A landmark study into illegal tuna fishing in the Pacific has revealed huge problems with under-reporting and illegal transhipment of fish costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency report, "Towards the Quantification of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing in the Pacific Islands Region", is the first ever attempt to quantify the volume, species and value of illegal activity in the valuable pacific tuna fishery.
The report, which took two years to compile, says product either harvested or transhipped illegally is estimated to be in the vicinity of 306,440 tonnes. Transhipment involves the transfer of illegal catch from one vessel to another, and often enables smaller vessels to refuel and stay at sea for longer.
The report states that of the main target species, skipjack tuna accounted for the highest volume of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) product, accounting for around 33 percent of overall estimated volume. Yellowfin tuna accounted for the equal next highest volume.
The report estimates the value of illegally caught tuna is around US$616.11 million, but it says the true figure could in fact be much higher.
Based on the expected species composition and markets, the ex-vessel value of the best estimate figure is US$616.11M. The 90 percent confidence range is between US$517.91M and US$740.17M.
The report also casts doubt on traditional methods of monitoring catch rates, like the use of observers on vessels. It says: "There are few, if any, independent means of verifying catch and effort for many vessels, and even where independent means exist (e.g. observers), there are uncertainties in the data which need to be explored to identify true trends."
New Zealand has seven vessels which operate in the Pacific tuna fishery.
"This is a small proportion of the total of 5667 vessels currently registered on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission's Record of Fishing Vessels," the Minister of Primary Industries told Newshub.
"New Zealand is confident that New Zealand fishing companies are not involved in illegal activities in the Pacific."