"New" government support would enable on-board cameras to be rolled out further across the inshore fishing fleet, Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said last week.

"Wider use of on-board cameras will enhance New Zealand's reputation as a producer of premium, sustainable and trusted seafood," he said, adding that the government had agreed to make funding available to advance the next phase of on-board cameras, to around 345 vessels.

"The rollout of on-board cameras is another step to modernise the fishing industry," he said.

"Cameras will improve fisheries management information and provide the transparency demanded by domestic and international markets.

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"The decision also supports the economic recovery for communities that depend on fishing for their livelihoods. As we respond to the impact of Covid-19, it's more important than ever to position the country as a world-leading source of sustainable, trusted and high-value seafood."

Last year the government had funded cameras on 20 fishing vessels working in areas that posed the greatest risk to Māui dolphins, off the West Coast of the North Island. It also began requiring electronic catch and position reporting for around 830 boats in the inshore fleet.

Ministers had now agreed on the next steps to improve the quality of fisheries data through an extra layer of verification. Cameras would also help the transition to a more modern fishing industry and a more sustainable and prosperous seafood sector.

The next steps in the rollout required the preparation of a detailed business case, public consultation, and the approval of new regulations.

It was proposed to expand the on-board camera programme to around 345 inshore vessels by 2024, in two tranches, the first covering around 165 vessels working in high-risk areas, including the habitats of Hector's dolphins, Antipodean and Gibson's albatross, black petrels and hoiho penguins. The second tranche would involve another 160 vessels working in lower-risk areas but where protected species, such as fur seals, the common dolphin, flesh-footed shearwater and Salvin's albatross, were still significant.

The vessels covered by both tranches primarily used trawl, longline, set net, purse seine or Danish seine fishing methods.

Nash said the cameras would cover all inshore areas where fishing posed significant risks to protected species, recording activity on vessels responsible for about 84 per cent of the inshore catch, by weight.

Capital and operating costs were difficult to assess, but were estimated at around $40 to $60 million over four years, including research into new camera technology and digital monitoring developments.

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"Crown funding is essential to accelerate the uptake of on-board cameras and provide incentives for the fleet to make the transition," Nash said.

"More work is now under way on technical and operational specifications that will affect the costings. The precise amount will depend on the business case put together by officials for Cabinet sign-off. The proposed operating model will then have to be tested in the market, and negotiations will be subject to a degree of commercial confidentiality.

"Lessons from the first camera rollout to 20 vessels in Māui dolphin habitats off the North Island show the hardware itself is often not the most expensive element. The storage of huge volumes of data, sometimes more than 700GB per vessel per month, is also costly.

"It has also required significant investment in staff and technology to review the footage, as well as the cost of modifying power supply, communications and electronics on board the vessels.

"Around 80 per cent of the inshore fleet are small operators who do not own quota themselves. They operate under Annual Catch Entitlements, where they effectively lease the ability to catch fish from a larger quota owner," he added.

"Many make only a basic livelihood from fishing, and operate on tight margins. They have limited access to the capital needed for modernisation and innovation of their vessels."

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Meanwhile, in a separate decision, Budget 2020 made $4.6 million available for a fishing industry-led support network to help businesses "in challenging times." this would be the first fishing-specific support network, building on the Rural Support Trusts that already worked with farmers.

"The fishing community Support and Wellbeing Network will offer mentorship and practical advice to help transition businesses to meet sustainability goals. It will connect fishing operators with the right support services, and help them apply for innovation funding," Nash said.