Fishing bosses asked the Government to keep secret what material it collected under a proposed new fisheries monitoring regime.

But the industry says it was privacy and commercial concerns that prompted it to ask officials to keep the electronic monitoring information confidential.

Forest and Bird today released a joint letter from five industry leaders to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), along with images of dead dolphins and seabirds the group argued would never have been seen if the industry's proposals were granted.

"These are the images the fishing industry doesn't want you to see," Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said.


MPI has been developing a new digital monitoring regime, called the Integrated Electronic
Monitoring and Reporting System (IEMRS), which would capture information such as fisheries catches, on-board fishing activity and real-time vessel location monitoring.

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash was working with officials on options for how the new regime would be rolled out.

The letter, dated July 4 and sent to MPI by leaders of five industry groups, requested that the Fisheries Act be amended to "clarify the purposes" for which electronic monitoring information was obtained by the MPI - and that it be exempt from the Official Information Act (OIA).

Obtained by Forest and Bird through the OIA itself, the letter also stated the release of footage of "incidental interactions with seabirds, legitimate fish discards, treatment of unintended bycatch" may mean "New Zealand's international reputation as a reputable source of quality, sustainably produced seafood could be significantly impaired".

Hague said: "In plain English, what they are saying is catching albatrosses, dumping entire hauls of fish overboard and killing dolphins looks really bad on TV.

"Well, the solution is to stop doing it, not to hide the evidence.

An image of a yellow-eyed penguin accidentally killed as bycatch, released by MPI under the Official Information Act. Photo / Supplied
An image of a yellow-eyed penguin accidentally killed as bycatch, released by MPI under the Official Information Act. Photo / Supplied

"It's hard to think of a more credibility-damaging activity than trying to change the law so the rest of us don't see what's really happening out there."

Hague said New Zealanders had been "shocked" by the findings of the MPI's Operation Achilles, which revealed five out of six vessels operating off the eastern coast of the South Island had been dumping quota fish with every haul, and only came to light through leaked information and media reporting.

The letter also stated how "information, if it were to be selectively compiled into short succinct soundbites/videos by biased editing, would provide those opposed to commercial fishing or to government with a powerful tool for their propaganda".

"Commercial fishers [are] vulnerable to criticism, not because they're being misrepresented by media or environmental advocates, but because New Zealanders are shocked by what the fishing industry has got away with," Hague said.

However, much of the letter drew on the industry's concerns around protecting privacy and commercial sensitivity.

In a press statement issued today, Fisheries Inshore New Zealand (FINZ) chief executive Dr Jeremy Helson said while gaining information was vital, it was important issues around personal privacy, commercial sensitivity, and intellectual property were considered.

"The lack of detail provided by the previous Government into how IEMRS would be implemented caused much frustration in the sector, as evidenced by a joint letter to MPI, and the announcement by the new Labour Government that it would delay implementation was welcomed," Helson said.

"IEMRS will capture a wide range of private information about people's personal lives. The industry is simply seeking assurance that this information will be protected."

Helson reaffirmed the industry's view that conclusions from data be shared, but data not relevant to fisheries management would "not be in scope".

"It's not necessarily about removing this data from being subject to the Official Information Act, it's about striking the right balance between the public's legitimate interest in what goes on in the industry and protecting the individuals involved," he said.

"We want to get the balance right and make sure that information is released in an appropriate way and the appropriate context."

The IEMRS was workplace data collected on a scale never before seen here, he said, and "if it is used for anything other than to inform better fisheries management, should sound a loud alarm to wider New Zealand".

MPI fisheries management director Stuart Anderson said the industry's proposals were still being considered alongside other options - including maintaining the status quo - and no decision had been made yet.

"There are many elements to consider carefully in balancing the responsibilities of transparency and public interest while protecting privacy and other sensitive information."