Coastal communities have historically relied on fishing as a main source of food and income, with catches that include large tuna, flying fish, coral reef fish, and deepwater snappers. The violence following independence caused serious damage and destruction to nearly 90% of the boats and gear of these communities, as well as to the onshore processing infrastructure. The industry is slowly moving toward recovery through the work of the Department of Fisheries and the Marine Environment (DFME) in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and with the help of various international volunteers and agencies. For instance, in 2003 officials from the DFME met with Australia's minister for primary industry and fisheries in Australia's Northern Territory to discuss training opportunities in tropical fisheries management.
Besides working to recover maritime fishing activities, the DFEM is exploring options for inland hatcheries and freshwater fish production. One such project includes breeding fish in rice fields.
In 2002, the DFME estimated that of the 20,000 fishermen in East Timor, over 50% were involved in fishing as their primary source of food and income.