Overview of the Center

NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center - Dole Street Offices

Function and Mission

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) is one of six NOAA Fisheries Science Centers. Established in 2003 with the creation of the Pacific Islands Region (PIR) within NOAA Fisheries and headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii, PIFSC is responsible for research on Federally managed marine fisheries, protected species such as the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, and ecosystems in the entire western and central Pacific Ocean, in both near-island (insular) habitats and open ocean (pelagic) environments.

The Center's mission is to conduct timely, high quality applied scientific research to support conservation and management of living marine resources in the central and western Pacific Ocean. The PIFSC mission is linked directly to the NOAA Strategic Plan and, in particular, NOAA's Ecosystem Mission Goal:

"To protect, restore, and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources through an ecosystem approach to management."

In providing the science to support an ecosystems approach to the conservation, management and recovery of living marine resources, the PIFSC has adopted a multidisciplinary strategy. The strategy involves integrated data collection and monitoring of marine resources and their environment, including an extensive ecosystem observation system, scientific research programs with activities focused on nearshore and pelagic fisheries, coral reef species and habitats, marine mammals and sea turtles, marine ecosystems and oceanography, and conservation and management advice.

Kewalo Research Facility

The Center's fisheries-oriented research programs monitor U.S. fisheries throughout the PIR and conduct biological, ecological, and economic research in support of five Fishery Management Plans and emerging Fishery Ecosystem Plans developed by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPFMC). Similar scientific contributions are made toward international management of fisheries for tuna and other highly migratory species by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. In both domestic and international fisheries management arenas, PIFSC provides scientific support and advice to the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO).

PIFSC coral reef ecosystem research focuses on comprehensive surveys of reef ecosystems in the archipelagoes of the Pacific Islands Region. Protected species research and recovery programs monitor the status of the Hawaiian monk seal and sea turtles in the Pacific and identify the factors affecting their population, health, and recovery. A newer component of the Protected Species program is focused on surveys of cetacean populations in the central Pacific. Other PIFSC research investigates the structure and dynamics of central North Pacific marine ecosystems and how marine populations are affected by changes in their predators, prey, and habitat, and by ocean climate.


PIFSC has a long and illustrious history. The initial staff and facilities of PIFSC derived from the former Honolulu Laboratory, until 2003 a component of the NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center in California. Before NOAA's establishment in 1970, the Honolulu Laboratory was part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, originating in 1948 as the Pacific Oceanic Fishery Investigations. In almost 6 decades of scientific studies, PIFSC staff and our predecessors have engaged in fishery resource exploration, fisheries development, fisheries biology and ecology, protected species recovery research and conservation, and oceanographic research throughout the Pacific and as far away as the Indian Ocean. More recently, PIFSC has established extensive programs in coral reef ecology through collaboration with NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Geographic Area of Responsibility

Bounded by the Hawaiian Archipelago in the north, American Samoa and U. S. Pacific Remote Island Areas in the south, and the Mariana Archipelago in the west, the Pacific Islands Region encompasses the largest geographical area within NOAA Fisheries' jurisdiction. The U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone within the Region includes more than 1.7 million square nautical miles of ocean, roughly equal to the total EEZ of the continental United States and Alaska. PIFSC is also responsible for research on living marine resources in the high-seas areas of the central and western Pacific.

Budget and Staffing History

In fiscal year (FY) 2007, the PIFSC budget was $25.3M and supported a staff of 204 researchers, technical personnel, and administrative employees. Almost all the Science Center's budget supports the NOAA "ecosystems" mission, and its activities generally fall within the Ecosystems Observation Program and Corals Program. In addition to federal employees, Center programs include a large number of scientists and seasonal technical staff employed by the University of Hawaii Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) and by a private contractor, Aquatic Farms. Several UH students also work at the Center or are engaged in graduate research with Center projects, and a number of Center scientists serve on graduate committees within the university.

Facilities and Vessels

PIFSC facility
Kapiolani Boulevard Offices

The main PIFSC office facility is located on Dole Street, adjacent to the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus. A smaller seawater research facility is located at Kewalo Basin on the Honolulu waterfront enabling research on live, large pelagic fishes, monk seals, and sea turtles. Another research facility, with offices and a wet laboratory supporting fish biology work, is leased in Aiea near Pearl Harbor. Additionally, several PIFSC researchers have recently moved from the Dole Street facility into offices adjoining the PIRO headquarters on Kapiolani Blvd in downtown Honolulu.

The NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette, homeported at Ford Island in Honolulu, is the primary research vessel supporting the Science Center's extensive field activities. Center staff also conduct benthic habitat mapping and other coral reef ecosystems research aboard the NOAA Ship Hi‘ialakai in partnership with NOAA's National Ocean Service. PIFSC also has a "fleet" of about 30 small boats, ranging from 14 to 25 ft in length, to facilitate nearshore research.

NOAA Vessel Oscar Elton Sette

Research Focus

PIFSC research currently focuses on several areas of high priority:

  • Identifying and understanding the effects of ecosystem linkages and environmental processes on fish stocks, protected species, and other marine life and developing the scientific basis for ecosystem oriented management
  • Monitoring and reducing fishery interactions with protected species
  • Monitoring the status of Hawaiian monk seals and finding ways to increase their survival and population sustainability
  • Assessing the populations of deepwater snappers, groupers and jacks (bottomfish) in the main Hawaiian Islands
  • Monitoring the status of Hawaiian green turtles and other marine turtle populations in the Pacific
  • Assessing cetacean populations and the effects of human activity on them
  • Mitigating fisheries bycatch, particularly in multinational pelagic longline fisheries
  • Providing scientific advice in support of international and domestic management of fisheries for highly migratory species—including tunas, billfishes, and sharks
  • Assessing stocks of tunas, billfishes, and other pelagic fishes in the central and western Pacific
  • Researching the use of barbless hooks by recreational fishers to reduce post-release fish mortality and risks of injury to protected species
  • Expanding the understanding of socioeconomic and cultural aspects of living marine resource use and appreciation throughout the PIR
  • Assessing the physical and biological structure, dynamics, and health of coral reef ecosystems
  • Monitoring and removing derelict fishing gear and other marine debris from reefs and nearshore waters of the Hawaiian Archipelago

Science Center Organization

The PIFSC is organized into five research divisions: