 89.2% 86.8% 84.4%

The value of fishery exports in Table 11 is low compared to the FAO data in Part 1 of this profile. The FAO value for fishery exports for 2014 is USD 96 441 000 (96.4 million). The difference appears to involve the treatment of (a) the catches of Marshall Islands-flagged vessels that are landed in foreign ports, and (b) the large amount of tuna from foreign-flagged vessels that is transhipped in Majuro.

A large amount of non-tuna fishery exports are aquarium products. MIMRA (2015b) states:

Seven Marshall Islands-based companies export marine ornamentals mainly for the aquarium trade overseas. Products exported included live fish, giant clams, frozen fish and various marine invertebrates. In financial year 2014, exports of the giant clam Tridacna derasa increased to over 4 000 compared to about 1 500 in FY 2013, while Tridacna maxima rose to 3 500 compared to about 1 000 the previous year. Angel fish (Pomacanthidae) exports increased from about 15 000 in FY 2013 to over 50 000 in FY 2014.For 2014, the FAO data shows USD 5.7 million of fishery imports.
Food security

Although national per capita fish consumption in the Marshall Islands is not high in relation to that of neighbouring countries, fish is important in food security for several reasons. At present, there is an abundant supply of imported food, but this supply is subject to shocks (e.g. changes in levels of payments by the government of the USA). The most vulnerable communities in the country are those in the outer islands – and they are highly dependent on fish for daily nutrition. It also should be noted that the Marshall Islands atoll environment is not favourable for raising alternative sources of protein, such as poultry or livestock.

There have been no general nutrition surveys in the last 15 years that included fish consumption. Most information on fish consumption comes from older, general nutrition surveys or new studies focused on the fisheries sector. With respect to older surveys:

  • Preston (2000), using 1995 FAO production, import and export information, indicated that the apparent per capita supply of fish in the Marshall Island was 38.9 kg per year.

  • Gillett and Lightfoot (2001) reviewed the fisheries nutrition literature of the Marshall Islands up to mid-2001 and made two overall observations: (a) there is considerable difference in consumption between the population centres of Majuro and Kwajalein, where 68 percent of the population resided in 1999, and the outer islands, where fish is relatively plentiful; and (b) leakage of fish from the transshipment operations and longline bases in Majuro probably has a substantial effect on the supply of fish on that island.

  • McCoy and Hart (2002) showed that per capita consumption of “local marine animals” by the 1 915 people on Ailinlaplap Atoll in 2001 was 1.75 lb per week. This equates to annual per capita consumption of 42.3 kg.

  • OFCF and MIMRA (2004) state: “Food supply – That first point is food supply to Majuro people. Total fish catch amount estimated of about 2 million lb in whole Majuro atoll by a year. And those fishes supplied to people of 23 thousand people in Majuro. That mean to 88 lb average fish supply amount to 1 person (sic).” (Note: 88 lb equate to 39.9 kg.)

  • Echigo (2010) examined fish consumption at four outer islands in 2009. The results showed annual per capita fish consumption at Jaluit (45.3 kg), Likiep (138.2 kg), Namdrik (158.6 kg) and Ailuk (159.0 kg).

If Marshall Islands coastal fisheries production in 2014 of 4 500 tonnes (as estimated by the SPC study) is divided by the 2014 population of 54 550, the result is 82.5 kg of fish per person per year. In terms of fish consumption, this per capita figure does not consider reef fish exports, imports, or domestic consumption of the leakage from tuna transshipment operations.

The 2011 census (EPPSO, 2013) gives some information on fisheries employment in the country:

The second most popular agricultural activity is fishing. A total of 3 787 households reported fishing – that is 48.9 percent of total households in RMI. Again, fishing was primarily used for subsistence purposes; 64.1 percent of the households who went fishing claimed it was only for subsistence purposes, while 34.8 percent claimed that fishing was for both subsistence and income, and 1.1 percent reported it as a means of income.

The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) tracks tuna-related employment in Marshall Islands. The total number of people employed in the industry (including “expat personnel and crews”) in 2012 and 2013 is shown in Table 12.

Table 12: Number of people employed in large fisheries companies

  2012 2013
Marshall Islands Fishing Venture (MIFV) 320 288
Koo's Fishing Company (KFC) 220 220
Pan Pacific Fisheries Inc. (PPF) 170 170
Total 710 678
Source: FFA (unpublished data)

Rural development

An 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 for the transport and marketing of fish from the outer islands in urban areas. Fish are shipped to the Outer Islands Fish Market Center (Majuro) and Kwajalein Atoll Fish Market Center (Ebeye). Details of the fish shipments are given above.

Aquaculture is also associated with rural development. The document “Policies and Priority Actions for Sustainable Mariculture Development in the Republic of the Marshall Islands” (Anon., 2005) states that outer-island communities have long had an interest in mariculture. Improved communication and transportation, coupled with the clear success of commercial mariculture ventures on the most populated islands where many of the outer-island leaders reside, have increased both interest in, and the probability of, successfully developing outer-island mariculture.
Trends, issues and development

Constraints and opportunitiesSome of the major constraints for the fisheries sector are:

  • difficulties associated with marketing products from the remote areas where abundance is highest in the urban areas where marketing opportunities are greatest;

  • difficulties for small-scale fishers in accessing offshore fishery resources;

  • the scarcity of skilled Marshallese labour due to ease of entry into the USA:

  • balancing the benefits from the basing of foreign fishing vessels in Majuro with the environmental and social costs;

  • difficulties of competing internationally in tuna processing from a relatively high-wage location;

  • expansion of the Marshall Islands-flagged, industrial fishing fleet in such a way that it does not undermine regional efforts to reduce overall fishing effort in the region.

Opportunities for the fisheries sector include:

  • value-adding to fishery products, for domestic consumption, sales to the military, and export;

  • expansion of the marine aquarium fishery;

  • greater use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) to promote offshore fishing by small-scale fishers;

  • more use of partnerships (community, government, NGO) in the management of coastal fisheries;

  • taking advantage of the relative proximity of the country to tuna markets in Japan and USA;

  • taking advantage of the comparatively good infrastructure – a deep-water port, extensive fuel capacity, reliable electricity, air and shipping connections, wholesalers, hotels and engineering facilities;

  • the long-term value of the relatively effective government resource management agency.
Government and non-government sector policies and development strategies

The Marshall Islands fisheries policy is based on the interrelated needs to (a) improve economic benefits within sustainable limits; (b) promote responsible, private-sector-led developments; and (c) strengthen institutional capacities within the country for responsible fisheries development and management. The main strategy for fisheries development is based on the interventions of an enhanced fisheries agency. Accordingly, the government approved a policy for the development of fisheries about a decade ago and directed a restructuring of the Marshall Islands Marine Resource Authority into a more autonomous and self-funding authority. The objective was to release MIMRA from the standard civil service restraints that regulate most public services to enable a more corporate and commercial orientation (Stanley, 2005).

MIMRA's current – and continuing – goal is to raise the bar for fisheries management in the Marshall Islands. Key to this are its four areas of focus:

  • Fisheries observer programme – MIMRA, in cooperation with SPC and PNA, conducts regular fisheries observer training programmes to bring in new observers. The goal is to increase the number of Marshall Islands fisheries observers to 100, which means the training initiative will be ongoing to expand capacity to provide observers for both purse-seine and longline fishing vessels.

  • Collaboration with Sea Patrol – MIMRA continues to partner with Marshall Islands Sea Patrol by providing fuel and other resources, and working together at the enforcement level, to improve monitoring, control and surveillance of the fishery. Sea Patrol provides essential enforcement capacity and MIMRA will continue the collaboration.

  • Participation in the Shiprider Program – The Marshall Islands now has "shiprider" agreements with both the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy that allow Marshall Islands marine enforcement personnel to ride on U.S. vessels in the Marshall Islands EEZ to enforce the nation's sovereign fishing rights. This resulted in multiple boardings for compliance verification of vessels fishing in the EEZ during 2014, significantly expanding surveillance activities beyond those that can be accomplished by Sea Patrol's lone patrol vessel. MIMRA aims to expand its participation in the Shiprider Program in future years.

  • Participation in regional and international fisheries forums and agreements – MIMRA staff played an active role during 2014 in WCPFC and in annual meetings and various technical committees that oversee fishing on the high seas and stock assessments. Similarly, staff engaged with FFA and PNA, among others, to ensure that the Marshall Islands meets its obligations to regional fisheries conventions and agreements, including the provision of required fishing catch data that scientists need to produce accurate stock assessments. Participation in these regional and international organizations allows MIMRA to engage with the fisheries management programmes and initiatives of other nations, and to ensure that it is implementing "best practice" policies for managing Marshall Islands fisheries (Source: www.mimra.com).

The Marshall Islands has a Tuna Development Strategy, the objective of which is to maximize economic benefits flowing to the country from the sustainable utilization of its tuna resources, including harvesting and processing. The components of the strategy include:

  • an investment strategy that provides a framework on which investors can base their decision making;

  • licensing fees – the government should initiate and/or support any move to increase access fees;

  • increasing fishing effort in the EEZ to utilise fishing days allocated to Marshall Islands. The government should promote domestic fisheries operations that propose to fish in its EEZ;

  • institutional arrangements – strengthening the capacity of MIMRA, particularly in the area of market access.

Research, education and trainingResearch

Historical fisheries research in the Marshall Islands (including research in the Japanese era) is included in a bibliography of Marshall Islands marine resources (Izumi, 1992). Research on specific fisheries resources is summarized by Smith (1992).

Much of the research on offshore fisheries resources is carried out in cooperation with SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme. 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).

Research relevant to coastal fisheries that has occurred recently in the Marshall Islands includes:

  • climate change and its impacts on coastal fisheries resources

  • ciguatera fish poisoning

  • growth patterns of six species of popular reef fish

  • gathering of the scientific data needed to characterize marine resources and assess the condition of the coral-reef ecosystems of several atolls
Education and training

Education related to fisheries in the Marshall Islands is provided by a variety of institutions:

  • Basic education in disciplines related to fisheries is given at the College of Micronesia in Majuro.

  • Skills that enable people to work on commercial fishing vessels and as fishery observers are taught at the National Fisheries and Nautical Training Center in Majuro.

  • Academic training in biological, economic and other aspects of fisheries is given at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

  • Marshallese have received academic training related to fisheries at tertiary institutes in Hawaii, Guam, mainland USA and New Zealand.

  • Training courses in various fisheries-related subjects are frequently organized by SPC in New Caledonia and FFA in the Solomon Islands.

Foreign aid

The Marshall Islands receives aid in the fisheries sector from a number of bilateral donors, especially Japan. The latest MIMRA annual report (MIMRA, 2015b) gives information on assistance from Japan.

The Marshall Islands has a long-standing partnership with the Japan Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation (OFCF), which began in 1992. Each year, during the annual OFCF Japan/Pacific Island Nations Fisheries Directors Meeting on Fisheries Cooperation, OFCF receives project requests from each country. After conducting field surveys and consultation with each government, the scope of the projects is developed, followed by the signing of an agreement governing implementation. Marshall Islands projects implemented recently have included repair and restoration of the outboard motors of MIMRA community fishing boats; repair and restoration of MIMRA transport boats; repair and restoration of the MIMRA and KAFMC ice plants; and technical guidance for fishing boat operators.

The main multilateral donor to the Marshall Islands in the fisheries sector has been the Asian Development Bank, which has provided USD 6.95 million in assistance to the fisheries sector since 1990, with the most important component being strengthening MIMRA and refining fisheries policies to solidify the sector’s initial gains. The World Bank is supporting a pilot project to strengthen the governance and sustainability of MIMRA and its programmes.

The regional organizations serving Pacific Island countries, including FFA, SPC, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, have been active in supporting the Marshall Islands fisheries sector.
Institutional framework

The 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 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.

With respect to its responsibilities, the act specifies that MIMRA has the exclusive power and functions to:

  • conserve, manage and sustainably develop all resources in the fishery waters and seabed and subsoil thereunder, in accordance with the principles and provisions in the Act and in subregional, regional and international instruments to which the Republic of the Marshall Islands is party;

  • establish management plans and programmes to manage the resources in the fishery waters;

  • issue licences in accordance with the Act;

  • issue licences for the exploration and exploitation of the seabed and subsoil of the fishery waters;

  • negotiate and conclude access agreements and fisheries management agreements;

  • implement by regulation or otherwise, as appropriate, access agreements or fisheries management agreements to which the Republic of the Marshall Islands is party;

  • coordinate and manage fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance and, in consultation with the Attorney General, enforcement of the Act;

  • appoint authorized officers and observers in accordance with the Act;

  • cooperate in the conservation and management of highly migratory fish stocks as appropriate with other coastal states in the region and states fishing in the region and high seas area and participate in appropriate subregional, regional and international organizations or arrangements relating to fisheries;

  • participate in the planning and execution of projects, programmes or other activities.

MIMRA is responsible to a board of directors, which is chaired by the Minister of Resources and Development. 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:

  • Minister of Resources and Development (Chair)

  • Attorney General

  • Secretary for Foreign Affairs

  • Two fisheries sector representatives (appointed by the President)

  • Director of MIMRA (ex officio and secretary to the board).

The Executive Director of MIMRA is responsible to the board and (according to the latest MIMRA annual report) supervises the operations of the various MIMRA divisions including:

  • Oceanic and Industrial Affairs

  • Coastal and Community Services (with sections responsible for policy/planning/statistics, aquaculture and repairs/maintenance)

  • Corporate Services and Finance

  • Fisheries and Nautical Training Center

  • Legal Affairs.

Other Marshall Islands institutions with involvement in fisheries include the Office of Environmental Policy and Planning Coordination, Environmental Protection Agency, College of the Marshall Islands and the Marshall Islands Conservation Society.

The main private sector stakeholders in the fishing industry are:

  • Pan Pacific Foods – operator of the tuna loining plant

  • Marshall Islands Fishing Venture – operator of locally based longliners

  • Koo’s Fishing Company – operator of Marshall Islands-registered purse seiners

  • Numerous small-scale commercial fishers

  • Marshalls Billfish Club – comprising game-fishing enthusiasts.

Important internet links related to fisheries in the Marshall Islands include:

  • www.mimra.com – information on the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, including annual reports

  • http://www.spc.int/coastfish/en/countries/marshall-islands.html – information on Marshall Islands fisheries, links to other sites concerning the Marshall Islands and its fisheries, and some SPC reports on Marshall Island fisheries

  • www.ffa.int – information on the regional organization primarily involved in the development and management of offshore fisheries

  • www.pnatuna.com – information on the subregional, regional organization of eight Pacific Island countries where most of the tuna in the region is harvested.

  • www.yokwe.net – general Marshall Islands news, including articles related to fisheries.

The major regional institutions involved in fisheries are the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), located in Honiara, and the Pacific Community (SPC) in Noumea. Other players are the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Office in Majuro, the Secretariat of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) in Suva, the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Apia, and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva. The 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 but tremendous improvement in mid/late 1990s.

An annual colloquium has helped the relationship. 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 depend 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 Organisations 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: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Is, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, 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 (WCPFC). The Marshall Islands is a member of the commission, along with 26 other countries. WCPFC has its headquarters in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, and has held 13 annual meetings to date.

Legal framework

The MIMRA Act 1988 was replaced by the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Act 1997. This act deals with MIMRA affairs, fisheries conservation, management and development issues, management and development of local fisheries, trade, foreign/domestic-based fishing, licensing, and monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS). The section on conservation, management and development covers the following topics:

  • MIMRA’s responsibilities with respect to conservation, management and sustainable use of the fishery resource

  • Objectives and purposes for fisheries management and development

  • Determining total level of fishing and allocations of fishing rights

  • Determining participatory rights in fishery

  • Designated fisheries – fishery management and development plans

  • Conservation and management measures

  • Protection of certain species

  • Protection and promotion of artisanal fisheries

  • The Fisheries Exclusion Zone

  • Cooperation on high seas fishing for highly migratory fish stocks

  • Consultation on international fisheries management

  • Fishing with poisons or explosives

  • Limitations on taking turtles

  • Control of sponges and of black-lip mother-of-pearl oyster shell

  • Prohibition of harvesting trochus except during open season

  • Introduction of fish into fishery waters

  • Prohibition of removal of fish from nets, traps, etc.

  • Protection of fish aggregating devices, artificial reefs, mooring buoys, floats, trays

  • Protection of fishing vessels or gear

  • Use or possession of prohibited fishing gear

  • Prohibition of driftnet fishing activities

There have been only two minor amendments to the act since 1997. The first amendment, which was in 2001, increased the number of board members from five to seven, and the quorum from three to four. The second amendment in 2006 deals with tax exemption (www.mimra.com).

According to MRAG (2011), other legislation relevant to fisheries includes the:

  • Fishing Access and Licensing Act, which vests in MIMRA powers to regulate the fishing activities of both foreign and domestic fishing vessels in the fishery waters of RMI;

  • Fisheries Enforcement Act, which vests responsibility for the enforcement of RMI fisheries laws in MIMRA;

  • Maritime Administrations Act, which provides Marshall Islands with the necessary legal framework to discharge flag state duties;

  • Documentation and Identification of Vessels Act, which regulates the registration of vessels;

  • RMI Ports Authority Act 2003, which established the RMI Ports Authority;

  • Ports of Entry Act, which regulates the entry of vessels into the country.


Map courtesy of SPC

Anon. 2005. Policies and priority actions for sustainable mariculture development in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
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