Kiribati is made up of 33 islands with a total land area of some 811 km2. The islands are divided into three widely spread groups, the Gilbert Group, the Phoenix Group and the Line Group. Although the land area is small, the EEZ that surrounds them is large at around 3.55 million km2. The capital of Kiribati is Tarawa in the Gilbert Group.

Pronunciation note: the digraph "ti" is pronounced "s" in Kiribati words (i.e. Kiribati itself is pronounced "kiribass")


Marine resources are very important to the people of Kiribati, as it is their main protein source. Subsistence and small-scale fishing operations are carried out throughout the islands with fishing activities focused both within lagoons for reef fish and shellfish and nearshore for tunas and other pelagic species.

(The original of this text was transferred, with the permission of SPC, from the original SPC technical report by Lindsay Chapman in 2004, and was compiled from interviews with island fishery managers and fishers. However, please feel free to make corrections to this Wikia text if you have more accurate or more up-to-date information)

Management of fisheries

The development and management of the marine resources within Kiribati falls under the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development. The Fisheries Division works under two pieces of fisheries-related legislation: The Fisheries Ordinance (CAP 33) and the Fisheries (Pacific Island States' Treaty with the United States of America) Act 1988. The Fisheries Ordinance has been amended by the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1992; the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1995 and the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997. In addition to these two pieces of legislation, the Republic of Kiribati has a National Development Strategy that also covers marine resources.

In the National Development Strategy 2000–2003 (Anon. 2000a) the policies and strategies (2000–2003) for marine resources as stated are to:

  • Promote private sector production and marketing of marine products;
  • Identify specific marine commodities having highest commercial feasibility, and target a small number of these for development support;
  • Accord high priority to selected commodities that can be produced and marketed by smallholders in the outer islands;
  • Formulate strategy for promoting fish transhipment by foreign vessels and for achieving greater utilisation of onshore facilities by these vessels;
  • Complete development plan for the cultured pearl industry; and
  • Complete development plan for the milkfish industry.

Nearshore domestic fisheries management plans and strategies

The Fisheries Department is working towards the development and of development and management plans for many of the domestic fisheries. When looking at the nearshore resources, the two main fisheries are the deep-water snapper fishery and the tuna fishery. At present there is no development and/or management plan in place for the deep-water snapper fishery, however, the Fisheries Department is looking at the potential to further develop this fishery.

Most nearshore fishery development has occurred in the tuna fishery, and the Government of Kiribati is yet to finalise a National Tuna Development and Management Plan for the country (Anon. 2003a), which needs a lot of changes, especially to reflect the policies of the new Government. The Kiribati Government has had a Tuna Task Force working on this project, and the development of the tuna fishery since 1999. The draft plan addresses both the development and management issues for the period 2003-2006 noting the following objectives (Anon. 2003a):

  • Promoting longline development;
  • Maximizing government revenues;
  • Securing more jobs and more business from foreign vessels;
  • Developing large-scale servicing capacity for fleets operating in the region; and
  • Promoting industrial scale tuna fishing and processing.

In achieving the above objectives, the plan recognizing the need to address the following constraints:

  • Sustainability of the stocks;
  • Conflicts between users of fish stocks;
  • Adverse social impacts of tuna industry development;
  • Infrastructure requirements to support the fishing and the service industry;
  • High costs of supplies and transport for development;
  • Limited institutional capacity;
  • Limited private sector capacity;
  • Investment environment; and
  • Regional management pressures.

In the draft plan there is a three-phased strategy for development of the tuna fishery, which the Tuna Task Force, in consultation with the Management Advisory Committee, is responsible for implementing as follows (Anon. 2003a):

  • Short term: the priority will be on the small-scale longline development activities described below; promoting larger scale longlining development; securing employment of I-Kiribati on foreign fishing vessels; and finalizing decisions on the infrastructure needs and other long term development initiatives so feasibility studies can be commenced in preparation for such activities, e.g., fishing port complexes, etc.;
  • Medium term: the priority will be on improving transhipment and servicing facilities, and operations, coupled with the above noted studies; final decisions on infrastructure sites; and securing of funding for these enterprises; and
  • Longer term: there will be greater scope to promote increased Kiribati participation in purse seining and industrial scale fish processing, training and the development of new large-scale vessel servicing which will include the construction of the required infrastructure and its operations.

Small-scale longline development: The immediate priority for tuna development is to follow through with the test fishing already being conducted by the F/V Tekokona III and other complementary proposals for trials of smaller scale longline development to include small businesses to step up into modern, export-oriented commercial tuna fishing. Depending on the results of these trials, support will be provided as necessary for additional trials, training, development of shore facilities and services, the private sector demand for export transport services, and other measures to promote investment in small-scale longlining (Anon. 2003a).

New development direction

Since the National Tuna Development and Management Plan was developed, the new Government of Kiribati has added a new development direction, focusing on establishing a tuna loining plant. The immediate plan is to ensure that a tuna loin plant is established for the sole purpose of purchasing and processing fish from the already flooded local fresh or frozen tuna markets. By value-adding locally, the price paid to local fishermen will increase and more employment will be generated through the various processing activities needed in the loining plant.

Development Status of Fisheries (2004) Edit

The following sections summarise the current status with background information on domestic development in the nearshore fisheries, in a range of areas. The main focus is on developments in the tuna fishery, both public and private sector, as this is where most effort has and is being directed. The tables provide a snapshot based on the information available at the time.

Deepwater snapper fishing Edit

Current Status

Deep-water snapper fishing is conducted on an ad hoc basis by small-scale private sector fishermen.

Deep-water species caught by the rural fishing centres sold to Central Pacific Producers (CPP) limited for marketing in Tarawa.


1980 saw the first deep-water snapper fishing trials and training conducted by SPC in the area around Tarawa.

Training of a government deep-water snapper fishing demonstration team and local fishermen in the southern Gilbert Islands by SPC in 1984.

Ongoing training of local fishermen by the government demonstration team in the latter half of the 1980s to introduce deep-water snapper fishing throughout the country.

Rural and urban fishing centres Edit

Current Status

CPP has two major facilities with ice plants, freezers and processing areas, one on Tarawa and the other on Christmas Island.

There are 6 islands with rural fishing centres. Two of these centres sell their catch locally of airfreight small amounts of fillets to CPP for marketing. CPP has a small collection vessel to service the other 4 centres that are closer to Tarawa.


Outer Islands Fisheries Project OIFP) was established in 1988, under UK funding. Two centres set up initially with ice plants, ice store, cold stores, blast freezers and generators. These centres closed in 1992, while four other centres were opened in the same year under UK funding. In March 2000, Japan provided funding for the OIFP centres for 3 years. The operation of the centres passes to CPP in 2003.

Boatbuilding (public and private sector) Edit

Current Status

Government company, Betio shipyard builds boats in wood as well as assembling and welding aluminium skiff kits from Fiji. Repair work also undertaken.

4 private sector companies building boats in wood plus another 10 or more part-time boatbuilders, all do repair work.

Fisheries Department to start a new fibreglass boat building and repair facility in late 2003 or early 2004.


In 1983, new fishing canoes designed along traditional lines with UN volunteer boat builder appointed to Tarawa to build the two new prototype canoes with sails.

Government assisted several local boatbuilders to take on the new designs in the mid 1980s, with additional designs evolving from the initial ones. Government and private sector boat builders continued to build these canoes, with over 550 constructed in the first 8 years to 1992.

Both government and private sector boatbuilders continue to make canoes and small plywood craft for trolling.

The government-run Betio Shipyard started imported aluminium skiffs (up to 7.5 m in length) in kit-form from Fiji in the early 2000s and assembled and welded them for sale on the local market.

FAD programmes and or deployments Edit

Current Status

There are currently a few shallow-water FADs deployed in the southern reef islands.

The Fisheries Division will rig and deploy FADs once materials have been secured by the island needing a FAD.

Maintenance of the FADs is done by fisheries when a need is identified.


12 FADs deployed around Tarawa and adjacent islands in 1988, with another 6 in 1989 and 1990. Half of the FADs lost within 12 month with the other half lasting 2 years. No maintenance undertaken with these FADs.

8 FADs deployed in the Line Islands from 1989 to 1993. All but one lost in less than a month. No maintenance undertaken with these FADs.

20 FADs deployed during 1994 around 10 outer islands. 14 of these lost within one week and the remainder lost soon after.

Several FADs deployed off Tarawa in 1995, but these were lost before mid-water fishing trials could be conducted in 1996.

Public sector development (small-scale tuna fishing) Edit

Current Status

The government Fisheries Training Centre trains up men for work on Japanese foreign fishing vessels and they have a tuna longline vessel for training purposes.

CPP has a 12 m twin-hull longliner at Christmas Island and they are conducting tuna longline trials and test export trials.

CPP also has several smaller boats trolling, bottom fishing etc. at Christmas Island.

CPP and the Fisheries Division provide training in small-scale tuna fishing methods when the need is identified.


1988, small-scale tuna longlining trials undertaken using 150 hook horizontal line, sometimes with one end of line attached to an FAD.

1989/90, additional small-scale horizontal tuna longlining trials undertaken with SPC assistance, but not in association with FADs. Results were inconclusive.

Vertical longline trials undertaken from 1996 to 1998, although these were undertaken in open water outside the reef as no FADs available.

2000, horizontal tuna longline trials undertaken from new prototype twin hull vessel built locally. Trials were successful, so a second vessel constructed in 2002.

Second vessel to be moved to Christmas Island for tuna longline fishing trials in 2003.

Private sector development (small-scale tuna fishing) Edit

Current Status

Over 200 open skiffs in the south Tarawa area trolling, poling (using pearlshell lures) and mid-water handlining for tunas. Some of these operators sell their catch to CPP.

Around 10 to 20 boats associated with the rural fishing centres, depending on the size of the island.


Large traditional tuna troll and pole (using pearlshell lures) fishery operation out of South Tarawa since the late 1970s, with catch sold on local market.

Local fishermen trolled and poled around FADs when these were available, but continued with fishing in traditional areas when no FADs available.

Mid-water tuna fishing techniques were introduced to small-scale fishermen, however, with no FADs to fish around, these methods were not readily accepted.

Public sector tuna fishing companies Edit

Current Status

Central Pacific Producers (CPP) limited established in 2001 and is responsible for developing tuna fisheries in Kiribati, plus manage the rural fishing centres. CPP has processing and storage facilities on both Tarawa and Christmas Island, plus 4 boats working at Christmas Island.


February 1981 Te Mautari Ltd (TML) was established to develop the tuna fishery using pole-and-line vessels. TML was taken over CPP in 2001.

Marine Exports Division was established on Christmas Island in 1979, and later became Kiritimati Marine Exports Limited (KMEL). This company mainly focused on buying and selling lagoon species and crayfish, but was also involved in handling tunas and deep-water snappers. KMEL was taken over by CPP in 2001.

Central Pacific Producers (CPP) Limited was incorporated in May 2001 and took over the operations of TML, KMEL and the Outer Island Fisheries projects (OIFP).

Private sector development (medium-scale tuna fishing) Edit

Current Status

There are currently 2 longline vessels owned locally (purchased from Hawaii), working around Christmas Island.


In 1995, Teikabuti Fishing Company (TFC) acted as agent for 3 US tuna longliners to fish and export fresh sashimi grade tuna to Hawaii and Japan. Catches were reasonable but the trials only lasted a short time due to the many problems encountered.

TFC equipped a twin-hull vessel with hand-hauled small-scale horizontal longline gear in 2000/2001, however, the trials were unsuccessful with very low catch rates.

Since the initial trials by TFC, there has been no domestic private sector medium-scale development in the Kiribati tuna fishery.

Joint ventures tuna fishing operations Edit

Current Status

KAO purse seine fishing company set up as a joint venture operation with the Government and one fishing company from Japan. One purse seine vessel flying the Kiribati flag is fishing under this joint venture.


Kiribati entered into a JV arrangement with Kao Fishing Company of Japan in 1994, with one purse seiner flagged in Kiribati. This arrangement is still in place.

Sportsfishing and gamefishing Edit

Current Status

No charter boats for gamefishing in Kiribati waters.

Around 8 gamefishing craft (all private sector) in Tarawa with a fishing competition each month.

Well developed sportsfishery on Christmas Island (both public and private sector), based on flyfishing for bonefish and other species.


Gamefishing is in its infancy in Kiribati, although fishing competitions are held out of Tarawa several times per year with up to 8 boats competing. This is all done by the private sector with no government involvement.

On Christmas Island there is a well developed sportsfishery in the lagoon based on flyfishing for bonefish. Both the public and private sectors are involved in this activity.

Bait fishing trials or activities Edit

Current Status

Milkfish farming on both Tarawa and Christmas Island for food fish. Plans to grow milkfish for tuna longline bait, but only small amounts produced to date.


From the 1970s to the end of the 1990s, baitfishing has been conducted around islands in Kiribati for live bait in tuna pole-and-line fishing operations. This has now ceased as there are no industrial pole fishing activities.

Baitfish (milkfish) has also been produced in ponds on Tarawa since 1975 to meet the needs of the pole-and-line vessels in the 1980s and 1990s. The ponds are government run, with funding initially from the UK, then the EC, and then by the Kiribati Government and Japan Tuna Corporation.

Milkfish has been grown to a suitable size for tuna longline bait and used during some of CPP’s longline trials. Milkfish also grown as food fish.

Other fishing methods trialled Edit

Current Status

Local fishermen catch flying fish at night using light attraction and scoop nets.

Netting of flying fish also occurs in the early evening (before dark) when the flying fish school up.

No other nearshore fishing methods or trials being conducted at present.


There are no records of other domestic fisheries development projects outside the reef in Kiribati.

References Edit

  • Anon. 1998a. Fisheries Division Annual Report 1998. Ministry of Natural Resources Development, Republic of Kiribati. 37 p.
  • Anon. 1996a. Project document – restructuring of Outer Island fisheries project. Fisheries Division, Ministry of Natural Resources Development. 28 p.
  • Chapman, L. 2003. Development options and constraints including training needs and infrastructure requirements within the tuna fishing industry and support services on Tarawa and Christmas Island, Republic of Kiribati (11 to 19 November 2002, and 26 November to 5 December 2002). Fisheries Development Section Field Report No. 19, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea, New Caledonia. 62 p.
  • Dalzell, P. and G. Preston. 1992. Deep reef slope fishery resources of the South Pacific — a summary and analysis of the dropline fishing survey data generated by the activities of the SPC Fisheries Programme between 1974 and 1988. Inshore Fisheries Research Project, Technical Document No. 2, South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 299 p.
  • Gillett, R. In press. Domestic tuna industry development in the Pacific Islands — the current situation and considerations for future development assistance. FFA Report 03/01, Gillett, Preston and Associates Inc. 196 p.
  • Gillett, R. 2002. Pacific Island fisheries: regional and country information. RAP Publication 2002/13, Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. 168 p.
  • Gulbrandsen, O. and M. Savins. 1987. Artisanal fishing craft of the Pacific Islands. Document 87/5, FAO/UNDP Regional Fishery Support Programme, Suva, Fiji. 78 p.
  • Sokimi, W., S. Beverly and L. Chapman. 2001. Technical assistance and training in small-scale tuna longlining, Tarawa, Kiribati (2 to 17 December 1998, 18 April to 24 May 1999, 10 February to 23 March 2000, and 31 October to 14 December 2000). Fisheries Development Section, Field Report No. 9, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea, New Caledonia. 47 p.
  • SPC, 1993. Kiribati Country Report 1991 (confidential). Tuna and Billfish Assessment Programme Country Report No. 4, South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 41 p plus appendices.
  • Taumaia, P. and P. Cusack. 1997. Report on second visit to Kiribati (1 April to 5 September 1984, and 31 October to 19 December 1984). Capture Section, Unpublished Report No. 10, South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 51 p.
  • Taumaia, P. and M. Gentle. 1983. Report on the Deep Sea Fisheries Development Project’s visit to the Republic of Kiribati. South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia. 27 p.
  • Tinga, R. 2002. Results of the Kiribati vertical longline fishing trial. Fisheries Economics and Development Unit, Fisheries Division, Ministry of Natural Resources Development. 28 p.
  • Tinga, R. 1993. Deep bottom fishing project (Vol II) – a project completion report. Experimental Fishing Unit, Kiribati fisheries division, Ministry of Environment and natural Resources Development. 38 p.
  • Wellington, P. Unpublished. Deep Sea Fisheries Development Project, gear development sub-project on small-scale longlining for tuna in Kiribati (March 1989 to May 1990). South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia.
  • Whitelaw, W. 2001. Country guide to gamefishing in the western and central Pacific. Oceanic Fisheries Programme, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea, New Caledonia. 112 p.