Pacific island nations and environmentalists raised an alarm Sunday over destructive fishing methods and overfishing that they say are threatening bigeye tuna -- the fish popular among sushi lovers worldwide.
Palau fisheries official Nanette Malsol, who leads a bloc of Pacific island nations, said at the start of a weeklong tuna fisheries conference in Manila that large countries should cut back on fishing, curb the use of destructive fishing methods and respect fishing bans to allow tuna stocks to be replenished in the Pacific, which produces more than 60 per cent of the world's tuna catch.
The annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which regulates commercial fishing in the vast expanse of waters from Indonesia to Hawaii, is to approve steps aimed at protecting the bigeye and other threatened tuna species, along with giant whale sharks. More than 600 delegates from about 40 Asian and Western countries, along with environmental activists, are attending.
Malsol said she expects heated debate. Proponents of the multibillion-dollar fishing industry have squared off with conservationists in the past over the best ways to protect the bigeye and other species without considerably setting back the lucrative business.
Bigeye and yellowfin tuna, which can grow to 8-9 feet (2.4-2.7 metres) long and weigh more than 450 pounds (200 kilograms), are not in immediate danger of being wiped out, but have been hit hard by overfishing. The fish are used mostly for steaks, and in the case of bigeye, sushi.
The fisheries business in the western and central Pacific region, estimated to be worth about $5 billion annually, has drawn increasing numbers of industrial fishing fleets, which have caused tuna stocks to fall since the 1960s.
"This week it's up to the big fishing nations to show the world what they are going to do to cut overfishing of bigeye tuna," Malsol said.
Repeated telephone calls and messages to industry officials seeking comment Sunday were not answered.
Many fleets are using so-called "fish aggregation devices", various types of floats which are used to lure vast numbers of tuna. When schools of tuna have massed under the devices, fishing vessels alerted by sensors approach and scoop up their catch with giant nets.
Between 47,000 and 105,000 fish aggregation devices, made from bamboo, palm fronds, plastic or old nets, have been deployed worldwide to attract a wide variety of marine life. The method is used to catch nearly half of the world's tuna and has contributed to the overfishing of bigeye tuna across the Pacific Ocean, according to the U.S.-based Pew Environment Group.
Aside from tuna, sea turtles, sharks and juvenile fish have often been caught and killed.