Guam (Mariana Archipelago)
Archaeological research has revealed evidence of fishing in the Mariana Archipelago dating back three millennia, showcasing the integral role that the surrounding ocean waters played in the everyday lives of its citizens. Occupations by the Spanish, Americans and Japanese significantly changed the composition of fishing activities throughout the archipelago, ultimately generating the conditions in the local shore- and boat-based fisheries observed today. Local residents today depend on its marine resources supported for sustenance and cultural activities. Fishing has also become a staple of the Marianas tourism industry.
The US Territory of Guam is located on the other side of the dateline from the rest of the United States in the part of Oceania known as Micronesia. Guam is more closely related in heritage and tradition to other Micronesian archipelagos than to the United States. Guam and neighboring US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) shared a common geography, political status, history, culture and economy until 1898, when the archipelago was politically divided.
The archipelago’s indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian communities have a history of fishing that spans over three millennia. Waves of colonization by Westerners beginning in the 1600s had a devastating impact on traditional fishing practices.
Today, the expansion and development of fisheries are still constrained, and most of the fishermen in the archipelago participating in the bottomfish, crustacean and coral reef ecosystem fisheries do so primarily for subsistence, barter and cultural sharing purposes, such as for fiestas and food exchanges with family and friends.
In Guam, waters 0 to 3 miles from shore are managed by the Territory and waters 3 to 200 miles are federally managed. Enforcement of federal fishery regulations is handled through a joint federal-territorial partnership.
Annual reports on the fisheries are produced by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, with data collection responsibilities shared by various territorial and federal agencies.
The ocean plays an integral role in the everyday lives of Guam’s citizens. It is a major source of food and leisure activities for residents and tourists alike. Archeological research has revealed evidence of fishing activities dating back 3,000 years. Nowadays, small-scale troll, bottom and reef fish fisheries persist, with landings sold locally. Although the composition of fishing activities in Guam has changed significantly over the years, a common view of its importance remains. The exclusive economic zone around Guam is extensive and contains abundant fisheries resources. There is substantial fisheries development potential for underutilized pelagic and bottomfish species occurring in these waters.
The status of the fisheries is updated annually in the Council’s Annual Reports for its Fishery Ecosystem Plans.
Pelagic Fisheries Status
The pelagic fisheries of Guam consist of small trolling boats that fish within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or the adjacent EEZ of the CNMI. The fishery targets mahimahi, wahoo, skipjack tuna, yellowfin tuna and Pacific blue marlin.
A total of 398 boats were involved in Guam’s pelagic fishery in 2018, an decrease of 24.5 percent from 2017. Total expanded pelagic landings in 2018 were 891,748 pounds, an increase of 48.4 percent when compared with the previous year, Pelagic Management Unit Species (PMUS) comprised of tunas had 663,817 pounds landed, while non-tuna PMUS had 214,168 pounds landed. Commercial revenues slightly increased in 2018, with total adjusted revenues valuing $877,523.
In 2018, fishers were asked if they experienced a shark interaction. There were a total of 806 interviews for boat based fishing in 2018, with 347 of these inappropriate for determining shark interaction. Of the remaining 459 interviews, 190 reported interactions with sharks, 269 reported no interactions with sharks, a 41% positive rate for interviews where fishers were asked about shark interactions.
Island Fisheries Status
The bottomfish fishery on Guam is a combination of recreational, subsistence and small-scale commercial fishing. The majority of bottomfish fishing around Guam takes place on offshore banks, though practically no information exists on the condition of the reefs on offshore banks.
The Guam bottomfish fishery in 2018 exhibited a six percent increase in catch for all species and an 11 percent increase in catch since 2016 for bottomfish management unit species (BMUS) in particular, though no commercial catch trends can be reported due to data confidentiality (i.e., less than three vendors reported). Total BMUS catch was 32,750 pounds, less than 50 percent of the prescribed annual catch limit for the year. The number of participants in the fishery in 2018 was six percent than the short (10 years) and long-term (20 years) averages. One large vessel bottomfish federal permit was issued in 2018 for Guam.
Stock assessment parameters for the Guam BMUS complexes generated by Yau et al. (2015) suggest that the complexes are not overfished, nor are they experiencing overfishing.
Most of the fishing on Guam is non-commercial, meaning they fish for food (sustenance), culture and tradition (subsistence), and for recreation. While the non-commercial fisheries are mainly for pelagic species using trolling gear, there is also a large amount of spearfishing, bottomfish fishing, and shorefishing. Guam also has a charter fishing sector that caters to both pelagic and bottomfish fishing, mainly for tourists from Japan. The charter fishery mainly uses trolling for blue marlin, skipjack, and dolphinfish.
National Standard 1 allows for the Regional Fishery Management Councils to identify species, species complexes, and stocks that would constitute Ecosystem Components (81 FR 71858, October 18, 2016). Ecosystem Components are species that contributes to the ecological functions of the island fisheries ecosystem. These species are retained in the Marianas FEP for monitoring purposes and are protected associated with its role in the ecosystem and to address other ecosystem issues.
Coral Reef Ecosystem Components
Hook and line is the most common method of fishing for coral reef fish on Guam, accounting for around 70 percent of fishers and gear. Throw net (talaya) is the second most common method accounting for about 15 percent. Other methods include gill net, snorkel spearfishing, SCUBA spearfishing, surround net, drag net, hooks, gaffs and gleaning. Less than 20 percent of the total coral reef resources harvested in Guam are taken from federal waters (3 to 200 miles from shore), primarily because the reefs in the exclusive economic zone are often associated with less accessible offshore banks.
In Guam, 2018 total catch of coral reef ecosystem management species was 136,385 and 106,707 pounds for boat-based and shore-based fisheries, respectively. This corresponds to a 12 percent increase compared to the short-term average for the boat-based fisheries and a 16 percent decrease for the shore-based fisheries. The shore-based coral reef fishery in 2018 was topped by hook-and-line and cast nets targeting rabbitfish and jacks. The boat-based sector was headed by bottomfishing and spearfishing targeting bottomfish, parrotfish and jacks. The 2018 participation levels were relatively lower than average most gear types.
Crustaceans Ecosystem Components
There were no federal permit holders in Guam for lobster or shrimp in 2018. The only notable catch from the Guam crustacean fishery in 2018 was 446 pounds of spiny lobster.
Precious Corals Ecosystem Components
A federal permit is required for anyone harvesting or landing black, bamboo, pink, red or gold corals in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the US Western Pacific Region. No precious coral or special coral reef fishery permits have been issued for the EEZ around Guam since 2007.
Guam fisheries are dynamic and always changing. Click here to see what Guam fishery issues the Council is working on and what other fishery issues are impacting the Mariana Archipelago.
Fishery Ecosystem Plans
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, under authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, creates and amends management plans for fisheries seaward of state/territorial waters in the US Pacific Islands. The Western Pacific Council’s Fishery Ecosystem Plans (FEPs) are place-based and utilize an ecosystem approach. An overall Pacific Pelagic FEP was created because of the migratory nature of the pelagic species. Both the Mariana Archipelago (CNMI and Guam) and Pelagic FEPs were approved in 2009 and codified in 2010. These FEPs are amended as necessary.
Marine Conservation Plans
Marine Conservation Plans (MCPs) are required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Section 204(4)) detailing the use of funds collected by the Secretary of Commerce pursuant to fishery agreements (e.g. Pacific Insular Area fishery agreement, quota transfer agreement, etc.). These MCPs should be consistent with the fishery ecosystem plan, identify conservation and management objectives, and prioritize planned marine conservation projects. The MCPs are developed by the Governor of each territory and is applicable for three-years. Click below for Guam’s latest Marine Conservation Plan
The Council has done a lot of work in Guam fisheries from research to workshops, to outreach and education. Below are some of the completed projects and publications.
Indigenous + Community Resources
Since its inception in 1976, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has been guided by the social, cultural and economic realities of our island communities. In our region, since time immemorial, the ocean has been the primary source of protein. Conservation was the system for food security and survival.
- 2023-2026 Guam Advisory Panel Brochure
- 2023-2026 CNMI Advisory Panel Brochure
- Community-Based Management Plan for Malesso Coastal & Marine Resources
- CNMI Advisory Panel 2019-2022 brochure
- Guam Advisory Panel 2019-2022 brochure
- Annual Catch Limits display
- Marianas Fishery Ecosystem Plan Brochure
- Review of Archaeological and Historical Data Concerning Reef Fishing in the US Flag Islands of Micronesia: Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands