February 21, 2011

Pacific Fisheries In Peril?

A New Zealand official said on Monday that the planet's last sustainable fishery was running out of time, urging the U.S. and Australia to boost efforts to stop illegal fishing in the Pacific.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the fishery was the most significant economic asset of many Pacific island nations, but its value was dropping due to illegal fishing.

McCully told a New Zealand-U.S. diplomatic forum that Wellington was the largest provider of aerial surveillance across the Pacific fishery but could do more with U.S. and Australian cooperation.

"I believe the time has come for New Zealand, the US and Australia to dramatically step up our collective surveillance activity in the region to provide a comprehensive assault on illegal activity," McCully said, according to an AFP report.

McCully described the Pacific as "the last major fishery on the planet that has not been exploited beyond the point of sustainability".

"(We) have a major responsibility to our neighbors to ensure that sustainable management practices are put in place soon," he said.

"We are fast running out of time."

The Noumea-based Secretariat of the Pacific Community warned in a report last year that Pacific fish stocks were facing a collapse by 2035 unless steps were taken to address overfishing, population growth and climate change.

McCully believes illegal fishers take $304 million worth of Tuna a year from the Pacific, which is a major loss in a region where he said some countries were "facing sub-Saharan levels of poverty."

Pacific countries have vast exclusive economic zones, some covering millions of square miles of ocean.

McCully said other areas where New Zealand and the U.S. could cooperate in the Pacific included helping island nations improve tsunami disaster planning and fighting drug smuggling.

He said U.S. assistance also plays an important role in efforts to restore democracy following a 2006 coup in Fiji, where "our efforts to persuade Fiji not to change governments at the point of a gun have yet to bear fruit".

"Our close cooperation with the United States and the rest of the international community on the question of Fiji is vital if democracy is to be restored to the Fijian people," he said.