The fishing industry says it is not opposed to the deployment of monitoring cameras on commercial boats - but it does have reservations over access to catch data and the cost of the policy.

The push for cameras on the entire commercial fleet - strongly backed by environmental groups as a way to deter overfishing and keep track of stocks - is on hold after Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said he wanted more information.

Seafood New Zealand has 25 vessels monitored with cameras in the North Island region, as well as 53 vessels tracked via a Vessel Monitoring System.

The cameras were installed for scientific research purposes - gathering information for stock assessments and sustainability of fisheries and now to assess numbers of juvenile snapper returned to sea by trawlers, as well as black petrel interactions with long liners.


Sam Hayes, a skipper and operator of the Jay Debra, has had a camera and VMS installed on it for more than three years.

He said he had no issues with the camera in that time and preferred it over an observer for safety and practical reasons.

"We haven't had a problem with it, as such. But I know, as an industry, we're quite thankful that the Government is re-evaluating it and just going through certain issues that are presented.

"You can't expect to roll something out without educating yourself on the whole industry first - and that's what the Government's decided to do, which is quite good.''

Nash has indicated monitoring cameras on the entire commercial fishing fleet might be scrapped altogether. In the meantime, more information was needed.

The minister said cameras offered a third layer of technology for the honest reporting of catches.

"Work is continuing on a range of options for how the cameras regime will work. No decisions have yet been made in this area."

Industry not opposed to cameras - but is it worth it?


Fisheries Inshore NZ chief Dr Jeremy Helson said fundamentally the industry was not opposed to the use of cameras. But that opinion was qualified, he said.

"We see cameras as a valuable information collection tool. So for us, it's very important to understand what information you want to collect and how to go about collecting that - and whether cameras can do the job.

"For us, it's about thinking about the information that we need and then thinking about the extent to which cameras can supply that information."

Many within the industry were worried data might be accessed publicly via the Official Information Act and potentially reveal commercially sensitive details such as fishing spots, the gear used and practices such as the configuration of nets, for example.

There was also the cost of kitting out the 1300-strong commercial fleet.

"We're talking over a thousand vessels," Helson said. "That would be a significant imposition particularly on some operators that use small boats.

"We're talking three or four metres long. The camera would be worth five-times worth than the vessel."

Helson estimated up to 3 million hours of footage would be captured each year from vessels should the cameras go ahead. If so, he wondered whether the footage would even be looked at.

Cameras vital for honest reporting

Despite those worries, those on the other side of the argument got a boost when a leaked Ministry of Fisheries report from 2011 revealed widespread dumping and under-reporting of catches.

Forest & Bird spokesman Geoff Keey said the reports of illegal behaviour by fishers showed exactly why cameras were needed on every single commercial fishing vessel.

"It's really that simple. We're saying that, if the industry doesn't want to see bad behaviour released under the Official Information Act, they should do the right thing.

"If you don't want to see dead dolphins on TV, don't kill them."

Keey pointed to example overseas, including Australia, where cameras on boats led to fishers reporting catching three-times more of unwanted fish and up to seven-times more of protected wildlife.

"The reason for that is once there was a camera on the boat, they felt they had to tell the truth.

"Cameras don't fix all of that...but it will definitely stop a lot of the discarding that was happening because if someone illegally throws away fish, it'll be on camera. And that's why we need it."