An influential multilateral organization warns that fisheries in the South Pacific face collapse in the next 25 years. The Noumea-based Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which represents 26 nations, says that overfishing, population growth and climate change threaten one of the region's main economic resources.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community says that fisheries in the region face devastation unless immediate action is taken to preserve and manage stocks. Fisheries in the South Pacific are worth about $2 billion a year and the region is home to a quarter of global tuna supplies.
The secretariat's new report says some types of tuna are already dangerously overexploited. It says the problem will spread to other species as foreign vessels travel to the region's rich fishing grounds as stocks fall around the world.
The secretariat says the lucrative fishing industry has been poorly managed, with a lack of coordination between the various island nations in South Pacific. Its report calls for a more thoughtful approach to administering a vital natural resource to ensure the oceans are harvested in a sustainable manner.
Conservationists say tougher restrictions should be imposed on foreign fleets, including trawlers from China, South Korea, Japan and Spain.
Duncan Williams, from the environmental group Greenpeace, says the activities of so-called distant water fishing nations need to be curtailed.
"Quite recently there has been a prevalence of overfishing in the region and this is something that has been due in large part to over-subsidized fishing fleets from the U.S., the EU, as well as Asian nations," said Williams. "And a lot of these subsidized fleets are basically plundering the Pacific of its tuna fisheries resources and leaving very little behind for future generations and for Pacific islanders."
The study also says that coral fisheries were particularly vulnerable to climate change. Warmer temperatures are causing corals to die, which not only affects fish stocks but also threatens the reefs' value as major tourist attractions for many Pacific island nations.
In addition to the Pacific islands states, larger nations in the Pacific, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, rely heavily on fishing for revenue, local food supplies and tourism.
The report also warns that the number of people living in the South Pacific will rise by 50 percent to 15 million by 2035. That will put more pressure on fish supplies and increase the risk of unsustainable fishing practices.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community is an intergovernmental organization that gives advice and assistance to its Pacific Island members. It was set up in 1947 and has 26 members.