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Sustainable Fisheries Division
Going Fishing: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Indigenous people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) have long relied on fish and other seafood. Today, snorkel spearfishing, hook and line (at depths less than 100 feet), trolling and rod and reel are preferred fishing methods.
Most people fish primarily for subsistence, barter, and cultural sharing purposes – such as fiestas and food exchanges with family and friends and fishing continues to be an important contributor to local subsistence needs.
Economic development and tourism have significantly affected commercial fishing; the Commonwealth now imports a majority of its seafood. Similar to their Guam counterparts, bottomfish fishermen in the CNMI operate relatively small boats in shallow and deep water. Also as in Guam, most non-commercial bottomfishing takes place in shallower water.
Fishermen report that they often conduct some coral reef and pelagic fishing on their way to or from bottom fish locations. Coral reef-associated fishing is small-scale and meets social, cultural, recreational, and subsistence needs. Hook and line shore-based fishing is the most popular method, though cast-netting, spearfishing, gleaning, and bottomfishing are also common.
Catch consists primarily of emperors, jacks, rabbitfish, and surgeonfish. The majority of offshore fishermen are either Chamorro or Carolinian. Trolling is a preferred method of non-commercial pelagic fishermen. Since many of their vessels are less than 25 feet in length, they are limited to within approximately 20 miles of the islands. Skipjack tuna, followed by yellowfin tuna and mahimahi are common target fishes.
The Saipan Fisherman’s Association hosts an annual international fishing tournament. The event attracts nearly 50 boats to compete in the two day event. The club also hosts the Rota Cliff Fishing Derby, which attracts visitors to Matmos, Malilok, and Pona Point for three days of shoreline fishing. The charter fishing fleet in the CNMI is small; only about five charter boats operate out in the CNMI.