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The Fishery sector profile available for this country is:

Marshall Islands 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

181 sq. km

Ocean area:

2,131,000 sq. km

Length of coastline:


Length of 200 m isobath:

2,630 km

Population (1999)


Gross Domestic Product (1999)

US$ 93.7 million

Fishing contribution to GDP (1999):

US$ 3,6 million

GDP per caput (1999):

US$ 1,843


Commodity balance (1999):




Total supply

Per caput supply

Tonnes live weight equivalent


Fish for direct human consumption





Fish for animal feed and other purposes

Estimated employment (1999):

(i) Primary sector:


(ii) Secondary sector:


(iii) Subsistence fisheries:


Gross value of fisheries output (1999)

US$ 4,809,000

Trade (1999)

Value of imports:

US$ 500,000

Value of exports:

US$ 473,000



The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) consists of an archipelago of 29 atolls and five low coral islands. The two island chains, the eastern Ratak (Sunrise) and western Ralik (Sunset) lie 129 miles apart in a northwest to southeast orientation. Nineteen atolls and four islands are inhabited.

RMI is an independent state associated with the USA since 1986 in a Compact of Free Association which is presently being renegotiated. The Republic is governed by a unicameral legislature and President elected from its members. Respect for traditional chiefs and traditional authority remains strong in the RMI.

The total land area of the Marshall Islands is only 181 sq. km., but the country has an EEZ which extends over more than 2.1 million sq. km.

A national fisheries policy was approved by the Government of the Marshall Islands in November 1977. The main objectives of the policy are to:

  • Increase fisheries activities within sustainable limits;

  • Support private sector-led development;

  • Strengthen the capability of the nation to manage its fisheries resources.

Marine fisheries

Subsistence and artisanal fishing for inshore and offshore species is of prime importance in the outer atolls of RMI, providing the primary source of animal protein. Capture methods are diverse, including spearing, hand-lining, trolling, gill-netting, and cast netting. Paddling and sailing canoes are widely used for subsistence fishing in the outer atolls while most artisanal fishing is conducted from craft of 4.5-6 m in length, powered by outboard motors in the 15 to 40 hp. range.

In the inshore areas, subsistence fishing predominates. Outside of the islands which have urban areas (Majuro, Kwajalein), and islands where the government is promoting fish marketing (Arno, Likiep, Ailinlaplap, Namu, Aur, Maloelap, Jaluit), there is little commercial fishing.

The Arno Atoll Fisheries Development Project was established in 1989 to develop small-scale commercial bottom and troll fishing. The project operates a fleet of eight GRP fishing craft that are rotated between crews of two to four, at least one of whom has been trained to act as boat operator. More than 250 fishers have received training under the project. Fishing crews obtain gear, ice and bait through the project and pay for these from catch sales. The project has involved considerable infrastructure development, including the construction of causeways, docks, jetties, and a cold store. Over the years about three-quarters of the catch is reef fish, with the balance being pelagic species. During the early years, the project purchased about US$80,000 to US$90,000 worth of fish annually but in later years less was sold to the project (US$38,500 in 1999) as the fishers sold more fish directly to the Majuro urban area. The Arno project model has been extended to the atolls of Ailinlaplap, Likiep, Aur and Namu for the purpose of providing fresh fish to Ebeye island in Kwajalein atoll.

An aquarium fishery has operated in Majuro for more than 10 years, with one principal operator and several smaller ones. The small operators generally sell their catch to the principal operator, who also manages export marketing. Virtually all the catch is taken from the Majuro lagoon and outer reef, by both free-diving and SCUBA-diving. It has been estimated that around 3,000 fish of up to 50 species are exported each week. The most commonly exported species has been the flame angel fish (Centropyge loriculus). In 1999 about US$473,000 worth of aquarium fish was exported from the Marshall Islands, which was the only significant fishery product export of the country.

Although both the Arno project and the South Pacific Commission have conducted deep reef-slope fishing trials in the Marshall Islands (around Arno and Majuro), this fishery has not been commercially developed. The maximum sustainable yield of this fishery is estimated at 110-330 t/ yr.

Trochus were transplanted to several atolls in the Marshall Islands from Chuuk and Palau by the Japanese in the 1930s. Over the ten year period 1985 to 1994 an annual average of 62 tonnes of trochus was harvested, most of this coming from Enewetak atoll. About 20 tonnes of trochus was exported in 1998. In the mid-1980s a trochus button blank factory opened in Majuro but closed due to erratic availability of raw material.

A survey of the role of women in fisheries in the Marshall Islands by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in 1997 showed that women participate in processing fish caught by men, collect shellfish and crustaceans, cook seafood by boiling, frying, barbecuing, salting drying, and smoking, and make shell craft.

Tuna are taken by both small-scale and industrial gear in the Marshall Islands. Small-scale fishers take tuna mostly by trolling from small skiffs, and these landings form an important part of the national catch. On an industrial scale, tuna are caught by foreign pole-and-line, longline, and purse seine gear.

Pole-and-line fishing for skipjack tuna has been carried out in the Marshall Islands by Japanese fleets since the late 1920s, and by the mid-1930s live-bait and skipjack fishing grounds were accessed from bases at Ailinlaplap and Jaluit Atolls. Most of the skipjack caught was destined for the production of katsuobushi, a dried, smoked product, but a small cannery also operated on Jaluit Atoll. This fishery was interrupted by World War II, but resumed in the late 1950s, using vessels based in Japan. By the late 1970's almost 300 pole and line vessels participated seasonally in the fishery, with catches in excess of 50,000 tons per annum. However, by the 1990's changes in the structure of the Japanese distant water fishery meant far fewer vessels were engaged in this fishery, and from 30 to 40 vessels seasonally operated under annual license in the Marshalls EEZ. In the 1990s the catches by the pole-and-line fleet in the EEZ have been less that 8,000 tonnes per year.

Japanese vessels began longlining in the Marshall Island zone in the 1950s, followed by Korean and Taiwanese fleets in the late 1960s, and the Chinese in the 1990s. Peak production occurred in the 1970s when annual catches averaged 33,000 t.

Other longline fleets have also operated in RMI. Using technical assistance funds the government established a longline fishing base, comprising vessel provisioning and fish processing facilities, on the capital island of Majuro in the early 1990s. The operation of the base was then leased out to private operators, first a US company and subsequently a Chinese firm, both of which made charter arrangements with foreign vessel operators to establish a Majuro-based longline fleet. At the height of the fishery more than 150 Chinese longliners based their operations in Majuro, with catch being exported fresh to Japan. A main beneficiary of these arrangements was the RMI national airline, which provided much of the air cargo service to the base in the early years of the base's operation. The operations of the fish base declined in the mid-1990s due to a combination of worsening economic conditions, resource considerations, and disputes between the government and the base operators. The operations of the Chinese firm at the Majuro longline base ended in 1998.

In the 1990s the longline catches in the Marshall Islands EEZ by all fleets ranged from 2,206 tonnes (1997) to 6,664 tonnes (1992).

RMI has attempted to establish a domestic purse-seine fleet. In 1989 the government entered into a joint-venture arrangement with US interests to own and operate a 1,000 t capacity purse seiner, and in mid-1990 an interest in a second purse seiner was acquired. These vessels fished in areas other than the Marshall Islands. Both have since been sold and there is no longer any domestic involvement, government or private, in purse seine vessels.

Purse seine fishing by distant water fleets is an important component of tuna fishing in the country. Under the US Multilateral Tuna Treaty, to which Marshall Islands is party, up to 50 US purse seine vessels have been licensed to fish in the EEZ since the late 1980s. In the 1990s the major purse seine fleets operating in the EEZ of the Marshall Islands have been from the US, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. According to the SPC, the total purse seine catch in the Marshall Islands in 1999 was about 23,000 tonnes. .

There is much inter-annual variation in the amount of tuna captured by purse seine gear in RMI. A climatic event known as El Niño tends to move the fishery to the east the Marshall Islands zone. The most recent event to affect the country occurred from November 1997 to May 1998.

The total number of foreign fishing vessels operating in the Marshall Islands in the 2000reporting year was 219. According the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, about US$4.4 million was received from these vessels for fishing access.

Transshipment of purse seine-caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna began in Majuro during late 1998. The use of the port of Majuro for these activities depends greatly on oceanographic and other factors that can shift the focus of purse seine fishing. In 1999 118 transshipments involving 69,373 tonnes of tuna were made. In 2000 there were 192 transshipments involving 98,440 tonnes.

Inland fisheries

There are no significant inland fisheries in Marshall Islands.


A hatchery for giant clams (Tridacna spp.) established at Likiep propagates clams for re-seeding of reef areas, provides juvenile clams to farmers for grow-out, and provides training in propagation and management for potential farmers. The hatchery was started by the national government but efforts are being made to have the Likiep community take over the facility. The 1999/2000 MIMRA Annual Report states: "…the main objective of the project is to re-seed sites around the Marshall Islands which appear or have been over-harvested. MIMRA, however, has not done any re-seeding activity since 1994, although this objective will still remain with the project."

At least one private clam farm is also in operation, at Mili atoll with a hatchery in Majuro . Seed from the local population of Tridacna gigas were produced at the Mili facility in 1986 and 1988. One thousand juvenile Tridacna derasa were imported to another farm in Kwajalein in 1989, but it is believed that this facility is no longer operating. The existing farm has produced juvenile clams for the aquarium trade and clam meat for the local market.

There has been black-lipped pearl culturing recently at Namdrik and Majuro atolls. The activities on Namdrik came to an end in 1999 due to a dispute with the Island Council, but the culturing continues on Majuro and is commencing at Arno atoll by two local firms.

Other aquaculture efforts in the Marshall have involved seaweed, sponges and shrimp.

Utilization of the catch

Artisanal catches are marketed locally, as are catches from the Arno Fisheries Development Project and similar centres in other outer atolls. The centres sell their catch at Majuro and Ebeye on Kwajalein, where demand for fresh, salted and dried fish is high.

In 1999 and 2000 the only coastal finfish exports were aquarium fish and informal food fish shipments as baggage on passenger aircraft, mostly to Honolulu.

In the mid-1980s a katsuobushi plant operated on Majuro and supplied the domestic market, but ceased operating in part because of he difficulty in obtaining sufficient supplies of suitable wood for the smoking process.

In the mid-1990s fresh tuna taken by locally-based longliners were landed in Majuro for shipment to Japan, Hawaii or the US mainland by air freight from time to time, using chartered air carriers. The catches of the Japanese pole-and-line fleet are sold directly to markets in Japan. Purse seine catches by US vessels are off-loaded to the canneries in American Samoa, while the catches by Japanese vessels is returned to Japan. Tuna from Taiwanese and Korean seiners is transshipped from Majuro and other Pacific Island ports to a variety of processing facilities.

A tuna loining plant began operation in Majuro in October 1999, with an estimated annual through-put of 12,000 tonnes per year. Raw material is sourced from purse seiners transshipping in the Majuro lagoon. The semi-processed product is shipped to the canneries in American Samoa.


Fish and other marine organisms play an important part in the diet of most Marshallese, particularly those dwelling on outer atolls. The developed centres of Majuro and Kwajalein, where cash economies prevail, provide a ready market for fresh and salted/dried fish.

There have been several attempts to calculate fish consumption in the Marshall Islands. In recent years those estimates encompassing the whole country have ranged from 39 to 67 kg per person per year. It should be noted that there is considerable difference in consumption between the population centers of Majuro and Kwajalein, where 68% of the population resided in 1999 and the outer islands, where fish is relatively plentiful.

Economic role

It has been recently estimated by the Asian Development Bank that in Marshall Islands the catches by subsistence fishing and coastal commercial in 1999 were worth US$3.8 million, and US$0.9 million, respectively. The same study also calculated that locally-based fishing in the country in 1999 was responsible for about 3.8 per cent of the country's GDP.

In the five year period 1996 to 2000 access fees for foreign fishing ranged from US$1.6 million to US$4.9 million.

With respect to employment, about 4,700 individual are employed in the subsistence fisheries in the Marshall Islands. Approximately 370 people are involved in various aspects of coastal commercial fishing. There are from 280 to 350 people employed at the new loining plant and the average wage is $2 per hour. A Forum Fisheries Agency study estimated that 20 people serve as laborers for tuna transshipment operations.

According to the Office of Planning and Statistics, the fishery exports in 1999 were worth US$473,000, which represented 6.2 per cent of all the exports from the country.


Despite considerable investment in the commercial development of coastal fisheries there is little evidence of their commercial viability. The Japanese Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation has assisted in developing small-scale commercial, lagoon, bottom and troll fishing at Arno and other sites. This project has involved considerable infrastructure development, but is yet to prove economically viable or self-sustaining, although many people have gained employment and income through the project.

The Marshall Islands Fisheries Policy, adopted by the government in 1997, indicates that the coastal fisheries is best utilized for food security and small-scale income earning opportunities, game fishing and tourism. Despite its apparent size, coastal resources cannot be the basis of a large viable commercial fishery.

In 1998 an assessment of the tuna resources of the Marshall Islands was made by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The report of the study concluded that:

  • An increase in skipjack catch may be accommodated within the EEZ. A skipjack population model estimated the average Marshall Islands skipjack potential at 46,000 mt per year. This is considerably more than present landings.

  • Catch levels of 6,250 tonnes (all species) may be obtainable from the longline fisheries on a sustainable basis. Since the longline catches by all fleets in the Marshall Islands EEZ ranged from 2,206 tonnes (1997) to 6,664 tonnes (1992) and averaged 4,220 during the decade, the longline fishery may be operating near the full potential of the resources.

The RMI government hopes that aquaculture will provide employment and income in the outer atolls. A clam hatchery is producing giant clams for the US aquarium market. There is presently much interest in the commercial production of black pearls at Majuro and other sites. Initiatives are also under way to investigate the commercial potential for the farming of seaweeds and sponges. Export oriented aquaculture will continue to face stiff competition from countries with low production costs and efficient transportation links to major markets.


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 somewhat unique in that the law requires it to be responsible for both the conservation and management of marine resources as well as their sustainable development.

MIMRA is responsible to a five-member board of directors, of which the Minister of Resources and Development is Chairman. In 1997 it was decided that the activities of MIMRA would henceforth be funded from fishing access fee revenues. MIMRA has five divisions: Policy and Planning, Oceanic Fisheries, Coastal Fisheries, Corporate Services, and Training.

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

  • The responsibilities of MIMRA with respect to Conservation, management and sustainable use of the fishery resources;

  • 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 vessel or gear;

  • Use or possession of prohibited fishing gear;

  • Prohibition of driftnet fishing activities.

Regulations have been issue under the act covering: (a) requirements of foreign fishing agreements, (b) requirements prior to entry of vessels for local government area activities, and (c) fish processing establishments.


MIMRA 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 designated contact points, most often the Department of Foreign Affairs. RMI is a member of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP).

RMI is 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 with 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;

  • the Palau Arrangement for the Management of the Western Pacific Purse Seine Fishery; and,

  • the FSM Arrangement for Regional Fisheries Access.

RMI is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and 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. The Marshall Islands has recently signed the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.


Fisheries and aquaculture research in the Marshall Islands is the responsibility of MIMRA. However the organisation does not have a strong research capability and much of the research that has taken place has been with the assistance of regional or international agencies. Research activities have included:

  • monitoring, intended to allow ongoing assessment of the status of the main fisheries;

  • surveys and resource assessments intended to provide snapshots or status reports on specific resources. In 2000 a marine resources survey was carried out on Jaluit;

  • development-oriented research, aimed at identifying new grounds or techniques with commercial fishing or aquaculture potential. Activities have included deep reef slope fishing, and the mariculture of giant clams and pearl oysters;

  • work on issues of major concern. In early 2000 the Secretariat of the Pacific Community assisted MIMRA with a survey of ciguatera fish poisoning at Ujae and Lae atolls.

A fisheries and marine training school has been established at Majuro that provides training in fishing techniques, seamanship, engine repair, and related skills for potential crew in the domestic longline fishery. Higher training is sought overseas.


RMI receives aid and support for its fisheries sector from a wide range of sources. Major donors have included:

  • Japan, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Fund (Japanese aid totaled US$1.5 million in 1996);

  • The Asian Development Bank (US$2.4 million was provided in 1996 for institutional strengthening, the establishment of a marine training school, and expansion of mariculture activities);

  • Australia, through the Australian Agency for International Development;

  • United States (provided US$370,000 for patrol vessel support in 1996);

  • United States (provided US$370,000 for patrol vessel support per year as part of overall funding by the Compact of Free Association. In addition the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/ National Marine Fisheries Service provided an average of $80,000 per year for fisheries projects from 1992-1997).

  • New Zealand (provided US$48,000 to support marine training and contributed US$70,000 for an ice plant on Jaluit); and,

  • The Pacific Aquaculture Development Association.

  • FAO provided a consultant in mid-2001 to assist in the development of a management plan dealing with sharks and birds in the longline fishery.

  • In 2001 Japan funded a $4 million atoll fishing project for Jaluit, with completion of construction expected in 2002.

Assistance is also obtained from the international organisations of which RMI is a member, including FAO and other United Nation agencies. The regional organisations serving Pacific Island countries, including the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the Forum Secretariat, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission have also been active in supporting the Marshall Islands' fisheries sector.


http://www.spc.org.nc/coastfish/Countries- Information on RMI fisheries, links to other sites concerning RMI, and some SPC reports on fisheries in RMI;

http://www.wri.org- WRI environment report on the Marshall Islands, including information on marine fisheries;

http://www.rmiembassyus.org- which gives facts about the Marshall Islands and its government;

http://www.fishbase.org- Contains a list of Marshall Islands fishes


 The currency used in Marshall Islands is the US dollar.


Source: South Pacific Commission Statistical Summary 2000.


Source: South Pacific Commission 1999 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.


Breakdown (tonnes): subsistence 2,800; coastal commercial 444; offshore locally-based 0; total 3,244. The total does not include the 33,217 tonnes caught by foreign-based offshore vessels in the EEZ.


In 1999 aquarium fish were the only fishery exports


Value breakdown: subsistence US$3,836,000; coastal commercial US$973,000; offshore locally-based US$0; total US$4,809,000. Not included in the total is the value of the offshore catch by foreign-based vessels, US$50,000,000


Source: 1999 Marshall Islands Statistical Abstract


The government reporting year is from October 1999 to September 2000