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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 (2014)

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

Additional information

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

Part I Overview and main indicators

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

Country briefCurrent situation

Tonga is an archipelagic nation of some 150 islands (36 of which are inhabited), representing a total land area of about 747 km2. It has a population of 107 122 inhabitants (2016). In 1887, it formally claimed a marine jurisdiction of some 350 000 km2, but most international arrangements to which it is a Party, recognize a de facto Tongan Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of about 700 000 km².

Fisheries or fishery-related activities are an important source of food, particularly for communities in isolated islands. In 2013, employment in the fishery sector consisted of about 9 240 individuals (with 41 percent women) of which 5 400 people working on an occasional basis, 1 750 operating in subsistence fisheries and 66 working as fish farmers.

Since 2009, the estimated capture fisheries production is about 2 000 tonnes per year, with tunas and billfishes having a share of 15 percent of the total. Aquaculture production is negligible and the main produce in recent years is 300-500 tonnes of mozuku seaweed for export to Japan. In 2015, exports of fish and fishery products were valued at USD 4.6 million and imports at USD 2.9 million. Per capita consumption amounted to 23.3 kg in 2013. Fisheries contribution to the national economy was estimated at USD 4.7 million, representing 2.3% of the national GDP.

The major commercial fisheries activities in Tonga are tuna longlining, deepwater droplining for snapper and grouper, harvesting of seaweed (Cladosiphon spp.), harvesting of corals, invertebrates and fish for the ornamental aquarium trade, and the charter of vessels for whale watching, game fishing and scuba diving.

Aquaculture research and development has been a long standing fisheries programme. Aquaculture programmes include re-establish overexploited species such as giant clams and mullets, introduction of trochus and green snails to create new commercial fisheries, pearl oyster farming, seaweed and sea cucumber culture to earn foreign currency. Research and trials are aimed at relieving pressure on over-exploited traditional inshore fisheries, converting unused areas of natural water or agriculturally poor areas to useful production, reviving and enhancing over-exploited resources and introducing exotic species of commercial value.

Current issues

The legal bases for fisheries management in Tonga are the Fisheries Management Act 2004 and the Fisheries and the Aquaculture Management Act 2003. The Department of Fisheries is located within the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Forests and Fisheries. Fisheries management and planning is largely involved with the development of fisheries management plans and its implementation, policy advice to management and the coordination and monitoring of commercial fisheries and its development through the analysis of statistical indicators. Two key policies have been completed and approved: the Tuna Longline Fishery Management Plan in 2001 and the Seaweed Management Plan in 2005. Management plans for the marine aquarium fishery, deepwater line fishery, bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fishery and charter boats fishery have been developed, but it is unclear if any have moved beyond the draft stage.

The Tongan Government vision for fisheries is for fisheries to “make a significant contribution to better living standards for Tongans, in an economically, socially and environmentally responsible, and sustainable manner.” One of the ways of this vision to be achieved is through the implementation of the Tonga Fisheries Sector Plan (TFSP) which is designed to provide a basis for dialogue on the priorities, programs and implementation modalities. The TFSP identifies:
  1. the strategic objectives for the Tongan fisheries sector
  2. the key programs to achieves these objectives
  3. the links between programs (or subprograms) and their respective objectives using a coherent results framework;
  4. approximate costings of the programs/subprograms;
  5. and suggests implementing mechanisms and arrangements for the TFSP.
Tonga is a Party to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea since August 1995 and to the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement since July 1996. In October 2003, Tonga ratified the 2000 Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific. Tonga is also a Party to a number of other important regional fisheries agreements and participates actively as a member in the work of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), and the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
General geographic and economic indicators

Table 1 -General Geographic and Economic Data-Kingdom of Tonga

Shelf area 700 000 km² FAO
Length of continental coastline 419 km FAO
Fisheries GDP (2014) 2.3% National GDP Gillet, 20161
*Value converted by FAO as per UN currency exchange rate**Per capita calculated by FAO and converted as per UN currency exchange rate

(1) Gillett, R. D. Fisheries in the Economies of Pacific Island Countries and Territories. Pacific Community (SPC), 2016.

Key statistics


Source: FAO Country Profile

FAO Fisheries statistics

Table 2 in this section is based on statistics prepared by the Statistics and Information Branch of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department and disseminated in 2016. The charts are based on the same source but these are automatically updated every year with the most recent disseminated statistics.
      1980 1990 2000 2010 2014 2015 2016
EMPLOYMENT (thousands) 0.01 0.01 0.1 0.08 0.07 9.3 9.3
  Aquaculture 0.1 0.07 0.07 0.07 0.07
  Capture 0.01 0.01 0.01 4.6 4.6 4.6
    Marine 0.01 0.01 0.01 4.6 4.6
FLEET(thousands boats) 1.32  
Source: FAO Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics
1) Due to roundings total may not sum up


Updated 2014Part 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 geography of Tonga exerts a large influence on fishing in the country. Tonga comprises over 150 islands (of which about 36 are inhabited), as well as many smaller islets and reefs. The islands, whose collective land area is about 747 km2, are distributed in three main groups - Tongatapu (location of the capital and administrative centre, Nuku’alofa) and neighbouring islands in the south, the Ha’apai group located centrally, and the Vava’u group to the north. Other islands extend the archipelago further north and south beyond the main groups.

Until the early 1960s, domestic demand for fish was almost wholly met through catches from the country’s reefs and lagoons. Subsequently, however, increases in population and fishing effort and the growth of the cash economy have led to overfishing in many inshore areas. Some traditionally important fish, such as mullet, have been reduced to a small fraction of their earlier abundance, and inshore invertebrates such as bêche-de-mer, lobsters and giant clams have undergone severe declines. These problems are found throughout Tonga, but are most acute close to population centres or in easily accessible fishing areas.

Insufficient production from coastal fisheries led to several strategies to increase fish production for both domestic use and for export. These mostly started in the 1970s and 1980s and included outer-islands fish collection schemes, promotion of offshore2 tuna fishing and deep-slope demersal fishing, and attempts to develop aquaculture.

In the past decade there have been two major efforts to improve the quality of fisheries governance in the country. These were:
  • An Australian-funded initiative over several years to enhance the ability of the government’s fisheries agency3 through advisors, targeted initiatives, scholarships, and office infrastructure.
  • Nurturing the ability of communities to manage their nearby fisheries resources made possible by a change in the Fisheries Act.

Fisheries statistics can be presented in different forms, to cater for different purposes. In the statistics published by FAO (Part 1 above) the presentation follows international conventions and standards followed by FAO and its Member States for reporting catches which are given by the flag of the catching vessel. Accordingly, the fishery production of Tonga in 2014 published by FAO (as given in Part 1 and as of the releasing date4 of the Country Profile) was 1 807 tonnes, almost all of which was from marine capture fisheries.

(2) In this profile, “offshore” is defined as the area outside the zone normally frequented by small, usually undecked, coastal fishing vessels and is generally greater than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land.

(3) In mid-2016, the fisheries sector was separated from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries to form the Ministry of Fisheries. During another period, from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, the government fisheries agency was also a separate ministry.

(4) Fishery Statistical collections are subject to a Quality Assurance process which in some situations may determine the figures revision.

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

Table 3: Tongan fisheries production (as per FAO reporting standards5)






Tonga Flagged Offshore
Volume (tonnes) 0.313 9003 000320



15 0543 22618 064 51610 053 763n/a

The amounts of production given in the above table differ from that shown in Part 1. The table consists of production estimated from a variety of sources (see SPC study below). For the offshore category, the amount given is what the Tonga Fisheries Department reported to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (Fisheries Department, 2015).

The fisheries statistics of Tonga are presented in a different way in a recent study by the Pacific Community (SPC). In that study they are placed in different categories, which is useful for other purposes, such as the administration of foreign fishing in Tongan waters. A summary of fishery production from the SPC study is given in Table 4 below.

Table 4: Fisheries Production in Tonga Waters










     Both Tonga and foreign flagged vessels
Volume (tonnes) 0.313 9003 0001 3631 891
Value (USD)15 0543 22618 064 51610 053 7634 177 4195 058 065
Source: Gillett (2016)

Some comment is required to explain the difference between the information in this table and that of the above Part 1 of this profile.
  • Catches can be given by the flag of the catching vessel (as in the FAO statistics given in Part 1), or by the EEZ where the catch is made (the “offshore foreign based” and “offshore locally based” columns above). These two different ways of allocating catch each have their purposes. Attribution by flag is important for consistency with international conventions, while attribution by EEZ is important for determining fishing contributions to GDP, and managing revenue from license fees for foreign fishing in a country’s zone.
  • For the Tongan flagged offshore vessels there is a difference in what was reported to FAO and what was reported to the Western and Central Fisheries Commission.
  • The estimates of production in the categories of coastal fishing, freshwater fishing, and aquaculture above were made by a study carried out by the Pacific Community in 2015 in which a site visit was made to Tongatapu and a large number of fisheries and economic studies covering the last two decades were examined.

(5) The international standards for production of fisheries statistics adopted by CWP – Coordination Working Party on Fisheries Statistics, in use by FAO.

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

(7) Offshore foreign-based is the catch in the Tongan zone of catch from industrial-scale tuna fishing operations that are based at ports outside Tonga. Under the international standardized System of National Accounts (SNA 2009), such catches do not contribute to the GDP of Tonga.

Marine sub-sectorCatch profile

There is good catch data for tuna fisheries, and to a lesser extent for deep-slope fisheries. Catch data for coastal fisheries is limited to that obtained during inspections of fish being sold on Saturday mornings at the main fish market and some roadside stalls on Tongatapu (Tupou-Taufa 2014).

The catch by Tongan-flagged offshore fishing vessels (all longliners) is given in Table 5 below.

Table 5: Recent Longline Effort and Catch


EffortMain Target Catch (tonnes)


# hooks




2010531 100572447038166
2011701 1003418171054277
2012977 4002010140080250
2013778 600137126077223
2014823 4002522195.1377.87320
Source: Fisheries Department (2015)

Historically, longline efforts by Tongan-flagged vessels in terms of number of hooks per year, rapidly increased from the mid-1990s and peaked at more than 10 million hooks during 2002. This “tuna boom” was followed by a steady decline, due to deteriorating economic conditions. The annual catch per unit effort of Tongan-flagged vessels in recent years has remained relatively steady. The albacore catch rates in the Tongan zone are generally greatest during the cool season of the year, April – August. (Fisheries Department 2015)

Apart from longlining, there have been trials of other types of tuna fishing in Tonga: pole and line tuna fishing in the 1970s and some exploratory fishing by purse seiners in the early 1990s, but the economic feasibility of those types of tuna fishing was poor. Trolling for tuna by small skiffs relatively close to shore is carried out, with increased activity during periods when fish aggregating devices are in place.

Tonga is the leading exporter of deep-slope bottomfish in the Pacific Islands. Box 1 below summarizes the history of the fishery.

Box 1: Development of deep-slope bottom fishing in Tonga

Before the 1970s little was known about snapper and other bottomfish that inhabit the deep waters of the reef slope and seamounts of Tonga.  Exploratory fishing in the 1970s by FAO and the South Pacific Commission showed that favourable catches of several snapper species could be made in water up to 400 metres deep.   After it was demonstrated that these fish were present in substantial quantities, a comprehensive fisheries development programme undertaken with United National Capital Development Fund and United Nations Development Programme assistance targeted at snapper was carried out by what is now known as the Ministry of Fisheries. The programme included designing boats appropriate for Tongan fishermen, teaching boatbuilding, training fishermen in snapper fishing techniques, and commencing a biological research programme to ensure conservation of fish stocks. To date, 41 snapper boats have been constructed by the Ministry of Fisheries but only a dozen or so of these boats remain active in snapper fisheries.

Source: Gillett (2009)

In recent years in deep-slope fishery, both the number of trips and the catch have been declining but the catch per trip has been increasing steadily. This is because the efficiency of the smaller number of boats has been increasing, with changes such as an increase in the number of hooks used (MAFFF 2014). There were 47 metric tons of snapper and other deep bottomfish exported in 2014, contributing 7% to the total quantities of marine products exported. In that year about 43 metric tons (93%) of the total snapper were exported to Honolulu and the rest were exported to New Zealand and to mainland USA. Approximately, 94% of the snapper exported were fresh and was dominated by longtail snapper, Etelis coruscans. (MAFFF 2015)

The information given above in this section is for Tongan tuna and deep-slope demersal fisheries. Much more work is required to identify trends in coastal fisheries – due to lack of effective coverage by an adequately functioning statistical system.

It is thought that production from coastal fisheries for sale (about 3 900 tonnes) is somewhat greater than that for subsistence purposes (about 3 000 tonnes) but there is considerable uncertainty (Gillett 2016).

The main general trend in coastal fisheries appears to be the increasing exploitation of coastal resources, especially those close to urban markets. Other changes affecting coastal fisheries appear to be:
  • an increasing number of communities are placing restrictions on fishing by outsiders in areas adjacent to those communities
  • a growing realization that coastal communities must assume much of the responsibility for managing coastal fisheries, with the central government taking a supporting role.
  • an increase in the transport of the production of coastal fisheries in Vava’u and Ha'apai to domestic markets in Tongatapu.
  • periodic booms in sea cucumber harvesting, followed by lengthy government bans.
  • an increase in deployment of fish aggregating devices (FADs) by the Fisheries Department on the basis that they will displace some inshore fishing to offshore areas.
Landing sites

The offshore fishing vessels that are based in Tonga offload their catch at Nuku’alofa, the main urban area. In the past, some of the larger longliners delivered their catches directly to the cannery in Pago Pago, American Samoa. The offshore fishing vessels operating in the Tongan zone, that are based outside of Tonga, deliver their catch to Suva and Levuka in Fiji and Pago Pago in American Samoa (Fisheries Department 2015).

Deep-slope bottom fishing vessels deliver their catch to Nuku’alofa, and to a lesser degree, to Neiafu in Vava’u.

The catch from small-scale commercial fishing is delivered to several locations on Tongatapu (especially in the Nuku’alofa urban area), to the town of Neiafu in Vava’u, and to the town of Pangai in Ha’apai. Much of the landings at the latter location are for onward shipment to markets in the Nuku’alofa urban area.
Fishing practices/systems

Tuna fishing within the Tongan EEZ has been dominated by longlining since the 1950s. Tuna fisheries (1952–1982) in the Tonga EEZ were mainly done by the distant water longline fleets of Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Prior to 2004, the longline fleet consisted of around 15-25 local and locally-based foreign vessels. Following a moratorium on foreign fishing in 2004, the size of the fleet declined, consisting of only 3 vessels at the end of 2011.

Foreign tuna longliners have been allowed to fish in Tongan waters since 2011 as part of Tonga’s programme to increase tuna fisheries production. In 2014, a total of 19 foreign flagged longline vessels had valid license to fish in Tongan waters. The vessels were from Chinese Taipei (14 longliners), China (3), and Fiji (2). Thirteen of those vessels were less than 100 gross registered tonnes, with one being larger than 200 GRT. (Fisheries Department 2015)

Tonga is the leading producer of deep-slope bottomfish in the Pacific Islands region. A description of deep-slope bottom fishing in Tonga is given in Box 2 below.

Box 2: Deep-slope bottom fishing in Tonga

A typical fishing trip starts when the crew loads ice, food, and fuel onto the vessel – which range from 9 to 15 metres. They depart Nuku'alofa and travel some 75 nautical miles or more to a spot selected by the captain.  Although the ocean surrounding the islands of Tonga is several thousands of metres deep, there are over 100 seamounts, or underwater mountains which rise up relatively close to the surface. These seamounts are where snapper is found.  A snapper boat anchors on a seamount and the crew use four large hand-operated fishing reels to lower their lines to the bottom. To each line are attached 12 to 30 hooks, baited with either saury, skipjack, or squid.  The actual fishing is hard work.   At a depth of 300 metres, it takes a crewman about 8 minutes to crank up the hooks.  During a good fishing day four hours could be spent grinding on the large reels.  In nice weather, from four to five days are spent on the fishing grounds, followed by a day of motoring back to port. Most vessels arrive in Nuku'alofa late Friday night.

Source: Gillett (2008)

The Tongan Fisheries Sector Plan 2016-2024 (Anon 2016) states that historical deep-slope bottom fishing catches in Tonga exceeded 400 tons/year at the outset and declined to a low point of 88 tons in 1996. Current catches have remained relatively stable at an average of 190 tonnes per year with a fleet of 14-25 vessels. Most of the snapper component of the deep-slope bottom fishing catch is exported, going mainly to USA.

Small-scale coastal commercial fishing in Tonga uses a wide variety of gears. A survey of fish arriving in Tongatapu from Vava’u and Ha’apai (Lautaha and Cohen, 2004) showed that almost half of the fish that arrived was caught by diving, 34% from handlining, and around 10% from droplining. The rest was caught using various other methods, including netting and gleaning. These results could be considered as indicative of the current types of small-scale commercial fishing in the country.

Spearfishing is very important in Tonga. A recent report (Aisea 2016) indicates that the techniques produce more fish from inshore areas in Vava'u and Ha'apai than any other method. An FAO survey (Gillett and Moy, 2006) provides some information on this fishery in the country. The use of underwater torches for night spear fishing appears to have originated in the 1960s. A bêche-de-mer boom in Tonga (roughly mid-1980s to mid-1990s) and its associated diving with hookah8 and scuba apparently increased the skills and interest of individuals in this gear, while a bêche-de-mer ban in the mid-1990s created a pool of unemployed divers. There are several types of spear fishing in Tonga: predominantly subsistence, small-scale commercial, recreational, and operations that involve many divers on a large vessel. The gear used for spear fishing in the country is not very sophisticated. Fins, masks, and snorkels (often very worn) appear to be used by all divers. Sling spears are far more common than spear guns. Wetsuits are not often used. The Tongatapu spear fishing vessels (mostly 6 to 8 metres in length) are all outboard-powered and most are made of wood and have a small cabin.

Subsistence fishing techniques are similar to those for small-scale commercial fishing: diving, handlining, and netting. Gleaning by women is especially common. A study of women’s fishing activities in Tonga (Walton 1998) showed that the major activities of Tongan women in harvesting marine resources have traditionally been reef gleaning for shellfish, holothurians and echinoderms.

(8) Hookah - a colloquial, but widely used, term for a surface supply diving apparatus usually involving the supply of breathing air from a small compressor unit via a free floating air supply hose to a mouth held demand breathing gas supply device.

Main resources

In 2014, the catch for the Tongan longline fleet was about 61% yellowfin, 8% albacore, and 7% bigeye. In previous years, albacore was targeted but the focus has switched to the higher value yellowfin and bigeye tuna for fresh fish export markets. Dolphin is presently the most common non-target species. (Fisheries Department 2015)

Deep-slope bottom fishing has historically targeted six species: crimson jobfish, Pristipomoides filamentosus, golden eye jobfish, Pristipomoides flavipinnins, long-tail snapper, Etelis coruscans, short-tail red snapper, Etelis carbunculus, comet grouper, Epinephelus morhua and convict grouper, Epinephelus septemfasciatus. Those six species constitute around 80% of the catch. The species composition has changed over time in association with changes in targeting and depth of fishing. The long-tail snapper is now the dominant species, comprising more than 50% of the catch. (MAFFF 2014) With respect to coastal commercial fishing, in the past the Ministry of Fisheries had the Inshore Fisheries Statistics Programme, which gave the major reef-fish species landed at the domestic markets (Bell 1994). These include: Unicorn and Surgeon fishes (Acanthuridae), Squirrelfishes (Holocentridae), Wrasses (Labridae), Emperors and Sea-breams (Lethrinidae), Seaperches (Lutjanidae), Goatfishes (Mullidae), Sweetlips (Plectorhynchidae), Parrotfishes (Scaridae), Rabbitfishes (Siganidae), Half-peak parrotfishes (Sparisomidae), Sea-pikes (Sphyraenidae), Drummerfishes (Kyphosidae), Rock-cods (Epinephelidae), Silver-biddy (Gerridae), Trigerfishes (Balistidae), Bullseyes (Priacanthidae), and Majors (Abudefdufidae).

Quantitative information on the species composition in the Tongatapu spearfishing catch is given in Vaikona et al. (1997) (Box 6):

Table 6: The major species caught by spearfishing

 Tongan name

English name

Scientific name


in catch


Night divingHohomo


Scarus spp.



Naso unicornis



Siganus argenteus



Scarus spp.



Acanthurus spp.

 Others 30%
Day divingPone


Acanthurus spp.



Scarus spp



Epinephelus spp.



Ostichthys spp.

 Others 26%

In an older study (World Bank 1999), residents of six coastal communities in Tonga were asked to name the three subsistence fishery resources of most importance to them. Seven resources were most often cited: finfish, octopus, lobster, bêche-de-mer, turbot, giant clams, seaweed and Anadara.

In terms of the status of the above resources, there is little quantitative stock assessment information available – with the exception tuna and for deep-slope bottomfish.

For the tuna, recent information from the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC 2016) shows:
  • 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 in order to reduce fishing mortality to that at maximum sustainable ield a reduction in fishing is required.
  • Yellowfin: The current total biomass and spawning biomass are higher than at levels associated with maximum sustainable yields. Therefore, yellowfin tuna is not considered to be overfished.
  • South Pacific albacore: There is no indication that current levels of catch are causing recruitment overfishing, particularly given the age selectivity of the fisheries. It should be noted that longline catch rates are declining, and catches over the last 10 years have been at historically high levels and are increasing.

The Tongan Deepwater Fisheries Management Plan 2014–2016 (Fisheries Department 2014) reviews the range of estimates for maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Given the uncertainty in the various estimates, a working MSY of about 250 tonnes (200 tonnes for seamounts and 50 tonnes for the banks) is considered appropriate. Recent catches are below this level.

Current stock assessment information like that above for tuna and bottomfish is not available for the other important fishery resources of Tonga9. There is a widely held perception that many coastal fish and invertebrate species are over-exploited, especially high value species and those located close to urban areas.

(9) In November 2016 the Pacific Community completed a comprehensive survey for sea cucumber in Tonga, but the results are not yet available.

Management applied to main fisheries

Tonga’s tuna fisheries are managed at regional and national levels.
  • At the regional level, Tonga is a member of the WCPFC that was established by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Tonga and the other 26 members of the commission enact tuna management measures at the annual WCPFC meeting. From Tonga’s perspective, the two most important measures are: (1) the Conservation and Management Measure for South Pacific Albacore, and (2) the Conservation and Management Measure for Bigeye, Yellowfin and Skipjack Tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
  • At the national level, tuna fisheries are managed by the “Tonga National Tuna Fisheries Management and Development Plan (2015 – 2017)”. The overall goal of the plan is “to manage Tonga’s tuna fisheries resources through an ecosystem-based, precautionary and rights-based approach in order to maximize the benefits to Tongans while ensuring the biological and economic sustainability of the fishery”. The main management measures are (a) a total allowable catch for South Pacific albacore tuna, currently set at 2 500 mt in longline fisheries, and (b) a limit on the total number of longline fishing vessel licenses (including local, locally-based and foreign licenses), currently set at 15 vessels.

Deep-slope bottomfishing is managed by the “Tonga Deepwater Fisheries Management Plan 2014 – 2016”. The plan has two main measures: (1) the catch is limited to 200 tonnes annually of export species, and (2) vessels are limited in length to 23 metres.

A national sea cucumber fisheries plan was developed in 2007. The plan contained size limits, prohibited some species from export, prohibited the use of underwater breathing apparatus for harvesting sea cucumber, and prescribed controls on the number of processing and export licenses, an annual open season and total allowable catch quotas for certain species. SPC (2015) states that the management plan was not adhered to, leading to the collapse of the fisheries. There is currently a total ban on the fishing and export of sea cucumbers.

The Marine Aquarium Fishery Management Plan uses three main management measures that: (1) a limit on the number of operators in Tongatapu be limited to five, (2) a limit of 100 000 on the number of fish exported by each operator, and (3) a ban on the export of live rock.

The management of Tonga’s small-scale coastal fisheries is undergoing a major change, from the largely unregulated open-access fishing of the past to a community based system. Box 3 below describes this transition.

Box 3: Fisheries management by Special Management Areas

During the 20th century, Tongans had equal access to the country’s coastal fishery resources. The government’s efforts to manage and conserve those resources were based on a centralised approach in which the Fisheries Division would attempt to regulate fisheries from their head office in Tongatapu and stations in a few parts of the country. In many cases, especially in the outer islands and remote communities, the net result of well-intentioned central management of coastal fisheries in Tonga was the absence of management. In the mid-1990s, the idea arose that coastal communities should be given powers to regulate fisheries in their nearby marine areas. That concept gained momentum and in the early 2000s a change in Tonga’s fisheries legislation allowed for fisheries management by local communities, through Special Management Areas (SMAs). Since then, the Fisheries Division has worked with coastal communities to establish 11 SMAs, with the intention of establishing SMAs throughout the country.

Source: Gillett (2016)

One of the requirements for a community to have an SMA is the development of a coastal community management plan. These plans have the following components: vision, objectives, status/trends in the fishery, statement/analysis of the problems, management strategies, and monitoring & evaluation. The main management measures in the plans are usually the exclusion of outsiders from nearby fishing areas and the establishment of a no-take zone. Management objectives

In general, management objectives are required to conform to the Fisheries Management Act 2002. The law requires that measures promote the objective of optimum utilization and to achieve economic growth, human resource development, employment creation and sound ecological balance.

Several of Tonga’s fisheries have more specific objectives, as indicated in the respective management plans.

The Tonga National Tuna Fisheries Management and Development Plan lists the following objectives:
  • ensuring that the utilization of Tonga’s tuna longline fisheries resources is compatible with the sustainable development measures;
  • maximizing economic benefits and ensuring ownership of fisheries resources for the people of Tonga including optimizing its tuna resources, including fishing, processing and value addition;
  • ensuring that any tuna legislation facilitates support to national priorities and interests, and all necessary requirements of regional and international binding frameworks and measures;
  • exploring alternative management arrangements that generate economic benefits;
  • providing clear and transparent licensing procedures;
  • ensuring that non target species are not discarded or dumped;
  • promoting the use of mitigation measures to minimize bycatch of endangered threatened and protected species; and
  • contributing to capacity-building, technology transfer and the food security of Tongan subjects.

The objectives of managing Tonga’s deep-slope bottom fisheries are to:
  • conserve fish resources by limiting the amount of fishing;
  • encourage economic efficiency of vessels and maximize export revenue, and
  • protect a number of seamounts (and banks) as a safety valve for stock sustainability and for protecting juvenile fish.

For the SMAs described above, each community develops their own objectives. Common management objectives are to: improve fish catch, improve livelihoods, increase fish abundance, and decrease environmental degradation. The objectives are largely established by the community, with the Ministry of Fisheries staff’s main role being pointing out unrealistic objectives.

Institutional arrangements

The main institutions involved with fisheries management are the Ministry of Fisheries and the Fisheries Advisory Committee. The Fisheries Act 2002 states that the Fisheries Advisory Committee is comprised of:(a) the Secretary of Fisheries as the Chairman(b) the Secretary for Lands or his nominee(c) the Secretary for Labour Commerce and Industries or his nominee(d) one member representing commercial fisheries interests nominated by the Tongan Fish Exports Association(e) one member representing women’s interests nominated by the Minister(f) two members representing local fishermen nominated by the Minister(g) one member representing coastal communities nominated by the Prime Minister(h) such other persons not exceeding two whom the Secretary may think fit to appoint.

The Fisheries Act 2002 specifies that the Minister shall, in consultation with the Fisheries Advisory Committee, determine the total allowable catch or total allowable level of fishing with respect to any stock of fish subject to the provisions of this Act or as provided in a fisheries management agreement.

In practice, the major fisheries (tuna, deepwater bottomfish, bêche-de-mer, aquarium fish) have management plans that establish committees that are dedicated to specific fisheries concerned For example, the tuna management plan states “stakeholders are to be represented in the Tuna Management Committee which will advise the Secretary and the Minister on the management of the tuna resources.”
Fishing communities

The concept of “fishing communities” has limited applicability to Tonga. Nearly all households in coastal villages are involved in coastal fishing activities. It could therefore be stated that all coastal villages in Tonga are “fishing communities”.
Inland sub-sector

The lack of large freshwater bodies in Tonga result in the freshwater catches being extremely small. Catches of fish in fresh water appear limited to tiny amounts of introduced tilapia in small lakes in the northern island groups of the country. It is reported that a small stream on ‘Eua Island has freshwater shrimp. With limited factual basis, Gillett (2016) deems that Tonga’s inland fishery production in 2014 was one tonne, worth US$3 226. There is no management of the small inland fishery sub-sector.
Aquaculture sub-sector

Aquaculture research and development work in Tonga has typically fallen into two main categories:
  • production aquaculture, i.e. culturing of organisms intended to result in the production of edible or saleable products for domestic consumption or export. This category includes the substantial volumes of work done over the years on farming of mullet, milkfish, tilapia, seaweed, mussels, edible oysters and pearl oysters, as well as some work on giant clams.
  • reef re-seeding, i.e. the mass production of juveniles for restocking of depleted wild fisheries. This is a relatively new thrust which includes some of the work done on giant clams as well as more recent work on trochus and green snail.

Almost 20 years ago, the FAO/AusAID Tonga Fisheries Sector Review stated: “Aquaculture research and development work has taken place in Tonga for more than 40 years. During that time numerous projects, some of which have been very substantial, have been carried out, but so far very little of this work has been translated into commercial or production aquaculture” (Preston 1998). Currently significant aquaculture production in Tonga is limited to small amounts of giant clams and pearls. There is also the farming of milkfish, seaweed, coral, and sea cucumber but on a very small or experimental basis. The aquaculture production of the country in 2014 was estimated at approximately 1 291 pieces, with a farm-gate value of US$15 054 (Gillett 2016).

The aquaculture sub-sector is managed through the Aquaculture Management Act 2003 (MAF 2010). That law requires that there is a Management and Development Plan for the nation’s aquaculture industry. In addition, the Act requires that there is an Aquaculture Advisory Committee advising the Minister on such matters as aquaculture policy, planning, management and development. The terms of reference for the Committee’s workings and members are provided for by the Act. The Act states that persons, businesses or communities undertaking aquaculture must be licensed. It further states the requirements for renewing and refusing licenses or authorizations and a system for resolving grievances.

The Act stipulates that the Minister will prepare and keep the Management and Development Plan under review. The Management and Development Plan must be gazetted, and will be a guide and control mechanism to supplement the Act for aquaculture. The Management and Development Plan states that aquaculture should be based on six objectives that it will:
  • contribute to the economic development and social well-being of the people of Tonga;
  • be environmentally sustainable;
  • be managed in a manner that considers and balances economic and social gains against environmental costs;
  • be managed within a transparent and explicit regulatory framework;
  • include broad community consultation on aquaculture developments that have the potential to impact on specific communities.
  • Ensure that aquaculture products for human consumption will be safe and disease free.

Recreational sub-sector

Although subsistence fishing may have a large social component and be enjoyed by the participants, there is little recreational fishing as a leisure activity for villagers. There are fishing clubs in Tongatapu and Vava’u. Most members of the clubs are expatriate residents of Tonga. Commercial game fishing (mostly open-ocean trolling) is a popular tourist activity, especially in Vava’u where several commercial sport fishing vessels are registered.

There is no active management of the recreational sub-sector, with one exception: the Fisheries Act states “No fishing vessel shall be used for reward or hire for sport fishing in the fisheries waters without a commercial sport fishing vessel licence issued by the Secretary”.
Post-harvest sectorFish utilization

In general, offshore fishing is export oriented. The high quality fresh bigeye and yellowfin is typically exported to Japan and the USA. Most of the albacore was formerly sent to overseas canneries but an increasing amount is sold domestically due to high fish prices. The bycatch from offshore fisheries is consumed locally – except for dolphinfish which is exported to the USA.

In coastal fisheries:
  • for deepwater bottom fishing about two-thirds of the catch is exported, with the remainder mostly going to restaurants in Tongatapu and Vava'u. About 90% of bottomfish go to Hawaii, with the remainder bought by NZ and mainland USA;
  • the bêche-de-mer are shipped to China;
  • aquarium fish and associated coral products are shipped to the USA;
  • inshore finfish and invertebrates are largely consumed by the harvesting household but there is significant trade between Ha’apai and the markets in Tongatapu, as well as the export of seafood for relatives overseas.

Aquaculture production of giant clams is for the aquarium trade in the USA. The cultured pearls are mainly for the tourists that visit Tonga.
Fish markets

Domestic fish markets are found in urban areas. The Nuku’alofa area has one major fish market, several smaller ones, and significant roadside sales. Some fishing companies distribute fish to restaurants.

Sites dedicated to fish sales exist in Neiafu, Vava'u and Pangai, Ha'apai.
Socio-economic contribution of the fishery sector

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

Role of fisheries in the national economy

The Tongan Statistics Department made an official estimate of the contribution of fishing to GDP. The SPC study examined the methodology and, using its independent estimate of the value of fisheries production, re-estimated the fisheries contribution.
  • The official contribution showed a FY 2013-2014 fishing contribution to GDP of T$18.2 million (US$9.8 million), or 2.3% of GDP. (source: Statistics Department (2015) and M.Masila (per.com., September 2015))
  • The contribution of fishing to GDP was re-estimated by the SPC study for the year 2014. It showed a contribution of T$35.7 million (US$19.2 million), or 4.4% of GDP.

In 2014, Tonga received T$1 167 816 (US$627 858) as access fees for foreign fishing. The total government revenue in fiscal year 2013-2014 was T$301.5 million (US$162.1 million). The 2014 access fees therefore equate to about 0.4% of all government revenue for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

The Statistics Department (2015) indicates that a total of $T12.5 million (US$6.7 million) of fishery products10 were exported in 2014. This represents about 44.2% of all Tonga exports for that year.

(10) This includes “coral and similar materials”.

Food security

The SPC work examined several studies related to fish consumption in Tonga (i.e. finfish and edible invertebrates). This included fisheries surveys, dietary surveys, and household income and expenditure surveys. Most of the estimates of annual per capita fish consumption for the country lie in the range of 25.2 to 35.0 kgs per year. This is low compared to most Pacific Island countries.

The recent Tonga Fisheries Sector Plan (Anon 2016) states that more accurate records of fish imports are required to precisely identify imports. However, canned fish (mackerel, tuna and sardines) appears to constitute the most important group in terms of food security. Approximately 1 400 tons per year (2008-2012) of canned fish is imported at an average price of US$ 1.8 per kg and worth approximately US$ 2.5 million. Information suggests that the competitive price, convenience and nutritional value of canned fish make these products highly competitive, as the price of local fish precludes regular consumption by many households.

The 2011 census (Statistics Department 2012) has a considerable amount of information on fisheries employment. Table 7 below shows the main type of work during the week prior to the census for the 64 597 people in Tonga aged 15 years and older. As expected, involvement with fisheries work is greatest on small islands and least in urban areas.

Table 7: Involvement with fishing by geographic area (15 years +)

  Total Tongatapu Vava'u Ha'apai 'Eua Ongo Niua Urban Rural Greater Nuku’alofa
  64 597 47 475 9 117 4 121 3 042 842 15812 48 785 23 229
Fishing mainly for sale 859 552 136 141 20 10 108 751 259
Fishing for own consumption 437 202 87 123 7 18 34 403 84
Fishing as a % of population (15 years +) 2.0% 1.6% 2.4% 6.4% 0.9% 3.3% 0.9% 2.4% 1.5%
Source: Statistics Department (2012)

The Forum Fisheries Agency has a program that collects data on tuna-related employment in a standard form. FFA (2015) contains information on the employment of people from Tonga in the tuna industry (Table 8 below). A total of 45 Tongans were employed in the tuna industry in 2014. Across the Pacific Island countries in 2014 a total of 17,663 people were employed as crew on tuna vessels or in tuna processing and ancillary work (FFA 2015). The tuna employment in Tonga therefore represents 0.26% of the regional tuna employment.

Table 8: Tuna-related employment in Tonga (number of people employed)

  2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Processing and ancillary 20 14 17 6 15 12
Local crew 30 17 9 6 7 33
Total 50 31 26 12 22 45
Source: FFA (2015)
Rural development

The Ministry of Fisheries maintains offices and staff in several locations outside the main urban area of Nuku’alofa: Vava’u, Ha’apai, ‘Eua, and Niuatoputapu. One of the major objectives of these outposts is to promote fisheries development. This is carried out through a variety of ways, including market facilitation, advice on fisheries management, deployment of offshore fish aggregation devices and provision of ice-making equipment.
Trends, issues and developmentConstraints and opportunities

Some of the major constraints of the fisheries sector are:
  • Many of the inshore fishery resources, especially those close to urban markets, are fully or over-exploited.
  • In most of the coastal communities of Tonga, the open-access nature of the adjacent fishing areas creates a negative incentive to conserve resources for the future: the first-come-first-served regime now prevailing is an incentive to harvest as much as possible, as fast as possible.
  • Small-scale fishers have difficulty in accessing economically the relatively abundant offshore fishery resources.
  • The development of a tuna industry is difficult from a high cost location.
  • There are considerable difficulties associated with marketing fishery products from the remote areas where abundance is greatest to the urban areas where the marketing opportunities are greatest.
  • Aquaculture is, to some degree, stuck in the phase of the Ministry of Fisheries growing organisms in tanks.

The opportunities in the fisheries sector include:
  • The expansion of the Special Management Area concept (communities acquiring management control over adjacent inshore fisheries) to other island communities in Tonga.
  • Making the transition from the Ministry of Fisheries raising organisms in tanks to efforts to create a viable aquaculture industry.
  • Increasing the effectiveness of the Ministry of Fisheries by creating incentives to promote private sector development.
  • Taking advantage of the new leadership of the Ministry of Fisheries and well-educated staff.
Government and non-government sector policies and development strategiesThe most recent articulation of the government’s policies and development strategies in fisheries is found in the Tonga Fisheries Sector Plan 2016-2024 (Anon 2016). That document contains a section linking the National Strategic Planning Framework objectives to the fisheries sector. It gives the policies in four areas:Sustainable community fisheries:
  • Strong inclusive communities, by engaging districts/villages/communities in meeting their prioritised service needs and ensuring equitable distribution of development benefits.
  • Cultural awareness, environmental sustainability, disaster risk- management and climate change adaptation, integrated into all planning and implementation of programmes
Sustainable commercial fisheries:
  • Dynamic public and private sector partnership as the engine of growth, by promoting better collaboration between government and business, appropriate incentives and streamlining of rules and regulations. (through the National Fisheries Council, Special Management Areas, fisher and exporter associations, development of an aquaculture investment policy, adaptive management of fisheries)
  • Safe, secure and stable society, by maintaining law and order. (Activities on compliance, safety at sea)
Public and private investment:
  • Appropriate, well planned and maintained infrastructure that improves the everyday lives of the people and lowers the cost of business, by the adequate funding and implementation of the National Infrastructure Investment Plan.
Improved fisheries governance:
  • Better governance, by adopting the qualities of good governance, accountability, transparency, anti-corruption and the rule of law.
Research, education and trainingResearch

A very large number of fisheries research projects have been carried out in Tonga. Most areas of Tonga and most types of resources have been covered by various research endeavors. The older research is listed in the Tonga Fisheries Bibliography (Gillett 1994). The results of many of the research projects are summarised by resource in the Tonga Fisheries Profiles (Bell 1994). Research projects in the 1990s are summarized in the FAO/AusAID Tonga Fisheries Sector Review (Gillett et al. 1998). The latter document contains sections on:
  • past and present fisheries research in Tonga
  • planned fisheries research
  • prioritization of fisheries research
  • the mechanism by which important research needs are translated into research activities
  • specific suggestions for improving current resource monitoring
  • research activities required by community-based management
  • the involvement of the ministry in tuna research
  • procurement of data from the commercial operators
  • suggestions for improving fisheries research in Tonga

Current fisheries research in Tonga by the Ministry of Fisheries includes that related to sea cucumbers, tuna, aquaculture, deep-slope bottomfish, bluenose, and community-based management. Major issues in fisheries research are the translating of research needs into research activities, analysis of data collected by research projects, and funding for research. Much of the recent research in Tonga has been carried out in cooperation with the Pacific Community.
Education and training

Education related to fisheries in Tonga is undertaken in a variety of institutions:
  • Academic training in biological, economic and other aspects of fisheries is given at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, and to a lesser extent at universities in Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
  • The Tonga Maritime Polytechnic Institute has courses on small boat safety and for the certification of vessel officers.
  • Training courses and workshops are frequently organized by the regional organizations: the Pacific Community in New Caledonia and by the Forum Fisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands. The subject matter has included such diverse topics as fish quality grading, stock assessment, seaweed culture, fisheries surveillance, and on-vessel observing.
  • Courses and workshops are also given by NGOs and by bilateral donors, such as those by Japan.
Foreign aid

The largest donor initiative in Tonga’s fisheries sector in the last two decades was the Tonga Fisheries Project, sponsored by Australia. This multi-year project was completed in 2008 and covered institutional strengthening of the Fisheries Division, renovation of the Fisheries Division offices, offshore/coastal fisheries management, and fisheries legislation.

New Zealand is currently sponsoring another high-profile project, the provision of a fisheries policy advisor.

A subject that is presently attracting considerable donor support is the establishment Special Management Areas, which is described in Box 3 above. The following donors are supporting SMAs in Tonga: Asian Development Bank, Waitt Foundation, Seacology, Pacific Community, Global Environment Facility, and the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust.
  • FAO has several fisheries initiatives in Tonga, including a review of SMAs that was completed in late 2016.

  • Historically, Japan has been the major donor supporting aquaculture in Tonga. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) funded the construction of the Tongan Mariculture Centre, and its refurbishment after damage by a major cyclone. JICA has also provided aquaculture experts, training, materials and operating support to Tonga through in-kind technical assistance programmes.
  • The fisheries-related assistance of many donors is channeled through regional organizations (see Section 8.1 below).
Institutional framework

During the past two decades, the government fisheries agency has been at different times the Fisheries Division, the Ministry of Fisheries, and the Fisheries Department. In mid-2016 the fisheries sector was separated from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries to form the current Ministry of Fisheries.

Headed by the Minister of Fisheries, the senior civil servant in the Ministry is the Chief Executive Officer.

The Ministry of Fisheries is currently11 is comprised of five divisions:
  • Fisheries Science Division (including offshore fisheries, coastal fisheries, and aquaculture)
  • Compliance Division
  • Economics and Management Division
  • Administration Division
  • Chief Executive Officer Division
Other institutions that are important to fisheries in Tonga are the Fishing Industry Association of Tonga (represents the larger fishing companies), and the Tonga National Fishing Association (represents mainly smaller fishing operations).

Many of the managed fisheries have advisory boards. For example, there is a Deepwater Fishery Management Committee established by the Tonga Deepwater Fisheries Management Plan. There is an Aquaculture Advisory Committee to advise the Minister on policy, planning, management and development of aquaculture.

Some of the important internet links related to fisheries in Tonga are:
  • www.tongafish.gov.to – the website of the Tonga Ministry of Fisheries; contains information on legislation, management plans, applications for licences, publications, contact details for key fisheries officials
  • www.spc.int/coastfish/Countries/Tonga - Information on Tonga fisheries, links to other sites
  • www.tonganfishers.org – the website of the Fishing Industry Association of Tonga (FIAT)

(11) In late 2016 there was a plan to reorganize the divisions in the Ministry.

The major regional institutions involved with 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) in Majuro, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) in Suva, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Apia, and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva. The various characteristics of those institutions are given in Table 9.

Table 9: 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 PICs from tuna fishing activities. Most aspects of coastal fisheries and scientific research on tuna. Fisheries are only one aspect of the work programme of SPC, which also covers such issues as health, demography, and agriculture.

PNA – A sub-regional grouping of countries where most of the purse seining occurs;

SPREP – Environmental aspects of fisheries;

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

PIFS – Major political initiatives, some natural resource economics; leading the trade negotiations with the EU, which has a major fisheries component.

Inter-regional relationships

The FFA/SPC relationship has had ups/downs over the years. There was much bickering/waste in early 1990s, tremendous improvement in mid/late 1990s.

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

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

At least in theory, all regional organizations come under the umbrella of PIFS. Activities of the regional organisations 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, though it appears to be improving.

Main strengths Direct contact with its governing body throughout the year results in a high degree of accountability. Mandate of tight focus on tuna eliminates considerable dissipation of effort. Due to Noumea being a pleasant place 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% observer coverage, eco-certification, high seas closures, and controls on FADs.

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

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

Membership Australia and New Zealand, plus Cooks, FSM, Fiji Kiribati, Marshalls, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, PNG, Samoa, Solomons, Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu Includes the major metropolitan countries, all Pacific Island territories, and the French/UK/US territories; The most inclusive of any regional organisation.

PNA: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

USP: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, 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). Tonga is a member of the commission, along with 26 other countries. The WCPFC has its headquarters in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, and has held 13 annual meetings to date.

Legal framework

The main laws related to fisheries and aquaculture in Tonga are the Fisheries Management Act 2002 and the Aquaculture Management Act 2003.

The main features of the Fisheries Management Act 2002 are:
  • The Minister shall, subject to this Act, be responsible for conservation, management, sustainable utilisation and development of fisheries resources in the Kingdom and fisheries waters.
  • The Minister shall establish a Fisheries Management Advisory Committee which shall advise him on matters relating to the conservation, management, sustainable utilization and development of fisheries in the Kingdom.
  • The Minister shall, in consultation with the Fisheries Advisory Committee, determine the total allowable catch or total allowable level of fishing with respect to any stock of fish subject to the provisions of this Act or as provided in a fisheries management agreement.
  • The Secretary shall progressively prepare and keep under review plans for the conservation, management, sustainable utilisation and development of fisheries in the fisheries waters and ensure the implementation of such fishery plans.
  • The Secretary shall maintain or cause to be maintained a Fishing Vessels Register. No fishing vessel shall be operated in the fisheries waters and no Tongan ship shall be used in or outside the fisheries waters for fishing unless such vessel or ship has been registered on the Fishing Vessels Register.
  • The Minister may by Order published in the Gazette, declare any area of the fisheries waters and corresponding subjacent area to be a Special Management Area for purposes of coastal community management, application of certain conservation and management measures, subsistence fishing operations or other specified purpose.
  • The Minister may, in consultation with the Committee, designate any local community in Tonga to be a coastal community for the purposes of community based fisheries management and may prescribe the rights and responsibilities of such coastal community in respect of the Special Management Areas or part thereof.
  • No person shall export any fish or fish product without a fish export license issued in accordance with this Act.

Main features of the Aquaculture Management Act 200312 are:
  • Responsibility of the Minister: The Minister is responsible for the control, management and development of aquaculture and any related activity, whether on land or in any aquatic area including marine areas.
  • Aquaculture management and development plan: The Minister prepares and keeps under regular review a plan for the management and development of aquaculture which should be published in the Gazette.
  • Codes of practice: The Minister may, in consultation with the Aquaculture Advisory Committee, issue and publish codes of practice. The Minister has to ensure that a copy of every code of practice is available for inspection by the public during business hours and copies of the whole or any part of that code shall be provided, upon payment of the prescribed fee. The failure to comply with a code of practice shall be taken into consideration in the grant or disqualification of any authorisation under this Act.
  • Aquaculture Advisory Committee: advises the Minister on policy, planning and guidelines for the regulation, management and development of aquaculture; and any matter on which the Minister or the Secretary is required to consult the Advisory Committee under this Act.
  • Aquaculture to be conducted in accordance with this Act: Aquaculture and related activities can only be conducted: by persons who hold an aquaculture development licence or other authorisation issued in accordance with the Act; within aquaculture areas.
  • Licence conditions: An aquaculture development licence:
  • is valid for the period stated in the licence but not exceeding ten years;
  • can’t be used for purposes other than as specified in the licence; and
  • is subject to any general terms and conditions which may be prescribed generally or in respect of the relevant type of aquaculture by regulations;
  • Environmental impact assessment: Holders of an aquaculture development license or other authorisation have to all reasonably practical measures to avoid or minimise pollution and any harmful environmental impact caused by aquaculture or related activities, including the discharge of effluent and the disposal of sludge.
  • Exotic fish: The Secretary may by Notice in the Gazette designate any species of exotic fish and such designation of exotic fish shall be published. No person shall introduce or import, possess, culture, sell or export any exotic fish without the written authorisation of the Secretary.

(12) A minor amendment to the Aquaculture Management Act 2003 was made in 2005, the Aquaculture Management (Amendment) Act 2005. This involved simply inserting the words "or the Waste Management Act 2005" after the words in one section.


Map courtesy of the pacific community


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