Some concerns about the fishing camera policy

Environmentalists welcome a government plan to potentially introduce hundreds of cameras on inshore fishing boats.

But concerns remain about the effectiveness of the proposed digital surveillance of New Zealand’s fishing fleet.

Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker in June announced $ 68 million over the next four years for the deployment of on-board cameras after an initial deployment of cameras for 20 boats in Maui’s dolphin habitat off the coast of the North Island in 2019.

The planned wider introduction of up to 300 cameras on boats would extend to inshore commercial fishing across the country, Parker said.

The introduction would be organized to prioritize vessels that pose the greatest risk to protected species such as Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins, black petrels, antipodean albatrosses and yellow-eyed penguins.

When completed, the cameras would record the activity on the boats responsible for about 85% of the inshore catches by volume.

“The on-board cameras will provide independent and accurate information on commercial fishing activity.

“This will provide greater certainty and more evidence on which to base decisions about policy and regulation, scientific research and fisheries management.”

An ongoing consultation through Fisheries New Zealand and the Department of Primary Industries (MPI) calls for comment on which fishing vessels should be fitted with cameras, the priority of deployment and the level of industry contribution to costs.

Dr Trudi Webster, conservation science adviser to the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust, said yellow-eyed penguins, or hoiho, were vulnerable to bycatch, especially when the species overlapped with set-net fisheries.

For rare species such as the hoiho, observer coverage had to be high (at least 50%) to be sufficient for risk to be determined with certainty, Dr Webster said.

The confidence was very favorable to the wider deployment of the cameras on the boats.

But one of his main concerns was whether Fisheries New Zealand was able to fully fund the review of the camera footage.

The process took a lot of time and money, she said.

Forest & Bird strategic advisor Geoff Keey said misreporting seabird bycatch was a serious concern.

Right now New Zealand is in a dire situation where only bycatch estimates are available, as fishermen’s logbooks are not considered reliable, he said.

That’s why cameras were needed on the boats, to make sure everyone understood that what was written in a logbook could be cross-referenced with what was recorded.

The new arrangement was to be comprehensive, “across the fleet,” he said.

His biggest concern was that under the proposal net vessels less than 8m in length were not among those that would carry cameras.

“From our point of view, set nets are indiscriminate,” he said.

“They don’t suddenly stop grabbing things they shouldn’t just because the boat is less than 8m.

“If it is not technically possible to install cameras on these boats, then MPI needs to explain what they are going to do to ensure that the logs for these vessels are accurate.”

In the 2019-2020 fishing year, around 860 commercial fishing vessels actively fished in New Zealand waters, according to the consultation document.

The affected fleet has been divided into 10 priority groups, with a proposed “risk-based timeline” for camera deployment.

It would start at the end of next year with a target for completion in 2024.

Priority 1 would be inshore trawling and set nets along the west coast of the North Island, comprising around 58 vessels.

Priority 2, which was also scheduled for next year, would include around 23 net boats along the north, east and south coasts of the South Island.

The document outlined 10 priorities in its deployments and included a range of fishing methods.

Deep-sea trawlers, which she said were well observed, and other inshore vessels that used low-volume or more selective fishing methods, such as stuffing, posed less risk to protected species and were outside of the current discussion, he said.

The consultation ends on December 6.

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