New Zealand's commercial fishers, which generate about $1.8 billion of annual exports, will have to start installing digital monitoring devices from October in a new regulatory regime which seeks to get better information to manage the country's fisheries system.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy today announced new regulations which will require all trawl vessels 28 metres and longer to use geospatial position reporting and electronic log books from October this year, representing about 70 per cent of the commercial catch by volume. All other commercial fishers will have a six-month transition period. On top of that, commercial vessels will have to start installing cameras from October next year to have them in place by April 1, 2020.

"Digital monitoring is going to revolutionise the way we make fisheries management decisions and help ensure that we are protecting the sustainability of New Zealand's fisheries," Guy said in a statement. "This new technology will provide more accurate and up-to-date information allowing us to make quicker and better-informed management decisions."

The Ministry for Primary Industries had already started work on introducing electronic monitoring, with the current paper-based system meaning government officials were using data three-to-four months after the fact. That got a hurry up last year when media reports critical of an investigation into dumping spurred MPI to commission an external review by former solicitor general Mike Heron QC, which found flawed decisions and processes.


MPI said the introduction of the cameras will let officials "verify reporting, which until now has been difficult without on-board observers, and is also expected to act as a significant deterrent to illegal behaviour".

Digital monitoring is part of MPI's broader 'Future of our Fisheries' programme, which seeks to maintain the sustainability of the sector in managing the resource. This year's budget allocated an extra $30.5 million of funding over the next four years to upgrade and support the new electronic fishing management system.

MPI expects most fishers will be able to bear the cost of installing the new equipment - estimated at between $1,000 and $2,000 per vessel with annual costs of up to $1,000 - and cameras - estimated at $5,000 to $18,000 per vessel plus annual costs of $2,000. While that will probably squeeze out some operators, it's expected to more closely match their catch with allowable catch entitlement (ACE), Guy said in a Cabinet paper.

"ACE must be acquired to cover the catch of QMS (quota management system) species, or a deemed value paid," Guy said. "Currently, ACE is extremely hard to acquire to cover the catch of some species, and this situation creates an incentive for illegal discarding."