New Zealand on Monday urged the United States and Australia to boost efforts to stop illegal fishing in the Pacific, saying the planet's last sustainable fishery was running out of time.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the fishery, rich in lucractive tuna, was the most significant economic asset of many Pacific island nations but its value was being eroded by illegal fishing.
McCully told a New Zealand-US diplomatic forum in Christchurch that Wellington was the largest provider of aerial surveillance across the Pacific fishery but could do more with US and Australian cooperation.
"I believe the time has come for New Zealand, the US and Australia to dramatically step up our collective surveillance activity in the region to provide a comprehensive assault on illegal activity," he said.
|A New Zealand fishing trawler is seen off the country's coast. New Zealand on Monday urged the United States and Australia to boost efforts to stop illegal fishing in the Pacific, saying the planet's last sustainable fishery was running out of time|
McCully described the Pacific as "the last major fishery on the planet that has not been exploited beyond the point of sustainability".
"(We) have a major responsibility to our neighbours to ensure that sustainable management practises are put in place soon," he said.
"We are fast running out of time."
A report from the Noumea-based Secretariat of the Pacific Community warned last year that Pacific fish stocks faced collapse by 2035 unless steps were taken to address overfishing, population growth and climate change.
McCully estimated illegal fishers plundered tuna worth NZ$400 million (305 million) a year in the Pacific, a major loss in a region where he said some countries were "facing sub-Saharan levels of poverty".
Pacific countries have vast exclusive economic zones, some covering millions of square kilometres of ocean, but do not have the resources to properly patrol their waters.
Mc Cully said other areas where New Zealand and the United States could cooperate in the Pacific included helping island nations improve tsunami disaster planning and fighting drug smuggling.
He said US assistance was also important part of efforts to restore democracy following a 2006 coup in Fiji, where "our efforts to persuade Fiji not to change governments at the point of a gun have yet to bear fruit".
"Our close cooperation with the United States and the rest of the international community on the question of Fiji is vital if democracy is to be restored to the Fijian people," he said.