Workers at a tuna packing plant resting on boxes for export.
Industrial fishing fleets have decimated and almost destroyed their own fisheries and now, rather than accept that they need to reduce their fishing capacity, fishing fleets are turning greedy eyes towards the Pacific and West Africa.
Rather than fix the problem at home, fishing fleets from the North are taking their problems into the relatively healthy oceans in the South. The future of these oceans, and of the coastal communities whose livelihoods depend from it, are increasingly at the mercy of unscrupulous fishers and a growing global appetite for tuna.
The Western and Central Pacific Ocean is home to over 20 island nations and the world's largest tuna fishery. More than half of the world's tuna supply, about two million tonnes each year, comes from this region .It has recently become clear that some of the key target species are in danger of being overfished, so far from being one of the last healthy fisheries in the world, it is being increasingly preyed upon by distant nations and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) pirate fishing - boats that take as much fish as they like.
Ripping off the Pacific communities
Pacific people have fished the ocean for thousands of years, managing traditional fishing grounds in a sustainable way. Today a fleet of locally based vessels, owned by foreign and local companies, catch about 200,000 tonnes (10 percent of the total catch) of tuna a year. But increasing numbers of industrial distant water fishing boats are moving into the Pacific, taking about 1,800,000 tonnes (90 percent ofthe total catch). Instead of reducing their fishing effort and the number of boats when they fish out their own fishing grounds, countries like China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the USA and the EU simply move on to the next fishing ground - the Pacific.
To make matters worse, the practice is also financially exploitative - the economic return from access fees and licences to the region is a mere 5 percent or less of the US$2 billion the fish is worth on the market. Of course, the returns from pirate fishing are non-existent. Pirate fishing boats do not comply with any rules and only disadvantage the region.
The Pacific is at a crossroads. One path leads to sustainable and equitable fisheries, a healthy marine environment and stable and prosperous island communities. The other path leads to the collapse of the major tuna fishery and loss of livelihood and food supply for the people of the Pacific.