15/06/2016 8:32 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST

No Bigger Fish To Fry: Going After Corruption In Global Fisheries

It's the most corrupt industry on earth.

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters
Forget minerals and blood diamonds - illegal fishing is the real Wild West.

The fish on your dinner plate could have been caught illegally, smuggled across borders and been the subject of bribes before it reached you.

In fact, an Australian academic who's dedicated his career to rooting out corruption said he'd not seen any other industry with higher levels of corruption and illegality.

Flinders University public policy strategic professor Adam Graycar told The Huffington Post Australia the global black market for seafood was worth more than $20 billion each year and that about 30 percent of all seafood was fished at unsustainable levels.

Corruption expert Adam Graycar is going after fisheries.

"It's absolutely huge," Graycar said.

"We've got a bit of a Wild West situation where we don't have the right controls in place."

Graycar said he'd been told to investigate fisheries for years.

"I've been working on corruption in sports and extractive industries like mining and looking at it from a public administration level with ICACs and the likes, but people kept telling me 'hey, there are bigger issues in fisheries'," Graycar said.

He presented an initial review of published literature at an international Public Administration Conference in Hong Kong, revealing widespread practice of illegal and undocumented fishing, overfishing at unsustainable levels, trade in endangered fish bolstered by bribery and links to trafficking and enslavement.

"And this is really just the beginning," Graycar said.

"The solution clearly does not lie in more rules and agreements.

"Fish don't understand borders so a more holistic approach is vital."

Getty Images/Flickr RF
The Republic of Palau is virtually unable to police all its islands for illegal fishing.

Graycar said one example of illegal fishing was in Palau in Micronesia.

"It has a population of 20,000 living across several hundred islands and it polices an area of about 600,000 square kilometres and it's got one inspection boat," Graycar said.

"Supertrawlers come in from Taiwan or China and their boat is worth more than Palau's entire GDP. They do what they like.

"In Africa, in comparison, bribery is a big problem."

And for Australia, Graycar said that while our regulations were strong, almost all our locally caught fish was exported, and almost all the fish bought here was imported.

Mediablitzimages / Alamy
Greycar is not aware of any Australian study estimating what proportion of our fish is illegally sourced.

"Right now, we don't know what proportion of fish bought in Australia was illegally caught, but in America, it's about one in five.

"The next step is to dissect the components of the corruption involved, and use anti-corruption measures and governance enhancement processes to make sure the whole complex of fisheries is fair and sustainable."

Graycar is working with organisations like the United Nations and said his research would continue.