Timor-Leste is surrounded by world-renowned marine resources. Fishing licenses are available to off-shore foreign operators to fish for export in the exclusive economic zone. Private sector investment has introduced prawn, grouper, and sea-cucumber farming for export markets. Many individual, small-scale operators catch a range of fish including tilapia, milkfish, groper, shrimp, seaweed and crabs.

The agriculture census 2019 reported Dili - a coastal and urban municipality - had the largest number of agricultural households (1104) engaged in fishing as compared to other municipalities. Aileu, on the other hand, reported 23 households engaged only in fishing activities, closely followed by Ermera with 63 and Ainaro with 67. Other municipalities reporting more than 500 agricultural households engaged in fishing included Baucau and Oe-cusse. [Ref. Fig. 5.2M]

The 2019 agriculture census indicated Ermera had the largest number of households (973) engaged in aquaculture activity among all the municipalities. Other municipalities with more than 500 agricultural households engaged in aquaculture activity included Ainaro, Aileu and Baucau. Manatuto reported the least number with 72 households engaged in aquaculture activities, closely followed by Dili with 83, Lautem with 109 and Liquica with 111 only. [Ref. Fig. 5.6]

Government Targets
The Timor-Leste government have a stated goal to increase fish production from only 50 metric tons a year in 2009 to 12,000 metric tons per year by 2030. They also aim to increase fish consumption from 6.1 kg to 15 kg/person/year, and for aquaculture to provide up to 40 percent of domestic fish supplies by 2030.

Fish Hatcheries
Fishery hatcheries have been established in Ermera as part of Timor-Leste’s National Aquaculture Development Strategy. The Ermera hatchery has the capacity to produce up to 5 million fish per year. The New Zealand Aid Programme funded Partnership for Aquaculture Development in Timor-Leste is helping develop the fish farming industry, providing training, planning, feed supply systems and access to market. There are further opportunities for development and investment in fisheries.

Investment Opportunities
With a coastline of about 735km and an Exclusive Economic Area (EEA) of 72,000 square kilometers, Timor-Leste has rich marine resources and a strong potential to develop the fisheries sector. However, local fishing activities mostly rely on traditional processes, with small boats fishing close to shore. The vast fishing resources represent an opportunity for investment in larger boats and in the refrigeration and initial transformation of fishing products.

Opportunities exist to significantly improve the productivity of this sector whilst remaining ecologically sustainable. Fishing and fish farming provides and exciting opportunity to investors to build and develop an emerging industry from the ground up. International investors in the Fisheries sector include Best Seafood lda.