7 Sep 2020

New Zealand First cautious about plan to install hundreds more cameras on fishing boats

6:25 am on 7 September 2020

New Zealand First could still put the brakes on the extension of cameras on more fishing boats, depending on the outcome of the election.

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Photo: 123RF

The government on Friday revealed plans to put cameras on board 345 vessels, costing $40 million to $60m.

The cameras are intended to monitor fishing crews who have been accused by environmentalists of hiding illegal by-catch - that is, fish for which they do not hold quota getting caught in their nets.

A second accusation is that fishing firms have in the past covered up the accidental death of marine mammals or seabirds.

Fishing companies have repeatedly denied these charges but have since come round to accepting cameras anyway.

Some cameras have already been installed on board trawlers as a trial run.

New Zealand First has long resisted cameras, but has now agreed with Labour to extend their use.

But the party's fishing spokesperson, Shane Jones, said he would be watching the process closely to make sure it did not handicap the economy.

It was important to keep earnings by the primary sector strong, for the benefit of New Zealand as a whole, he said.

"The installation of cameras on fishing boats needs to driven by a robust appraisal ... and careful analysis of what is the business case (for them)," he said.

"In this post Covid environment it is incredibly important that revenue is delivered with gusto.

"Revenue represents jobs, revenue represents the ability of the community through the government to service the borrowings we have racked up to deal with the Covid disruption."

Jones said he was an economic realist and added even if cameras did go ahead, they should not be imposed on small fishing firms.

"People harvesting spat off 90 Mile beach, or catching mullet, or flounder in northern harbours in small, tinny boats - do they represent such a threat that they need to be burdened with $20 - $30,000 of camera costs?

"You don't know that - that is why a business case is needed."

Jones's comments came as analysis of the fine print in the government statement suggested cameras on fishing boats were still a work in progress, and a lot more work was needed before cameras were a reality.

In his statement, Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said the business case for the cameras was being put together by officials and would still need Cabinet sign-off.

He added a big problem was the huge cost of storing and analysing mountains of data produced by the cameras.

There would be further analysis and more submissions from the public before the scheme was implemented.

Despite these problems, the fishing industry has become quite philosophical about cameras on boats.

It has earlier argued cameras filming people at work intruded on their privacy and were not imposed on other workers such as farmers, teachers or lawyers.

But Jeremy Helson of Seafood New Zealand now said everyone now wanted these cameras in principle - the trouble was, there were many technical details to iron out.

One issue was, who would own - and be able to view - the footage taken by the cameras.

Helson's answer was government officials, not the public.

"Given they are government cameras, the ownership [of the footage] would sit with MPI [Ministry for Primary Industries], and they would they view it as they saw fit to meet their management and compliance objectives - we have no issue with that.

"We think people's privacy is an issue that will need to be navigated - these are people's private workplaces, so that everyone needs ... to make sure that appropriate safeguards are put in place."

Most non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have long argued that cameras on boats are a law enforcement mechanism and so should be made available to the public.

But many now accept some sort of compromise on public access is justifiable to safeguard fishing crew's personal privacy.

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