Why the world’s most fertile fishing ground is facing a ‘unique and dire’ threat


Since long before the steel-hulled fishing boats from foreign countries arrived in the South Pacific its people have had their own systems for sharing the ocean’s catches.

In the New Zealand territory of Tokelau, in the middle of the region, the 1,400 people living on its three atolls practise a system called inati, which ensures every household gets fish.

Several times a month all atoll men are given time to prepare and bait lines and the “grey hairs” – as leaders are called – decide on the targeted fish, including tuna and trevally, using traditional knowledge of the best grounds, along with tides and the phases of the moon. They set off late at night and return 12 hours later, well after the sun has risen. Their catch is then sorted into different species and sizes. Bigger families get bigger shares.

Across the Pacific, traditional fishing practices like this take place alongside huge commercial fishing operations, where the catches are not always shared so fairly, nor disclosed so transparently.