An aerial view of the capital Tarawa. The abundant tuna fishing grounds of Kiribati are spread far and wide across the Pacific. Around a quarter of all tuna caught in the Pacific are caught in Kiribati’s waters, which in 2012 was more than half a million metric tonnes.
Local I-Kiribati men wait alongside the foreign fishing boats for damaged tuna to be discarded. Most of the tuna caught here are netted by foreign owned ‘purse seiner’ boats. These sophisticated boats use modern radars and onboard helicopter crews to locate large schools of tuna, often landing tonnes of tuna at a time.
Skipjack tuna are loaded into smaller nets on the purse seiner to be craned into the belly of the mother ship moored alongside. The revenue from tuna alone accounts for more than half of Kiribati’s total national revenue.
The Filipino crew unloads skipjack from the bowels of a Taiwanese purse seiner. There are over 200 purse seiners fishing in Kiribati at any one time, and the sheer number of these boats operating has resulted in tuna stocks being declared dangerously low.
Under the watchful eye of the Filipino crew, skipjack is transferred onto larger ‘mother ships’, capable of storing thousands of tonnes of tuna in brine. Unlike other Pacific nations, Kiribati still allows this practice to occur in their waters, maximizing the fishing time for the boats, and the amount of tuna of caught.
A fisherman sorts through tuna destined for Taiwan deep in the bowels of a purse seiner. The head of fishery management in the Pacific has warned that such low numbers of fish will be devastating to the species, and that fishing in the area needs to be stopped to let the fish stocks rebuild.
Local men from Tarawa dock next to a purse seiner to receive a smaller tuna. The arrival of the global fishing industry on their doorstep has completely changed the fishing habits of the I-Kiribati.
Local fishermen wait to be thrown tuna from one of the mother ships moored in Tarawa. Whereas once ocean fishers, most I-Kiribati fishermen don’t leave the lagoon. They motor out to the large purse seiners transferring their catch to huge mother ships containing a life time of tuna, and wait for damaged or inferior tuna, not fit for sale in the high-end foreign markets to be thrown overboard.
The boats of the foreign-owned fishing fleets have permanently moorings in the main lagoon of the nation's capital, and sit in full view of parliament, and the local fishermen living in ramshackle homes on the shores.
Two yellowfin tuna lie on the side of a road in Betio, waiting to be taken to a local market. The tuna were discarded by one of the purse seiners anchored in the lagoon.
An employee of Kiribati Fish Ltd, the only major local fishery business, inspects freshly caught Tuna. The incredible scale of the foreign-owned fleet ensures that the nationally owned fishing company is priced out of the market and unable to compete internationally. Kiribati makes its money from selling the license to fish, but revenue made from these licenses accounts for less than 10% of the market value of fish caught.
Two young boys on the bow of a fishing boat washed ashore in 2013. With such a large reliance on fishing to an entire nation, more needs to be done to ensure the prosperity of the industry.
Young fishermen spot schools of fish from a bridge near Betio in Tarawa. Fishing and the ocean are intrinsic to the way of life of young men in Kiribati, but traditional fishing habits are changing.
After spotting the schools of fish from the bridge, the older boys swim out with a net. Fishing is the main industry in Kiribati, and many local men now end up working on board foreign owned boats.
The young men return to shore with a catch of bonefish. Around 60% of Kiribati households participate in subsistence fishing activities for daily food consumption.
The young men have netted their fish on the lagoon side of the atoll. Despite warnings that the water on this side of the atoll is not even safe for swimming due to pollution and open defecation, the locals eat the fish from here everyday.
Young boys fold up an empty fishing net, ready to cast again. With little land to farm on, most subsistence food is gathered from the ocean. With local fish stocks dwindling, many locals are resorting to a diet heavy with processed food, leading to a high prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
A local fisherman trawls for tuna on the edge of the lagoon in Tarawa. This type of traditional fishing is fast in decline, with many people believing the global fishing industry to be the root cause of fish stocks dwindling.