The Western Pacific tuna fishery is balanced on a knife edge, with over-fishing, rogue fishing activities and an insatiable demand for fish placing heavy pressure on this rich resource.
Bigeye tuna at just 16% of its natural population levels is now below the 20% level that automatically restricts fishing activity in countries like Australia.
Jemima Garrett, an former ABC journalist covering Pacific affairs for the last 30 years, told a training group of leading journalists from Pacific countries they had a crucial role to keep the public informed.
“There’s lots of important information locked up in research reports, and your job is to put it into the public arena,” she says. “Think of it as shining a light into dark corners.”
Ms Garrett described the ‘frightening efficiency” of modern fishing methods, where an operator in remote countries can read sonar and GPS systems to direct trawlers to large schools.
“We have to keep Pacific people informed. They rely on radio, television, newspapers and the web to hear about threats to tuna, and issues such as the potentially damaging fishing technique of using fish aggregating devices,” she says.
“This is where a journalist skilled in digging out the information can be vital.”
The battle for the Pacific fisheries is being led by key groups such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Parties to the Nauru Arrangement, and international agreements such as the Nauru Agreement and, in recent years, the Tokelau arrangement.
National governments of Pacific nations and territories, industry associations such as PITIA, environmental groups and coastal communities all have an important role.
Ms Garrett says there is a huge demand for fish, with growing world population and an increasing awareness of the health benefits of eating fish.
“This is giving fishing fleets every incentive to maximise their catch. There are tremendous vested interests here, and they will just keep fishing if there are no rules.”