Environmentalists are confronting trawlers in the South Pacific as they intensify their efforts to protect tuna stocks.  Activists want vast areas of the ocean declared marine reserves to protect tuna populations they fear are becoming overfished.  From Sydney,  Phil Mercer reports.

Activists from Greenpeace warn that overfishing could decimate the tuna population and they have been tracking trawlers in the South Pacific.

In international waters north of the Solomon Islands activists confronted a U.S. tuna boat and painted a slogan - "Tuna Overkill" - on its side.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is in the region to gather evidence of illegal fishing and practices considered to be threatening stocks of tuna, including the prized yellowfin and bigeye species. 

Jason Collins from Greenpeace says action against illegal fishing boats in remote parts of the South Pacific will continue.

"One term that is often used is 'pirate parking zones' because they are out of the reach of the enforcement authorities of the Pacific Island countries," Collins said. "Greenpeace is there defending these areas and we are asking for these areas to be declared as marine reserves.  In these areas we are directly confronting vessels and are demanding they leave the area." 

Environmentalists have called for a 50 percent reduction in the amount of tuna caught by commercial fleets in the South Pacific and for tougher sanctions to combat illegal fishing.  They think this industry is operating far above sustainable levels.

Experts estimate that South Pacific waters provide about 60 percent of the world's tuna.  The tuna trade worldwide is estimated at more than $5 billion a year.

Only a small percentage goes to Pacific Island nations, where most of the Pacific tuna is captured.  Many of these nations raise government revenue by selling fishing rights to tuna fleets from developed countries.   

Much of the Pacific tuna is caught by fleets operating out of the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.  

Most developed fishing nations have agreed to cut their hauls of tuna, particularly of the Atlantic bluefin tuna. The European Union also has taken steps to reduce the haul of bluefin out of the Mediterranean and the eastern Atlantic.  Environmental groups, however, say the cuts are not steep enough to allow fish populations to recover. 

Research published at the end of last year suggested that fishermen would boost profits if they let depleted stocks of tuna recover.  The study said that when fish are more plentiful it becomes easier and cheaper to catch them.