This article first appeared in the SiC Report “Rethinking Insecurity in the Blue Pacific Region.“ Click here to access the introduction and a full PDF download of the Report.

By Kristi Govella

Abstract: This article examines how fishing is closely intertwined with human security considerations in the Pacific Islands region in terms of food security, economic security, personal security, community security, and environmental security. Key areas of vulnerability stem from the heavy reliance of these communities on the oceans and the nature of fish stocks as “common-pool resources,” which creates challenges of monitoring and sustainability. As many of the world’s waters increasingly suffer from overfishing and as climate change endangers ocean ecosystems worldwide, these dynamics are gradually impacting the people of the Pacific Islands. Moreover, intensifying threats in neighboring waters from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and fisheries crimes such as human trafficking also pose risks to the human security of the region.


Although the Pacific Islands countries total just over 550,000 km2 in land area, they claim exclusive economic zones (EEZs) spanning over 30 million km2 of the most productive waters of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean—an area approximately the size of the African continent.1 The ocean and its uses are integral to the culture of these places, as well as to their health and prosperity. Fishing in particular has deep interconnections with the “human security” of the Pacific Island countries. The human security framework reconceptualizes “traditional” state-centric notions of security to include threats to the individual and society, including dimensions related to economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security.2 This expanded definition of security more comprehensively captures the tangible risks that individuals and communities face, while maintaining a sense of the threats that preoccupy their governments.

How is fishing intertwined with human security in the Pacific Islands region? How are developments in other parts of the oceans affecting Pacific Island countries? This article argues that fishing is intimately interconnected with food security, economic security, personal security, community security, and environmental security in this region. Key areas of vulnerability stem from the heavy reliance of these communities on the oceans and the nature of fish stocks as “common-pool resources,” which creates challenges of monitoring and sustainability. Common-pool resources are non-excludable and rivalrous; essentially, it is not possible to easily exclude others from capturing fish because they move freely across maritime boundaries, and overfishing by some actors depletes the number of fish available to others. As many of the world’s waters increasingly suffer from overfishing and as climate change endangers ocean ecosystems worldwide, these dynamics are gradually impacting the people of the Pacific Islands. Moreover, intensifying threats in neighboring waters from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and fisheries crimes such as human trafficking are also affecting the Pacific Islands region, posing risks to its human security. 

Although the diversity of the countries and territories of the Pacific Islands makes it impossible to formulate findings that apply equally to all places, this article identifies broad trends and suggests directions that can be further explored in specific national contexts. It begins by analyzing some of the intersections between human security and fishing in the Pacific Islands region. It then proceeds to a discussion of how transboundary maritime challenges related to overfishing and climate change are affecting the waters surrounding the Pacific Island countries. The article concludes by highlighting areas where additional attention is needed to protect the human security of the region moving forward.

Fishing at the Nexus of Multiple Dimensions of Human Security

Fishing is closely intertwined with the human security of the Pacific Islands across multiple dimensions. Figure 1 provides a simplified illustration of the some of the interconnections that will be discussed in this article. In reality, multiple dimensions of human security impact each other and fishing in complex ways, meaning that there should be more causal arrows connecting these factors pointing in multiple directions; however, this brief analysis focuses on just a few of these interconnections to demonstrate their significance. This section first examines how fishing impacts food security, economic security, personal security, and community security. It then examines how fishing is in turn impacted by environmental security, particularly by climate change.

Figure 1. Highlighted Connections between Fishing and Human Security in the Pacific Islands

Fishing is clearly critical to the food security of the region in terms of physical and economic access to basic sustenance. For many of the smaller Pacific Island countries, fish are essential to food supply, since other sources of protein are often not readily available. Fish and other aquatic foods are a rich source of micronutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, and lean protein necessary for good nutrition.3 Nowhere else do as many countries rely so heavily on subsistence fishing to supply the majority of the protein for their diet.4 Per capita aquatic food consumption in Oceania is about 23.2 kg per year, second only to Asia, where per capita consumption is 24.6 kg.5 Dietary dependence on fish varies among Pacific Island countries. For example, Kiribati has one of the highest levels of per capita consumption of aquatic foods in the world at 69.22 kg per person per year, while Papua New Guinea is much lower at 13.41 kg per person per year.6

Fishing is also critical to economic security—i.e., access to assured basic income—through several different mechanisms, including 1) access agreements and licensing fees, 2) employment, and 3) economic aid. When the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea created the concept of the exclusive economic zones, it should have amounted to a significant transfer of wealth from the major distant-water fishing nations to the coastal nations that could now claim their resources—particularly to the Pacific Islands countries and territories, which now manage about 20 percent of all EEZs globally.7 Although these countries have certainly benefited, they have not been able to fully capture the potential economic gains, which are unevenly distributed across the region and within individual countries.8 There have been some signs of improvement in recent years, but the picture is still mixed. 

First, tuna fishing access and licensing fees are a major source of revenue in some Pacific Islands countries such as Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Tuvalu.9 Six Pacific Island countries receive at least 45 percent and up to 98 percent of all their government revenue from these license fees.10 In several of these countries, revenues have increased markedly over the last decade, though their governments and populations still face many economic challenges.11 Since revenues are paid directly to central governments, communities must rely on these governments to redistribute the wealth, and many individuals feel that they receive little or no benefits from the tuna industry.12

Second, the fishing and fisheries products industries are an important source of employment in the Pacific Islands, though the largest parts of these activities often take place outside the region. Total employment related to tuna fisheries in the Pacific Islands in 2021 totaled around 17,400 jobs, an increase of 42 percent over the previous six years. About 63 percent of fishing-related employment fell into the categories of processing and ancillary services, but this employment is heavily concentrated in Papua New Guinea, with a limited amount in the Solomon Islands and Fiji. Most Pacific Island countries do not benefit from this type of employment because about 83 percent of the tuna catch is taken out of the region for processing.13

The harvest sector is another important source of employment, accounting for about 29 percent of fishing-related jobs—but here too there is evidence that Pacific Island countries are capturing a relatively limited portion of the potential economic gains. In 2015, 39 percent of the catch value taken in the national waters of Pacific Islands Fishing Forum Agency (FFA) members was harvested by FFA members. This appears to have increased dramatically over the last decade; in 2021, about 56 percent of the catch value was harvested by Pacific Islands Fishing Forum Agency (FFA) members, and 44 percent of the catch value was harvested by foreign vessels.14 However, interpretation of this data is complicated by the fact that not all vessels flagged to Pacific Islands countries may actually be owned by them. Some experts estimate that the majority of the vessels flagged to small Pacific Island countries are owned by Chinese companies, with some potentially      owned by companies from South Korea or Taiwan.15

Third, economic aid to Pacific Island countries is widely acknowledged to be related to the rich fishery resources of their EEZs, as well as their strategic location and their political influence in the United Nations. There are some direct linkages between aid and fishing, such as the Economic Assistance Agreement associated with the US Tuna Fisheries Treaty; through this agreement, the FFA maintains an economic development fund from which payments are made to the Pacific Island countries who are party to the Treaty. In 2022, this economic agreement was renegotiated to increase US funding from $21 million to $60 million per year, for a total of $600 million from 2023 to 2033.16

In many cases, the link between aid and fishing is less direct but still compelling. Between 2008 and 2021, major distant-water fishing nations China, Japan, and the US ranked among the top donors of official developmental assistance and other official flows to the region, spending $4.25 billion, $3.45 billion, and $2.93 billion respectively.17 China has funded more than 100 aid projects, donated in-kind support in 200 cases, and trained roughly 10,000 local professionals since the 1970s.18 Japan has traditionally focused on providing grants for socioeconomic purposes, and its initiatives have addressed areas such as health, infrastructure, climate change and disaster prevention, and maritime issues.19 US aid has focused on disaster preparedness, climate change, health, economic growth and trade, and democracy and governance.20 Aid makes up a large portion of national revenue in some Pacific Island countries, significantly impacting the economic security of communities and individuals. For example, official development assistance received constituted 44 percent of gross national income in Tuvalu, 37.9 percent in the Marshall Islands, 29.2 percent in Micronesia, and 22.8 percent in Tonga.21

In addition to economic security, fishing can also impact the personal security of individuals by subjecting them to physical violence. Slavery, forced labor, human trafficking, and irregular migration pose serious risks to the safety and security of individuals at sea. For example, the people of the Pacific Islands can be vulnerable to fisheries crimes such as human trafficking, particularly as victims of forced labor in the fishing industry.22 Pacific Island countries are a source, transit point, and destination of trafficking in persons, and human rights abuses are severe in the Pacific tuna industry.23 Off-shore fishery areas are difficult for authorities to monitor, making it possible to exploit laborers without being caught. When individuals find themselves in an unsafe situation, it can be difficult for them to seek assistance due to language barriers and threats from fishing companies. Case studies have shown that individuals face risks from deceptive recruitment practices, physical and sexual violence, forced labor, trafficking, passport confiscation, debt-based coercion, excessive working hours, and abusive living and working conditions.24

Moreover, fishing impacts these countries’ community security in the sense that it shapes traditional cultural practices and values that are important to their people. Community security is a broad concept with many meanings, but for the purposes of this analysis, the relationship between fishing and identity is key.25 Community security includes preserving language and customs and ensuring the community’s survival as a “locus of identification” for its members.26 The oceans and people’s relationships with them are central to Pacific Islanders’ cultures.27 Pacific Islanders who fish make up the majority of the population in many countries, and many people catch for both personal consumption and for sale.28 Indigenous fishing knowledge has been fundamentally important in these countries, with “cultural keystone species” of fish shaping cultural identities.29 The interconnections between fishing and community in these places go beyond the concrete aspects of fish as a source of food or economics, impacting their identities and ways of life.

While this section has focused thus far on the ways that fishing impacts multiple dimensions of human security, it is also the case that human security factors can impact fishing, as in the case of environmental security. For example, climate change causes changes in precipitation, extreme weather, and temperature changes that endanger both land-based agricultural activities and coastal fisheries. It reduces the diversity and abundance of reef-forming corals, which in turn decreases the productivity of fish associated with these coral reefs.30 Most of the fish consumed in the Pacific Islands is caught from coral reefs; less than one percent of the average tuna catch from their own EEZs is used for local consumption.31 Climate change can also change the travel patterns of migratory fish such as tuna in ways that may decrease their supply in the Pacific Islands region, which will be discussed further in the next section. Climate change even poses risks to the physical territory of low-lying states in the Pacific Islands because the baselines that serve as the foundation of their maritime entitlements are vulnerable to erosion, accretion, and sea level rise, which means that the size of the EEZs of these states—and their ability to fish and obtain value from fishing—may be negatively affected in the future.32

Regional Impacts of Transboundary Maritime Challenges

These interconnections between fishing and human security also exist in other parts of the world. Fishing is essential to food security, economic security, personal security, environmental security, and environmental security in neighboring Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia, for example.33 However, there are some key differences in the Pacific Islands region and other parts of the Asia-Pacific. For example, while political, economic, and security dynamics have driven widespread government subsidization of fishing fleets in Asia and encouraged overfishing in waters such as the South China Sea, the fishery resources available in the waters of the Pacific Islands region are less overexploited on average. Overfishing by Pacific Islanders is much less prevalent, and, according to some estimates, the region produces more fish than it consumes by a factor of at least 10 to 1.34 Nonetheless, issues related to overfishing that have worsened in other parts of the ocean are gradually spreading to the waters of the Pacific Islands as well, and climate change is impacting the oceans globally. This section discusses these transboundary maritime challenges in the context of fish stocks as a common-pool resource.

As mentioned in the introduction, common-pool resources are non-excludable and rivalrous; it is not possible for people of one country to easily exclude others from capturing fish that move freely across maritime boundaries, and overfishing by some actors depletes the total supply of fish available to others. These dynamics are especially true for the Pacific Islands region, where the main species targeted by fisheries are highly migratory species of skipjack tuna, yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, and albacore tuna. Large catches made within the EEZs of Pacific Island countries and territories supply over 30 percent of the world’s tuna, and data for the Western and Central Pacific Ocean indicates that all four stocks are considered to be in a healthy, sustainable state, with skipjack, yellowfin, and albacore having a 0 percent chance of currently experiencing overfishing and bigeye having a 12.5 percent chance of overfishing.35 Catches have increased since the 1960s and have remained relatively consistent over the last decade (see Figure 2). This is a considerably better state than in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, or the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas where tuna catches have been much smaller and where several of these stocks are overfished.36

Figure 2. Total Catch of Four Tropical Tuna Species for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Convention Area (1960–2021)37

However, this is not to say that the trends happening elsewhere do not affect the Pacific Islands. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing includes a broad range of illicit behavior that is attracting increased concern from policymakers.38 Illegal fishing refers to activities that violate national, regional, and international laws and regulations. Unreported fishing refers to activities that are not reported or misreported to authorities in contravention of laws and regulations. Unregulated fishing occurs in ways that are not consistent with international law and in areas where there are no applicable conservation or management measures. The elusive nature of IUU fishing makes it difficult to know the extent to which fish stocks may be compromised, but available data suggests that these losses are significant. One report estimated the total value of illegally harvested or transshipped tuna in the region at about $333.49 million during the 2017–2019 period, around 6.5 percent of the total amount paid to fishermen for their tuna catches in the total Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Convention Area in 2019.39 As other areas become overfished, more fishing vessels engaged in IUU fishing are venturing into the waters of the Pacific Islands region. For example, Vietnamese “blue boats” are now entering the territorial waters of Pacific Island countries to illegally catch high-value species of sea cucumber and giant clam.40

Table 1 shows the vulnerability of a subset of Pacific Island countries to IUU fishing across a variety of different factors based on the IUU Fishing Risk Index. Despite the diversity of these countries, some common trends are clear: their greatest vulnerabilities stem from the fact that they have very large EEZs where foreign vessels are authorized to operate, opening them up to increased threat of IUU fishing. It is difficult for these countries to monitor illicit behavior across such a broad geographical expanse of sea or to enforce regulations due to limited capacity, which exacerbates the problem.41 Corruption also enables IUU fishing by influencing monitoring and inspections.42 Fundamentally, these countries are vulnerable to IUU fishing because they are highly dependent on fish as food and as products for sale, as discussed in the previous section. IUU fishing is a threat to their economic livelihoods because it prevents them from capturing the value of their EEZs, and it also threatens the future sustainability of fish stocks, which endangers the long-term economic prospects of these countries.43

Table 1. Vulnerability to Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (2023)44

Climate change is another major transboundary issue affecting the waters of the Pacific Islands region. As climate change threatens the coastal reefs that currently supply most of the food for the people of the Pacific Islands, these countries will need to rely more on tuna catches for domestic consumption in the future. One study estimated that the coastal fisheries in 16 of 22 Pacific Islands countries and territories would not be sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of the populations of these countries by 2030, for example.45 This means that tuna will need to fill the gap, and that the state of fish stocks located in EEZs will become more important in the future. However, climate change is also increasing the temperature of the oceans, causing tuna to change their migratory patterns to travel eastward out of the EEZs of the Pacific Island and into international waters.46 Consequently, the populations of Pacific Islands countries will have less access to tuna for their own nutrition in the future, and their governments will receive less revenue because foreign fishing fleets will be able to take more of their tuna catch from international waters where they do not have to pay license fees.47 Overall, climate change is expected to increase the risk of fisheries-related conflict at sea among countries as it leads to greater competition over declining resources amid potential legal uncertainty over changing boundaries.48

In terms of the security of the state, it is important to note that there are some territorial disputes in the Pacific Islands region. There are 48 shared boundaries in the Pacific; 36 have been placed under treaty since 1973, leaving the rest still unsettled.49 In the past, there have been incidents, for example, between Tonga and Fiji over Minerva Reef and between Vanuatu and France over the Matthew and Hunter Islands.50 However, in contrast to the South China Sea, maritime disputes do not play a large role in influencing the overall maritime dynamic of the Pacific Islands region. In the South China Sea, multiple countries have engaged in artificial island building, and observers have argued that China in particular has militarized the area by constructing runways and other infrastructure that enables it to project its military power.51 Increasing “gray zone” activity short of the threshold of conventional conflict has also come to characterize the area, making its waters increasingly tense and dangerous.52 Although there are concerns that these trends of militarization and gray zone conflict may spill over to the Pacific Islands region, there is limited evidence that this is currently occurring. Disputes among Pacific Islands countries have not taken on the same character, and China’s strategy in the region has been more geoeconomic than military in nature.53

Protecting Human Security in the Pacific

In many ways, the current situation in the Pacific Islands region appears to be more positive than in areas such as the South China Sea in terms of the health of fish stocks, the prevalence of IUU fishing, and maritime tensions among countries. However, significant interdependencies exist between fishing and human security, which means that the health and sustainability of fish stocks are critically important to the welfare and prosperity of Pacific peoples, so close attention should be paid to ensure that they do not become endangered. In the future, the pressures on fishing will undoubtedly increase due to the common-pool resource nature of fish stocks; the gradual depletion of fish stocks elsewhere and the problems of climate change pose medium- to long-term challenges. Pacific Islands countries are already cooperating with each other and with other countries to try to address these problems, but sustained effort and broad partnerships are critical to address these complex transboundary issues. This section highlights four areas where attention is needed moving forward to protect the human security of the Pacific Islands region. 

First, issues of equality and wealth distribution are essential to the human security of Pacific Islands countries, and efforts must be made to continually work toward a better balance between the fishing benefits accrued to distant-water states versus coastal states. A key goal of the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency has been to rebalance the distribution of wealth from these fisheries resources to allow the coastal states of the Pacific Islands to better capture the economic gains from their EEZs.54 Recent trends such as the increasing proportion of fish caught by FFA members vis-à-vis foreign vessels suggest that progress is being made, but the data is complicated by factors such as the difficulty of identifying the true ownership of these vessels. Moreover, even in situations where revenues increase, governments of Pacific Island countries must take the additional steps to ensure that these additional revenues are spent in ways that benefit their populations. 

Second, a balance must also be struck between present versus future consumption to protect fish stocks and to ensure sustainability. In addition to national action, regional cooperation is essential, and the Pacific Islands region has already established a strong set of cooperative mechanisms through the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the Harmonized Minimum Terms and Conditions of Access for Foreign Fishing Vessels (HMTCs), the Vessel Day Scheme, the FFA Vessel Monitoring Scheme, the Niue Treaty, and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. However, many challenges remain in terms of national management capacity, licensing, data collection, monitoring, governance, strategic and analytical capacity, corruption, participation, and implementation.55 As challenges intensify, these mechanisms will become even more important, so it is crucial to strengthen them moving forward. 

Third, steps are necessary at multiple levels to better regulate, monitor, prevent, and punish violations of personal security and human rights at sea. Internationally, the International Labour Organization Work in Fishing Convention C188 is aimed at ensuring decent working conditions for fishers aboard vessels, for example, and the Port State Measures Agreement and Cape Town Agreement address IUU fishing and vessel safety respectively. However, these agreements have not yet been ratified by many countries, including those in the Pacific Islands region.56 In 2019, the Forum Fisheries Committee adopted amendments to its HMTCs that regulate fishing in its members’ EEZs to help ensure decent conditions of work with regard to minimum requirements for work on board, conditions of service, accommodation, food, occupational safety, medical care, and social security.57 However, it is widely recognized that more needs to be done not only in terms of regulation but also in improving monitoring and enforcement. At the community level, for example, there needs to be more awareness of how perpetrators can be brought to justice when they are identified.58

Fourth, progress on climate change is crucial and must be undertaken at the global level. While Pacific Island countries are responsible for less than one percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, they face disproportionate impacts due to their low elevations and dependence on the oceans. The countries have taken steps to plan for the impacts of climate change. For example, in 2023, the Pacific Islands Forum endorsed the Pacific Regional Framework on Climate Change as guidance for climate-related mobility and maintaining the rights of those staying in place, planning to relocate, or on the move.59 However, they cannot hope to slow climate change without the help of the countries that are contributing the majority of the world’s carbon emissions. Pacific Island countries are taking an active role in global climate-related forums such as the Conference of the Parties (COP), but they need the partnership of others to avoid devastating consequence for their populations.60

Although this article has tried to draw attention to broad patterns and interrelationships across the Pacific Islands region, awareness of the diversity among its countries and territories is essential to understanding the best paths forward. For example, the benefits of fishing are unevenly distributed across the region and take different forms in different countries. To improve economic security, some Pacific Island countries are primarily interested in increasing revenue from licensing arrangements, while other countries would be better served by opportunities for development of domestic fishing capacity or processing capability, transshipment, and employment.61 Similarly, climate change has varying impacts on these countries. The diversity of challenges among the countries and territories of the Pacific Islands means that it is difficult to discuss broad trends without considering many caveats. In this article, illustrative examples have been given to suggest relationships and patterns; however, the sharp variations in local context across the region mean that a nuanced and differentiated approach is necessary in the future.

1: Leonardo Bernard et al., “Securing the Limits of Large Ocean States in the Pacific: Defining Baselines Limits and Boundaries amidst Changing Coastlines and Sea Level Rise,” Geosciences 11, no. 9 (2021): 394–414; Robert Gillett, “Pacific Islands Region.” FAO Marine Resources Service. Review of the state of world marine resources. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 457. Rome, FAO.

2: United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1994 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).

3: Lydia O’Meara et al., “Pacific Food Systems: The Role of Fish and Other Aquatic Foods for Nutrition and Health” (Apia, Samoa: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2023).

4: Johann Bell et al., “Planning the Use of Fish for Food Security in the Pacific,” Marine Policy 33 (2009): 71.

5: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture: Towards Blue Transformation” (Rome: FAO, 2022), 85.

6: Our World in Data, “Fish and Seafood Consumption per Capita, 2020,” 2020,

7: Rögnvaldur Hannesson, “The Exclusive Economic Zone and Economic Development in the Pacific Island Countries,” Marine Policy 32 (2008): 886–97; Pacific Data Hub, “Pacific Maritime Boundaries Dashboard,” accessed January 17, 2023,

8: Hannah Parris, “Tuna Dreams and Tuna Realities: Defining the Term ‘Maximising Economic Returns from the Tuna Fisheries’ in Six Pacific Island States,” Marine Policy 34 (2010): 105–13; Hannesson, “The Exclusive Economic Zone and Economic Development in the Pacific Island Countries.”

9: Shari Boyce et al., “Special Topic—Leveraging Marine Fishery Resources: Implications for Fiscal Policy,” in Asia and Pacific Small States Monitor (International Monetary Fund, 2014), 11.

10: Olivia DeSmit, “Pacific Islands Face Hardships as Tuna Follow Warming Waters,” July 1, 2019,

11: James Webb, “Kiribati Economic Survey: Oceans of Opportunity,” Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies 7, no. 1 (February 12, 2020): 5–26; IntraFish Media, “Marshall Islands Urge Better Management on Soaring Fishing Licence Revenues,” August 2, 2016,

12: Kate Barclay, “Impacts of Tuna Industries on Coastal Communities in the Pacific Island Countries,” Marine Policy 34 (2010): 406–13.

13: Forum Fisheries Agency and Pacific Community (SPC), “Tuna Fishery Report Card 2022,” 2022.

14: Forum Fisheries Agency and Pacific Community (SPC).

15: United States International Trade Commission, “Seafood Obtained via Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing: US Imports and Economic Impact on US Commercial Fisheries” (Washington, DC, 2021), 158.

16: Peter Griffin, “Pacific Signs New Economic Assistance Agreement with the United States,” Pacific Islands Ocean Fisheries Management Project, July 13, 2023,

17: Lowy Institute, “Pacific Aid Map,” 2023, Australia is by far the largest donor to the region, for a total of $15.04 billion in ODA and OOFs during this time period.

18: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Fact Sheet: Cooperation Between China and Pacific Island Countries,” May 24, 2022,

19: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Japan’s Support for the Pacific Island Countries” (Tokyo, Japan, 2021).

20: USAID, “Pacific Islands Regional Profile” (Washington, DC, 2022).

21: World Bank, “Net ODA Received (% of GNI),” 2021,

22: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Regional Report on the Existing Capacities to Measure Trafficking in Persons in the Pacific Islands” (Vienna, Austria, 2023).

23: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, “Out of Sight: Modern Slavery in Pacific Supply Chains of Canned Tuna,” 2019.

24: Kofi Otumawu-Apreka et al., “Fishing Activities in Pacific Island Countries: A Human-Rights Perspective,” Marine Policy 161, no. 106008 (2024).

25: Mely Caballero-Anthony, “Community Security: Human Security at 21,” Contemporary Politics 21, no. 1 (2015): 53–69; Ole Wæver, “Securitization and Desecuritization,” in On Security, ed. Ronnie Lipschutz (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

26: Tobias Theiler, “Societal Security and Social Psychology,” Review of International Studies 29, no. 2 (2003): 249–68.

27: Epeli Hau’ofa, “Our Sea of Islands,” The Contemporary Pacific 6, no. 1 (1994): 148–61.

28: Tim Adams, “The Characteristics of Pacific Island Small-Scale Fisheries,” SPC Fisheries Newsletter, no. 138 (2012): 37.

29: Salanieta Kitolelei et al., “Na Vuku Makawa Ni Qoli: Indigenous Fishing Knowledge (IFK) in Fiji and the Pacific,” Frontiers in Marine Science 8 (2021).

30: Bell et al., “Planning the Use of Fish for Food Security in the Pacific”; Jon Barnett, “Dangerous Climate Change in the Pacific Islands: Food Production and Food Security,” Regional Environmental Change 11, no. Suppl 1 (2011): S229–37.

31: Lucy Towers, “Local Tuna Consumption in the Pacific Important,” The Fish Site, February 5, 2015,

32: Rebecca Strating and Joanne Wallis, “Maritime Sovereignty and Territorialisation: Comparing the Pacific Islands and South China Sea,” Marine Policy 141, no. 105110 (2022): 1–8.

33: Kristi Govella, “Avoiding and Exploiting the Tragedy of the Commons: Fishing, Crime, and Conflict in the South China Sea,” International Politics 60 (2023): 1294–1314.

34: Adams, “The Characteristics of Pacific Island Small-Scale Fisheries.”

35: Steven Hare et al., “The Western and Central Pacific Tuna Fishery: 2021 Overview and Status of Stocks” (Noumea, New Caledonia: Pacific Community, 2022), 9.

36: Hare et al., 52.

37: Compiled by author from Hare et al., “The Western and Central Pacific Tuna Fishery: 2021 Overview and Status of Stocks.”

38: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Understanding Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing,” NOAA Fisheries, 2023,

39: MRAG Asia Pacific, “The Quantification of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing in the Pacific Islands Region – a 2020 Update” (Pacific Islands Oceanic Fisheries Management, 2021).

40: Andrew Song et al., “‘Blue Boats’ and ‘Reef Robbers’: A New Maritime Security Threat for the Asia Pacific?,” Asia Pacific Viewpoint 60, no. 3 (2019): 310–24.

41: Douglas Guilfoyle and Edward Sing Yue Chan, “Lawships or Warships? Coast Guards as Agents of (in)Stability in the Pacific and South and East China Sea,” Marine Policy 140, no. 105048 (2022).

42: Quentin Hanich and Martin Tsamenyi, “Managing Fisheries and Corruption in the Pacific Islands,” Marine Policy 33 (2009): 386–92.

43: Emma Witbooi et al., “Organized Crime in the Fisheries Sector Threatens a Sustainable Ocean Economy,” Nature 588 (2020): 48–56.

44: Compiled by author from Graeme Macfadyen and Gilles Hosch, “The IUU Fishing Risk Index: 2023 Update,” Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Limited and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, 2023,

45: Johann Bell et al., “Diversifying the Use of Tuna to Improve Food Security and Public Health in Pacific Island Countries and Territories,” Marine Policy 51 (2015): 584–91.

46: DeSmit, “Pacific Islands Face Hardships as Tuna Follow Warming Waters.”

47: Chhaya Chaudhary et al., “Global Warming Is Causing a More Pronounced Dip in Marine Species Richness around the Equator,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 118, no. 15 (April 5, 2021): e2015094118.

48: Elizabeth Mendenhall et al., “Climate Change Increases the Risk of Fisheries Conflict,” Marine Policy 117, no. 103954 (2020).

49: Pacific Data Hub, “Pacific Maritime Boundaries Dashboard.”

50: Lili Song and Morsen Mosses, “Revisiting Ocean Boundary Disputes in the South Pacific in Light of the South China Sea Arbitration: A Legal Perspective,” The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law 33 (2018).

51: Simon Leplâtre, “Beijing Continues to Militarize South China Sea Islands,” Le Monde, August 24, 2023.

52: Kristi Govella, “China’s Challenge to the Global Commons: Compliance, Contestation, and Subversion in the Maritime and Cyber Domains,” International Relations 35, no. 3 (2021): 446–68; Govella, “Avoiding and Exploiting the Tragedy of the Commons: Fishing, Crime, and Conflict in the South China Sea.”

53: Rebecca Strating et al., “Commentary: China in the Maritime Pacific,” Marine Policy 141, no. 105092 (2022).

54: Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, “Strategic Plan 2020–2025” (Honiara, Solomon Islands: Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, 2020).

55: Quentin Hanich, Feleti Teo, and Martin Tsamenyi, “A Collective Approach to Pacific Islands Fisheries Management: Moving Beyond Regional Agreements,” Marine Policy 34 (2010): 85–91.

56: Kevin Chand and James Sloan, “A New Set of Minimum Terms and Conditions for Crewing Employment Conditions in the Pacific,” Ocean Law Bulletins, September 19, 2019,

57: Chand and Sloan.

58: Kite Pareti, “Human Rights Violations in Pacific Fishing Industry ‘Ignored,’” Pacific Community, September 12, 2023,

59: Pacific Islands Forum, “Pacific Regional Framework on Climate Mobility,” n.d.,

60: Alliance of Small Island States, “AOSIS Chair Statement on SIDS Priorities at COP28,” November 27, 2023,

61: Quentin Hanich et al., “Tuna Fisheries Conservation and Management in the Pacific Islands Region: Implications for Korean Distant Water Fisheries,” Asia-Pacific Journal of Ocean Law and Policy 6 (2021): 192–220.

Dr. Kristi Govella is Director of the Center for Indo-Pacific Affairs and Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her research examines the intersection of economics, security, and governance in the Indo-Pacific region. She also serves as an Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Center and Pacific Forum and as Editor of the journal Asia Policy.

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