19 Feb 2024

Rollout of cameras on fishing boats under review

1:59 pm on 19 February 2024
NZ First's Shane Jones leaves Wellington as negotiations to form the next government continue.

Oceans and Fisheries Minister Shane Jones. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The future roll-out of cameras on fishing boats is back on the table on Monday.

Top fishing company executives and senior officials from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) will meet to discuss challenges and future options for the programme.

Labour brought in the regime to put cameras on commercial fishing vessels to improve under-reporting around bycatch of species like penguins, dolphins and seals.

Cameras been installed on about 300 in-shore vessels already, but the future of the roll-out may be up in the air.

Oceans and Fisheries Minister Shane Jones said the fishing industry held "discordant" and "competing views" about the camera programme - and said compliance, social license and the use of the footage would need to be worked through.

But he did not rule out the programme could be overhauled entirely.

"The future options for cameras will be a part of - how do we better deliver fisheries management and what enhanced roles can cameras play? And most importantly, who's going to pay for it?

"Because, as you would know, we're trimming the sails of the state at the moment, and also we're asking industry to accelerate their ability to deliver on our export-led growth strategy," Jones said.

Fisheries New Zealand deputy director-general Dan Bolger said MPI regularly held meetings with seafood sector representatives and non-governmental organisations to discuss areas of interest.

"The agenda [for Monday's meeting] includes a round table discussion where industry representatives can share their thoughts on a wide range of topics related to growing seafood export value, including fisheries regulation, market access and trade, environmental performance, and aquaculture."

Greenpeace oceans campaigner Ellie Hooper warned against any roll-back of the camera programme, saying they improved transparency and accountability of the fishing activities on non-targeted marine wildlife.

The seafood industry operating in New Zealand waters had a responsibility to look after the ocean which New Zealanders cared about protecting, Hooper said.

"We've been given every excuse under the sun since cameras started being talked about a decade ago as to why it will not be possible to have cameras on commercial fishing boats," she said.

"I think that my simple answer to that would be if they've got nothing to hide in terms of their activities, then they shouldn't have anything to worry about."

The issues industry raised, like cost of the cameras, "can be ironed out", Hooper said.

"It's the cost of doing business," she said.

"We've seen these cameras delayed and delayed and delayed.

"I think that this is just the latest excuse in a long line of them."

Hooper accused the minister of showing bias towards the seafood industry.

In 2017, Jones received a candidate donation of $10,000 from fishing company Talley's.

The minister acknowledged previous involvement within the industry, but said industry interests would not influence policy.

"I have and will adhere to all of the statutory obligations in terms of the Electoral Act," Jones said.

"People should not catastrophise the fact that I'm well known to the industry, I have historic links with the industry having been the chair of Sealords, and that makes me eminently suitable for the role, after all," he said.

"Any decision I take will be made by Cabinet and that's a variety of other ministers, not just myself."

MPI is preparing advice on the camera roll-out for the minister.

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