Oceanic & Industrial Affairs

Responsibly managing the multi-faceted tuna fishery

The Oceanic tuna fishery is an increasingly complex entity to manage, with a multi-species fishery, fishing fleets from numerous nations, including the Marshall Islands, that operate purse seine, longline and pole-and-line vessels, domestic laws and regulations, and regional/international fishery management obligations. The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority’s (MIMRA)’s Oceanic Division is fully engaged in all aspects of managing the fishery both in the Marshall Islands’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and through membership in the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), a resource rights-based management organization, as well as through membership and active engagement with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Forum Fisheries Agency.

"The VDS is a management tool for the purse seine fishery that has generated dramatically increased fisheries revenue to the Marshall Islands (and other PNA members)"


The US purse seiner Raffaello offloads tuna onto a mother ship in Majuro lagoon.


Management of PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) and associated management mechanisms is the single most significant development for the eight founding members (which include Marshall Islands) plus Tokelau. The VDS is a management tool for the purse seine fishery that has generated dramatically increased fisheries revenue to the Marshall Islands (and other PNA members) while also establishing conservation management and monitoring systems that control and regulate the fishery. The latter include the requirement of 100 percent fisheries observer presence on all purse seiners, a three-month moratorium on the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs), in-port transshipment, closure to fishing of high seas pockets, a hard limit to the number of fishing days available each year, and other measures.

Under the VDS, the minimum fishing day price is $8,000, though in practice fishing days often sell for more because of market competition and the fact that PNA caps the number of fishing days to be sold by all parties at approximately 45,000 per year. In 2016, MIMRA devoted about 40 percent of its fishing day allotment under the VDS to its domestic fleet, with significant portions of the balance going to the United States fleet, “pool” days with other PNA members that offer multi-zone access, and other bilateral partners, including Japan and Taiwan.

The Oceanic Division, in collaboration with the Legal Division, devotes a large portion of staff time to engagement with PNA in management of the VDS. It also works with Forum Fisheries Agency island members on monitoring and enforcement of the regional fishery as well as coordinating with FFA members on policy proposals to submit to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that governs fishing on the high seas.

The Oceanic Division works closely with the Pacific Community (SPC) on data collection and analysis, and stock assessment activities.

MIMRA’s Oceanic Division oversees monitoring and data collection of all purse seiners fishing in Marshall Islands waters, including the domestic fleet, and monitors to a limited extent longline vessels operating in the country’s EEZ.

Oceanic staff and its team of fisheries observers monitor all in-port transshipments by purse seine and longline vessels. The Division also engages with Marshall Islands Ports Authority, Marshall Islands Sea Patrol, Majuro Atoll Local Government Police, Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Authority and others involved in monitoring and enforcement of laws and regulations governing tuna transshipment operations in Port Majuro.

"A World Bank/Global Environment Facility-supported management improvement program moved into full implementation in 2016 to assist the Oceanic Division with developing monitoring and enforcement."


A World Bank/Global Environment Facility-supported management improvement program moved into full implementation in 2016 to assist the Oceanic Division with developing and expanding monitoring and enforcement in collaboration with the Marshall Islands Sea Patrol and international partners.

Establishment of a Competent Authority remains on the agenda of this program.

Impact of the VDS

Ten years ago, oceanic fisheries revenue contributed to the national government’s annual budget ranged from $2 million to $3 million a year. In 2016, MIMRA provided $26,285,938 to the national government. The transfer to the national government in 2016 was up significantly from 2015, when $15,773,000 was provided to support national government budget needs. The ability of MIMRA to contribute this level of revenue to the national government now accounting for about 13 percent of all government revenue — is largely based on implementation of the PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme (VDS). By setting a minimum price for a fishing day, PNA revenue among all members has risen from $60 million in 2010 to a projected $500,000 in 2017. The Marshall Islands’ EEZ is on the fringe of the main tuna fishing zones in the region but has still benefited hugely by participating in PNA, demonstrating the economic and fisheries management power of this organization.

Majuro now the biggest tuna port

In 2015, the VDS generated $24,406,606 (a combination of VDS and “fishing rights” revenue) for the Marshall Islands. This increased 11 percent in 2016 to $26,970,078. The increase in VDS revenue from 2015 to 2016 is not as dramatic as the change from the 2014 revenue level of $15,555,239 to 2015, a 57 percent jump. This is because fishing day minimum price remained stable at $8,000 in 2015 and 2016.


"A transshipment vessel takes care of the catches of two purse seines in Majuro"


Tuna transshipment and export

The PNA requirement of in-port transshipment has seen Majuro develop into the busiest tuna transshipment port in the world. The number of transshipments was fewer in 2016 than the previous year, but a similar level of tonnage was moved from purse seiners to carrier vessels in Port Majuro in 2015 and 2016. In 2016, there were 573 tuna transshipments in Majuro accounting for an estimated 410,948mt. This compares to 704 transshipments in 2015 involving 444,393mt of tuna. The number of vessel transshipments declined 19 percent in 2016 but tonnage was only 10 percent lower than the previous year.

Taiwan purse seiner vessels accounted for the largest segment of transshipment, with 161 or 30 percent of the total number of transshipments. The next most active users of Port Majuro for transshipment were Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea, each conducting 77 transshipments, the U.S. fleet, with 74 and China-flagged vessels, with 73.

Of the 410,948mt transshipped in Majuro in 2016, skipjack tuna accounted for the bulk of the tonnage, with 346,097mt, while yellowfin tuna was next at 58,038mt and last was bigeye tuna at 6,239mt.

The 573 tuna transshipments generated $799,000 in revenue for MIMRA, up from $677,000 the previous year.

These purse seine vessel tuna transshipment operations involve the deployment of dozens of MIMRA fisheries observers to monitor the transshipment work and collect data.

In addition to the transshipment fees, the presence of hundreds of fishing boats and carrier vessels in Majuro lagoon in 2016 meant that thousands of fishermen and other crew members injected money into the local economy through purchases at stores and use of restaurants, hotels, bars and nightclubs. Vessels also re-provision and buy fuel, further benefiting the local economy.

In addition to monitoring purse seine vessel transshipment, MIMRA fisheries observers also monitor the off-loading of catch by 24 longline vessels associated with the Marshall Islands Fishing Venture. In 2016, these longline vessels offloaded 3,862mt of fish, primarily bigeye and yellowfin tuna.

Most of this tuna 3,246mt was exported as fresh chilled product to offisland sashimi and sushi markets in the U.S., China and Canada. Frozen fish (rejects and bycatch), designated as “Local,” accounted for 616mt were shipped to China and Philippines via ocean freezer containers or sold locally. The breakdown of the MIFV longline catch in 2016 was bigeye tuna 1,979mt and yellowfin tuna 1,319mt.

Pan Pacific Foods loining plant in Majuro, which has three associated purse seine vessels, exported 3,132mt of tuna. This was a combination of 679mt of skipjack loins and 2,453mt of whole skipjack and yellowfin.

A total of 9mt of fishmeal was also produced. The majority of the loins and whole tuna went to canneries in Thailand (223mt skipjack loins, 880mt whole skipjack/yellowfin), Vietnam (1,152mt whole skipjack/yellowfin) and the United States (347mt skipjack, 13mt whole skipjack/yellowfin).

Tuna tonnage caught in Marshall Islands waters in 2016 increased dramatically over 2015. An estimated 79,669mt of tuna was caught by purse seine, longline and pole-and-line vessels in 2016 compared to 31,059mt the previous year. This reflects tuna school movement and an increase in the number of vessels registered, mainly purse seiners.

Fishing within the RMI EEZ

The number of foreign fishing vessels licensed to fish in the Marshall Islands EEZ increased in 2016 by eight percent over the previous year because of a surge in the number of purse seine vessels licensed to fish.

A total of 190 purse seine vessels were licensed to fish in 2016, a 17 percent increase over the previous year and well above the 156 purse seine vessel license average per year for the previous four years. In 2016, pole-and-line vessels registered to fish dropped from 13 to 11, while foreign longline vessels licensed dropped to 41 after two years at 50.

Fleets with the biggest increases in licensed vessels in 2016 compared to 2015 included S. Korea purse seine vessels (from five to 25) and FSM Agreement purse seine vessels (from 54 to 76). Japan, the only foreign flag operating pole-and-line vessels in Marshall Islands waters, decreased its pole-and-line presence from 13 to 11 vessels, and its longline fleet from eight to two. Japan increased its purse seine fleet from 29 to 30 vessels licensed.

China’s fleet of longline vessels increased by one, to 27, while it had no purse seine vessels licensed in 2016 compared to seven the year before. The U.S. purse seine vessel number licensed to fish dropped to 33 after four years at 39. Taiwan continued a strong presence of purse seine vessels by increasing one, to 26. Overall, the 242 foreign vessels of all gears registered to fish in the Marshall Islands was the second highest total for the past five years.

Off-loading tuna from a Marshall Islands Fishing Venture longliner

Catch tonnage for the three types of fishing vessels operating in the Marshall Islands in 2016:
  • Foreign and domestic flagged purse seine fleets caught an estimated 76,384mt in the Marshall Islands’ EEZ during 2016, a nearly 200 percent increase over the 26,344mt caught in 2015. The largest share of this tonnage was hauled in by the S. Korean purse seine fleet, which recorded 19,824mt or 26 percent of the total tonnage caught in Marshall Islands waters. Rounding out the top-five catches by fleet: U.S. 13,819mt, Taiwan 13,088mt, Papua New Guinea (licensed under the FSMA) 12,433mt, and Marshall Islands 8,875mt. Skipjack tuna continues to be the dominant species, accounting for 92 percent of the total catch in 2016.
  • It is estimated that longline fleets caught 2,855mt of tuna in Marshall Islands water in 2016, a 30 percent decline compared to the 4,097mt in 2015. The domestically-based foreign longline fleet with vessels from China and FSM is managed by the Marshall Islands Fishing Venture, a subsidiary of Luen Thai. All 24 vessels associated with MIFV off-load their tuna in Port Majuro, where it is recorded by MIMRA fisheries observers. The Japanese longline fleet offloads its catch in ports in Japan. Therefore, tonnage figures that include all fleets are estimates. Bigeye and yellowfin tonnage accounts for most of the tuna caught by longline vessels. Similar to the purse seine fishery, most of the longline fishing effort occurs in the southern areas of the Marshall Islands EEZ. The longline effort, however, is more widely distributed throughout the zone.
  • Catches from the pole-and-line fleet decreased by 30 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year, dropping to 430mt from 618mt. The short-term trend continues to show year-to-year variability, although the 2016 catch was the lowest in five years. Skipjack accounts for almost 100 percent of the catch composition for this fleet. The Marshall Islands has not yet been able to place fisheries observers on board these vessels to validate catch data.

Oceanic Highlights in 2016


Net operating revenues increased slightly in FY2016 to $31,666,145 compared to $31,569,468 the previous year. While Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), fishing rights, licensing and registration fees, and transshipment fees continued to grow, there was modest decline in MIMRA’s other revenue centers.

Koo's Partnership still going strong


MIMRA continues to benefit from its joint venture with Koo’s Fishing Company for the operation of purse seine vessel, Marshalls 201
It is managed by the joint venture company, Marshall Islands Fishing Company. MIMRA’s share of revenue from the vessel in 2016 was $794,704. From 2014 through 2016, the vessel generated over $2 million for the Marshall Islands, averaging $718,000 per year.

Commercial catch data in the RMI EEZ in 2016


The number of foreign longline, pole and line and purse seine fishing vessels increased in FY2016, continuing an up-and-down trend since 2012. The 190 foreign vessels licensed in FY2016 was a five-year high, beating the 185 licensed two years earlier. The increase from FY2015 of 162 vessels to 190 in FY2016 saw a near tripling of catch tonnage, from just over 30,000mt in FY2015 to 79,669mt.

Commercial catch data in the RMI EEZ in 2015


Catch tonnage declined for all three types of commercial fishing gear used in the Marshall Islands' EEZ. The catch was just over 30,000 tons in 2015 compared to over 80,000 tons in 2014. This reflected, in part, tuna migration patters that were affected by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

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