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The Fishery sector profile available for this country is:

Tuvalu Fishery sector overview (from NFSO)
NFSO National Fishery Sector Overview - provide a comprehensive overview of the fisheries and aquaculture sector for each country featured, including economic and demographic information, structure of the industry, development prospects, sector management and status and trends....more


Land area

26 km

Ocean area:

900 000 km

Length of coastline:

590 km

Population (1998)

11 000

Gross Domestic Product (1998)

US$ 13,9 million

Fishing contribution to GDP (1998):

US$ 0,98 million

GDP per caput (1998):



Commodity balance (1999):




Total supply

Per caputsupply

Tonnes liveweight equivalent


Fish for direct human consumption





Fish for animal feed and other purposes

Estimated employment (1999)

Primary sector:


Secondary sector:


Subsistence fisheries:


Gross value of Fisheries Output (1999)

US$ 1,2 million

Trade (1999):

Value of imports:


Value of exports:

4,232 million



Tuvalu is a group of islands lying in the south-central Pacific north of Fiji. The islands of Tuvalu, all low lying atolls, are Nanumea, Nanumanga, Niutao, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau,
Funafuti, Nukulaelae and Niulakita. The country became an independent state on October 1978 After 62 years of British colonial rule. In 1986 Tuvalu acquired Least Developed Country (LDC) status.

Even by Pacific Island standards, Tuvalu is quite isolated. There is presently only air service from Fiji and only Funafuti has a useable landing strip. Some of the other islands lack even a pass in the reef to allow the government passenger/cargo boat to enter the lagoon.

Tuvalu's small land area of only 26 sq. km. limits the prospects for agriculture or other forms of terrestrially based development. The country places much hope for future economic growth on the fishery resources contained within its large EEZ area, which covers 900,000 sq. km.

Because of the low topography of all of the Tuvalu islands, sea level rise is of major concern to the country. Tuvalu is becoming increasingly vocal in international meetings on this vulnerability.

Marine fisheries

Subsistence activities dominate Tuvalu's fisheries sector. A wide variety of techniques are used throughout the group to collect fish, crabs and shellfish which are consumed, shared or informally bartered. Fisheries centres have been established on several outer islands with the intention of providing fishers there with income earning opportunities. On the main island, Funafuti, artisanal fishing is limited to a small fleet of 4-5 m outboard powered skiffs which mostly fish by trolling for tuna, and by line fishing for reef fish.

About 75% percent of the fish landings in Tuvalu are ocean species, predominantly two species of tuna - skipjack and yellowfin. The remainder is made of reef and lagoon species, with smaller amounts of bottom fish from deep slope areas. From census data it has been determined that 74% of households in Tuvalu participate in reef fishing and 63% in ocean fishing.

Flyingfish are quite important in Tuvalu. Of the 40 species of flyingfish are found in the central Pacific, Cheilopogon and Cypselurus are probably the most common genera in Tuvalu. They are mainly captured at night using lights and scoop nets.

Tilapia and trochus were introduced to Tuvalu in attempts to create new resources and small-scale fisheries based on them. The introduction of tilapia into borrow pits on Funafuti and elsewhere resulted in long-term negative ecological impact and no local benefit as tilapia is not favoured as a food fish by Tuvaluans. Trochus were introduced to six islands (Funafuti, Nukufetau, Nukulaelae, Nanumea, and Nui) from Fiji and the Cook Islands in four separate introductions carried out between 1985 and 1989. By 2001 there were occasional reports of trochus sightings, especially on Funafuti, but the shellfish is not yet common.

The fisheries resources of the open ocean are substantial, however the reef and lagoon resources are much more limited. Increasing fishing pressure in inshore areas, especially on Funafuti where about a third the population resides, is cause for concern.

With the assistance of UNDP and the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme, Tuvalu has recently established its first marine park within the Funafuti lagoon in 1996. This marine reserve covers an area of 40 sq. km. and includes six islets and adjoining reefs and waters. The goal of this initiative is the preservation of marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

Fishing trials and surveys conducted on Tuvalu's deep reef slopes between 1991 and 1994 indicated that stocks of deep-water snappers could sustain a catch of 100 t/year. Although government has promoted wider development of the export snapper fishery, there has been little private participation. This is due to a range of factors including the relatively high cost of entering the fishery, the local difficulty in raising capital, and the poor handling, distribution and export infrastructure that exists in Tuvalu.

The National Fishing Company of Tuvalu (NAFICOT) has carried out commercial fishing using two of six GRP launches provided to Tuvalu in 1991 under Japanese grant-aid. The company sells its catch through a small fish retail outlet in Funafuti, makes occasional exports of deep bottom snappers, and participates in the operation of the outer island fishery centers.

NAFICOT previously operated a pole-and-line vessel, Te Tautai, also provided under Japanese aid. The vessel produced reasonable catches during the 1980s, with a peak catch of 1,091 t in 1988. However the operation suffered from a poor local supply of baitfish and Te Tautai was frequently obliged to fish in Fiji and the Solomon Islands under a licensing agreement. The vessel was later chartered to the South Pacific Commission between 1991-1993 for regional tuna tagging work, subsequent to which it sank in Funafuti lagoon.

Fish aggregation devices (FADs) were deployed around Funafuti during the early 1990s, and at all outer islands in 1993, to enhance subsistence and artisanal tuna fishing. Associated with the FAD programme was the development of mid-water fishing techniques suited to small fishing craft.

An Australian-sponsored fish drying project operated at Nukufetau during the latter part of the 1990s. It focused on both salt fish and tuna jerky for the Funafuti and overseas markets. The major constraint to the sustainability of the activity involved export logistics.

In recent years there has been an increasing amount of foreign fishing activity in the Tuvalu. In 1999 about 40,532 tonnes of fish were caught by vessels registered in six countries. Vessels from the USA and Japan accounted for more than 99% of the catch. Skipjack and yellowfin make up the vast majority of the catch. In general, when there are El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean, the tuna purse seine fishery shifts from the zones of Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia, eastward to Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Inland fisheries

There are no inland fisheries in Tuvalu.


In the past tilapia have been introduced into borrow pits in Funafuti and other locations, but this was not considered a success. The construction of Tuvalu's first purpose-built aquaculture pond, for milkfish, was completed on the island of Vaitupu in 1996. It is intended that operation of the Vaitupu pond will provide a model for subsistence aquaculture activity elsewhere in Tuvalu.

Aquaculture research projects involving giant clams and introduced Eucheuma seaweed have been carried out, the former as a possible means of re-stocking wild populations, and the latter for commercial production. Neither has so far led to any kind of commercial development.

Other species trialed for aquaculture in Tuvalu include land crabs and turtles.

Utilization of the catch

Fish is the most common protein source in Tuvalu. Fresh fish is preferred, but salted, dried fish is also consumed. Dried fish is most often the product of excess subsistence catches taken in the outer islands. It has been estimated that 15% of fish landings in Tuvalu are dried for later use.

Artisanal fishermen on Funafuti sometimes sell their catch directly from handcarts. NAFICOT operates a small fish retail outlet near the main Funafuti wharf, and occasionally makes export shipments of deep bottom snapper.

Attempts to provide access to wider markets for outer islands fishers have been constrained through inadequate shipping services, and lack of cold storage and other processing facilities at the landing sites. There has been substantial work on the production and export sale of dried fish and of tuna jerky produced by solar-drying at outer island centres but so far these have not led to commercial development.

In recent years fishery exports have been primarily finfish and beche de mer. Ministry of Finance data indicate that fishery exports were US$ 4,232 in 1999 and zero in 2000.


Studies of fish consumption in Tuvalu in the past decade have resulted in estimates in fish annual per capita consumption of between 85 to 146 kg. Current fishery production data indicate that per capita fish consumption in Tuvalu is of the order of 100kg/ yr. This may be an underestimate as an unknown amount of canned fish is imported into Tuvalu and this is not accounted for in the above estimate. The per capita consumption of fish is much higher in the outer islands than it is in Funafuti, where more alternative types of protein are available.

Economic role of the fishing industry

It has been recently estimated by ADB that the catches of Tuvalu's subsistence and coastal commercial fisheries are worth US$.93 million and US$.28 million, respectively. This domestic catch value is dwarfed by that of the offshore foreign-based vessels operating in the Tuvalu zone, about US$38 million in recent years.

Subsistence and commercial fishing is responsible for about 7 per cent of Tuvalu's GDP.

With respect to employment, census data shows that fisheries accounts for about 5% of all formal cash employment and about 20% of subsistence activities.

It is estimated that in 1999 Tuvalu obtained about US$5.9 million in access fees from foreign fishing vessels. About 83% of this came from the US purse seine fleet. Access fee are about 43% of the GDP of Tuvalu and more than a third of Tuvalu government income.


Tuvalu's 1995-1998 Development Plan is the latest articulation of official development policy. The Plan recognises the potential economic importance of the living marine resources within Tuvalu's EEZ and gives priority to their development and rational exploitation. The plan calls for: improved local production to satisfy subsistence needs and to enhance engagement in the cash economy; the identification of resources with potential for commercialisation; maximisation of the benefits derived from the licensing of foreign fishing ventures and operation of the local fleet; and the imposition of management measures for the protection of Tuvalu's marine resources.

In 1997, acknowledging that only a little progress had been made towards achieving these plans, the government identified key constraints as; lack of capital, no domestic investors; poor transportation facilities; lack of supporting facilities; and lack of manpower in both technology and management. Other identified constraints include the poor supply of spare parts and equipment and the high cost of fuel.

A review of the Tuvalu economy by ADB in 1998 concluded that marine resources represent the sole opportunity for substantial export development. The review recommended:

  • Improving the reliability and frequency of inter-island transport;

  • Identifying of a foreign joint-venture partner to exploit snapper resources on seamounts;

  • Strengthening the extension and research capacity of the Fisheries Department.

Although attempts to develop domestic fisheries in Tuvalu beyond the subsistence level have met with only limited success so far, these efforts continue. Three community fishing centres have recently been established in the outer islands under the Community Fishing Project. Australia provided funding for centres on Nukufetau and Nanumea and Japan assisted with establishment of a centre at Vaitupu, along with construction of a boat harbour and market. The centres serve as marketing points where fishers can have their catch processed by salting and drying for the domestic market. Government has managed operation of the centres to date, but it is intended that they will eventually be taken over by local communities. Another four centers are planned.

A new multi-purpose inter-island ship is being constructed in Japan for Tuvalu and is expected to begin operation in 2002. An important function of the ship will be to transport fish from the outer island fishing centers to Funafuti.

In December 2000 the Government of Tuvalu concluded a deal to secure controlling interest in Air Fiji, the only airline servicing Tuvalu. One of the objectives of this deal was to increase opportunities for exporting perishable fishery products.

Tuvalu faces great difficulties in establishing larger-scale, domestic fisheries. Tuna fishery development in particular is constrained by: the high investment cost of suitable vessels; the high capital and recurrent costs of shore-based and/ or transport facilities; the lack of slipping and docking facilities; meagre water supply; limited air transport and services; and the difficulty in attracting foreign investment in competition with other countries in the region.


The basic fisheries law in Tuvalu is the Fisheries Ordinance of 1978, which is incorporated into the 1990 revision of the laws of Tuvalu. The Ordinance provides for the Minister responsible for fisheries to take such measures as he sees fit to promote the development of fisheries and to ensure that fishery resources are exploited to the full for the benefit of Tuvalu. Other relevant legislation includes the Marine Zones (Declaration) Act of 1993 and the National Fishing Corporation of Tuvalu Act of 1980, revised in 1982.

Responsibility for fisheries and marine resource matters is vested in two agencies, the Fisheries Department and the National Fishing Corporation of Tuvalu (NAFICOT), both of which are divisions of the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Department of Fisheries is responsible for the control, management and development of fisheries while NAFICOT is responsible for commercial fisheries development.


The Department of Fisheries maintains direct contact on technical issues with regional and international organisations dealing in fisheries. Policy and other matters are managed in the first instance through the Department of Foreign Affairs. Tuvalu is a member of the South Pacific Commission (SPC), the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP). Tuvalu is also party to a number of treaties and agreements relating to the management of regional fisheries, including:

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

  • the Convention for the Prohibition of Fishing wit Long Driftnets in the South Pacific;

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

  • the Nauru Agreement Concerning Cooperation in the Management of Fisheries of Common Concern; and

  • the Palau Arrangement for the Management of the Western Pacific Purse Seine Fishery.

Tuvalu is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.


The Fisheries Department, often with the participation or support of external agencies, has undertaken fisheries research in Tuvalu. The research that has taken place has followed three main avenues:

  • monitoring, intended to allow ongoing assessment of the status of the main fisheries. A major activity has been the Ciguatera Monitoring Project which was established with in response to a severe outbreak of this form of fish poisoning on Nui island in 1988;

  • surveys and resource assessments intended to provide snapshots or status reports on specific resources. Bottom fish, bait fish, pearl oysters, beche-de-mer, trochus, tuna and giant clam have been the foci of such surveys;

  • development-oriented research, aimed at identifying new grounds or techniques with commercial fishing or aquaculture potential. The major activity undertaken in this area has been research into deep-slope bottom fish resources which commenced in 1991, as well as the later development of a management plan for this fishery.

The Fisheries Department maintains an extension service which focuses on providing training for fishers in outboard motor maintenance, fishing techniques, fish processing and safety at sea. A marine training school on Funafuti provides courses for merchant seamen, most of whom subsequently serve on overseas cargo or fishing vessels. Higher-level training is usually sought overseas, often at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.

The National Coordinating Centre monitors foreign fishing vessel activity within Tuvalu's EEZ. The Centre provides the main contact point between the foreign fleets and the Fisheries Department.


Tuvalu has six major bilateral donors: Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of China (Taiwan). The major multilateral donors are the European Union and ADB. Assistance has flowed from UN agencies, including FAO, UNDP, ESCAP, and UNCDF. The regional organisations serving Pacific Island countries, including the Forum Fisheries Agency, the South Pacific Commission, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the Forum Secretariat, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission have also been active in supporting Tuvalu's fisheries sector.

Projects have variously been concerned with the provision of shore-based plant and equipment (buildings, ice plant, boat harbours and wharves, fishing gear) resource surveys and research (deep bottom fish, aquaculture), the provision of fishing vessels, and assistance with projects involving marketing, training, and statistics.


The following websites have information relevant to fisheries in Tuvalu:


Average 1998 rate of exchange US$ 1.00 = Australian dollar (A$) $1.5918; 1999 - 1.5500


Source: South Pacific Commission Statistical Summary 2000.


Source: South Pacific Commission 1998 mid-year estimate.


Source for GDP data: Gillett and Lightfoot (2001). The Contribution of Fisheries to the Economies of Pacific Island Countries. Asian Development Bank, Manila.


Various government and non-government sources as given in Gillett and Lightfoot (2001).


Breakdown (tonnes):

subsistence 880, coastal commercial 220, offshore locally-based 0, total 1100.

Not included in the total is an estimated 40,532 tonnes caught by offshore foreign-based vessels in the Tuvalu zone.


Source: 1991 Population and Housing Survey, extrapolated to 1998.



subsistence US$.93 million, coastal commercial US$.28 million.

Not included in the total is an estimated US$38 million of fish caught by offshore foreign-based vessels in the Tuvalu zone.