Overview of the Center

Function and Mission

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

The Center's mission is to conduct timely, high quality applied science—monitoring, reporting, and analysis—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 science to support an ecosystems approach to the conservation, management and recovery of living marine resources, 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 directly related to domestic and international conservation and management mandates.

The Center's fisheries-oriented research programs monitor U.S. fisheries in the Region and conduct biological, ecological, and economic research in support of five Fishery Management Plans and four 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).

The Center's 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 and western 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.


The Center was founded in 2003 on 55 years of federal marine fisheries research dating back to the founding of the Pacific Oceanic Fishery Investigations in 1948. In 6 decades of scientific studies, Center staff and their predecessors have engaged in oceanographic research, fishery resource exploration, fisheries development, fisheries biology and ecology, and protected species recovery research and conservation throughout the Pacific and as far away as the Indian Ocean. More recently, the Center 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's jurisdiction. The U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) 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 shares responsibility 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) 2009, the PIFSC budget was $ 27.5 M and supported a staff of 224 researchers, technical personnel, and administrative employees. Almost all of 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 many scientists and seasonal technical staff employed by the University of Hawaii (UH) Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) and private contractors. Several UH students also work at the Center or are engaged in graduate research with Center projects, and Center scientists serve as affiliate faculty and are on graduate student committees within the university.

Budget by NOAA Program
  $ Million %
Corals 4.5 17
Ecosystem assessment 19.6 71
Protected species 3.4 12
Total $27.5  
Federal 96
Other 12
Total 224

Facilities and Vessels

The Center is located at five sites in Honolulu; the older office complex 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. This location is also the site of most of the Center's coral reef ecosystem monitoring staff. Another research facility, with offices and a wet laboratory supporting fish biology work, is leased in Aiea near Pearl Harbor. PIFSC marine mammal, socioeconomics and coral reef researchers are located in offices adjoining the PIRO headquarters on Kapiolani Boulevard in downtown Honolulu, and PIFSC utilizes an advanced mapping facility on the UH campus. The seawater research functions are expected to move to a new NOAA facility on Ford Island in 2011, and an entire NOAA consolidation facility is expected to be completed on Ford Island in 2013.

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 30 small boats, ranging from 14 to 25 ft in length, to facilitate nearshore research.

The Dole Street office building of the PIFSC.
The Dole Street office building of the PIFSC.
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette.
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette.
Kewalo Research Facility.
Kewalo Research Facility.
Aiea Heights Research Facility (leased space).
Aiea Heights Research Facility (leased space).
Kapiolani Boulevard offices (leased space).
Kapiolani Boulevard offices (leased space).
The NOAA Pacific Regional Center, to be 
        constructed on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, is scheduled for completion in late 2013 (architect's rendering).
The NOAA Pacific Regional Center, to be constructed on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, is scheduled for completion in late 2013 (architect's rendering).

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 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
  • Assessing the stocks of tunas, billfishes, sharks, and ecologically related pelagic species and providing scientific advice in support of international and domestic management of fisheries that catch these species
  • Researching the use of barbless circle 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 management throughout the region
  • 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
  • Expanding our fisheries and ecosystems monitoring and research in the waters of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands in cooperation with these jurisdictions

Science Center Organization

In 2009, scientific work was carried out by five research divisions:

  • Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED)
  • Ecosystems and Oceanography Division (EOD)
  • Fisheries Monitoring and Socioeconomics Division (FMSD)
  • Fishery Biology and Stock Assessment Division (FBSAD)
  • Protected Species Division (PSD)

The Operations, Management, and Information (OMI) Division has three programs providing essential support across the Center:

  • Administrative Services
  • Information Technology Services
  • Scientific Information Services
Last updated July 26 2011