There are now so many boats that the local tuna industry association says it fears for the future.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Charles Hufflet, Chairman of the Pacific Tuna Industry Association
GARRETT: Over the past 6 years hundreds of new Chinese tuna boats have started fishing in the southern albacore tuna fishery.
Profit results for the China Overseas Fishing Company, published earlier this month, give an insight into the scale of the subsidies they attract.
In 2012, the company received a subsidy of 7.8 million US dollars - a substantial contributor to its 18.6 million dollar first half profit.
This year, despite another big subsidy, the company is expected to make a first half loss of 2.1 million dollars.
Charles Hufflet, Chairman of the Pacific Island Tuna Industry Association, says the company's 2013 first half subsidy shows why Pacific Island tuna boats can't compete.
HUFFLET: It is the pure size of the subsidy and if we take the publicly listed company, China Overseas Fishing Company, they received $5.35 million US as a direct subsidy and then just recently a further $1.7 million US as a diesel subsidy. And without that subsidy they simply could not exist in the Pacific fishery at all.
GARRETT: This is the first time you have seen individual company figures. Are you shocked by the scale of them?
HUFFLET: Yes, we are actually, that we had anecdotal evidence of the size of the subsidies before but we have never seen published figures before.
GARRETT: There are now around 1300 Chinese boats operating in the South Pacific - all working under the same subsidy regime.
Charles Hufflet says with so many new boats in the fishery, tuna is getting harder to catch.
HUFFLET: The catch per unit effort for everybody including the Chinese, Taiwanese, Fijian and so on has fallen dramatically in the Southern Albacore Fishery; to a level where unsubsidised vessels cannot compete. You've only got o go to Suva Harbour and you'll see the vessels being tied up in what is the peak fishing season, and included in those are some of these subsidised vessels.
GARRETT: China's 5-year Plan calls for another 300 boats to be put into operation by 2015. how many of those do you expect to be operating in the Pacific?
HUFFLET: Well, of course, with the current poor fishing, we are rather hoping that they will go somewhere else and there is some indication that even subsidised vessels are not too enamoured with the current catch rates in the South Pacific.
GARRETT: What impact would it have on the local Pacific industry if a substantial number of those boats were to start operating in the Pacific? Would that be the death knell for the Pacific Industry?
HUFFLET: Yes, it would be curtains really. I mean the present CPUE (catch per unit effort), the present catch rate is not economic for domestic fishers to compete and, I mean, our request is basically that they stop giving aid to their own vessels. The best aid to us would be for them to stop giving aid to themselves.
GARRETT: So you would rather see the Chinese stop their subsidy program rather that give development aid in the Pacific?
HUFFLET: Oh, precisely! I mean they are welcome in the Pacific and they are very good operators. Most impressive how they have built up their fleet but it is the numbers and the subsidies they give them. They complained incidentally in the report about low prices, well they are the cause of some of the low prices. The buyers know that they are getting heavily subsidised and so this is one of the reasons for low prices in the market place.
GARRETT: What action would you like to see from Pacific Island governments?
HUFFLET: Well we would like Pacific Island governments as of one, to say to China and other countries which are subsidising their fleets, that 'enough is enough, there is no need for these subsidies, work on a level playing filed so we can develop our fishery', which they know we can't do so long as they subsidise their own operations.