The Pacific's tuna fishery is being hammered by over-fishing as the tiny nations controlling access to the some of the world's richest waters hold out for more money and greater local investment.
There are fears big-eye, yellow fin and albacore tuna are teetering on the edge of survival as an excess of boats fight over a decreasing number of fish.
The eastern Pacific is home to about 60 per cent of the world's tuna but stock numbers are dwindling with increasing numbers of fishing boats from a range of nations, including the heavily government subsidised and rapidly growing Chinese fishing fleet.
As the number of boats rises, so does the amount of money charged by Pacific nations to allow fishing in their territorial waters.
They are seeking up to $14,000 a day at peak times in the market with the hope higher prices will force a market correction and reduce the number of boats before the fishery suffers lasting damage.
The increase in cost has seen fishing boats striving to sustain profit margins even as the world price for tuna falls.
Trade delegates from New Zealand, the Pacific and the United States are in Auckland this week in secret meetings trying to get back on track a 27-year-old treaty which has governed the tuna industry.
The treaty - always supported by New Zealand - was developed as a means to provide access for US fishing boats through the payment of aid money from industry and government. The nations currently received $90m from the US, with industry carrying a third of the cost.
But the last agreed version of the treaty expired in June 2013 and has limped on through temporary extensions.
Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency Director General James Movick said negotiations were stuck on the scheme which saw boats levied to fish in territorial waters.
"Everyone wants management measures to be crafted in a way that allows them to benefit."
He said the Pacific nations believed there was enough fish to maintain the high prices for renting access to their waters, using "market mechanisms to allocate access".
The tuna industry is in crisis now through the over-fishing of the fishing fleet operating in the east Pacific.
Movick said Pacific aspirations for cooperatively owned businesses between island nations and US companies had not eventuated.
"That's one of the failings of the treaty. That hasn't been successful."
He said there had been "limited" interest in joint business ventures and joint crewing on US boats.
Movick said US efforts in that direction contrasted poorly against what other countries either were doing or had offered to do. "We have a multitude of other parties who are seeking access and that gives us leverage."
Meanwhile, the United States industry group is calling for tighter regulation while the Pacific Island fisheries leaders say market forces will resolve the issue.
Tri Marine International managing director Joe Hamby, who has fleets and canneries across the Pacific, said the stall in the treaty had come at a time when the balance of power in the Pacific tipped towards the island nations.
"The tuna industry is in crisis now through the over-fishing of the fishing fleet operating in the east Pacific."
He said the "Vessel Day Scheme" which started seven years ago had seen rental rates for fishing in territorial waters grow from about $200 a day to fishing slots at $14,000 a day being sold.
It had come after a long period during which US boats enjoyed broad access to the Pacific and the fleet swelled. At the time the price for tuna was high - but had now fallen from US$2000 a ton to less than US$1000 a ton. "The bottom line is the current situation is not economically sustainable."
Hamby said the Pacific nations tuna fishery was its greatest resource and would generate income into the future. "Regulation is necessary. Without regulation there will be no control over capacity. The fishery will be destroyed."
Pacific Economic Ambassador Shane Jones, who is involved in the week-long conference taking place around the negotiations, said there was great effort in trying to find agreement between the Pacific nations and the US. "Unless effort is curbed in a number of these fisheries it is not going to sustain economically or environmentally."
Greenpeace oceans campaigner Karli Thomas said tuna stocks were under immense pressure. While original measures of fisheries stocks took place after fishing began, levels were far reduced.
Big eye tuna was at 16 per cent of the originally recorded level, yellowfin at 38 per cent and albacore - which started with a small population - at 63 per cent. "It is in dire straits."
The growing pressure of China in the Pacific was noted in a paper from the South Pacific Forum, which set out huge government subsidies paid to support its fishing fleet.
Its presence in the tuna industry doesn't directly impact the negotiations with its boats mainly using handlines rather than the large purse seize nets used by other countries, including Korea and Taiwan.