Why the delay to get cameras on boats?

What's the reason for the ongoing delay in getting cameras onto commercial fishing boats? It's not technical issues, Farah Hancock reports.

The deadline for having cameras installed on commercial fishing boats was pushed back again last week with technology being pegged as one reason for the delay.

Newsroom's enquiries have not been able to establish the nature of those technology issues, finding only that a step to define which technology solutions are required hasn’t yet happened.

Since cameras on boats were first proposed by the National-led government following concern over illegal fish-dumping, the rollout date has shifted several times from the original date of October 2018. 

Of the nearly 1000-strong commercial fishing fleet, only 20 boats fishing in Māui dolphin habitat have cameras onboard. These were installed late last year, more than a year after the the original date for cameras to be on all commercial fishing boats. Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said these 20 boats were stage one of a three-stage, wider camera rollout and were a proof-of-concept exercise.

It's a process that doesn't appear to have an end date.

A new date of October 2021 added to legislation last week is not a firm line in the sand. Nash said it’s a holding date, “not a planned date for either beginning or completing any implementation”.

Stuff reported Nash raised cost as an issue last week as well as technical complications saying: “The technology at this point is just not available to allow us to equip the whole fleet with cameras.”

However, enquiries to Fisheries NZ reveal there's a process step required before technical decisions are made and costs are known.

Asked what the technical issues causing the delay were, Fisheries NZ's deputy director-general Dan Bolger said a public consultation would be needed. 

"Public consultation on what a wider rollout of on-board cameras could look like will help to inform our technology requirements. Until we know more about what technology solutions would best meet the objectives of a wider rollout, is it is difficult to estimate an average cost per vessel across the commercial fishing fleet."

He did not share a likely date for that public consultation.

"It’s important to note that any further rollout of cameras would be contingent on Cabinet decisions. Questions regarding timing are best directed to the minister’s office."

Nash's press secretary told Newsroom a timeline would be clearer once a consultation document was released, for which no date was given.

The delays have frustrated conservationists. Greenpeace’s ocean campaigner Jessica Desmond said the ongoing stalling wasn't good enough.

“There’s been a long pattern of delaying this legislation implementation. There’s been OIAs showing the industry oppose this legislation, there’s been all kinds of excuses about money and technicalities.”

Fishing industry opposition was made clear in a letter sent in 2018 to Nash signed by Sealord, Talley’s, New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen and Te Ohu Kai Moana:

“The purpose of this letter is to dismiss any suggestion that the New Zealand seafood industry supports the current proposal, is in any way split in its opposition to it or that our industry has anything less than overwhelming opposition to your Ministry’s current proposal for cameras.”

In March 2018, it was reported Sanford's CEO Volker Kuntzsch was in favour of cameras, but thought the initial October deadline was "impossible". The company had previously trialled cameras on boats in a snapper fishing area. At the time he said two years was a more realistic timeframe, depending on technology requirements.

Political or technical handbrake?

There have been suggestions there is a lack of political impetus in the coalition Government.

New Zealand First’s Shane Jones denied being involved with the delay despite his past ties to the fishing industry as a former chair of both Te Ohu Kaimoana and Sealord, pro-industry stance, and history of receiving donations from Talley's.

The NZ First Foundation received $26,950 from Talley’s and managing director Sir Peter Talley between 2017 and 2019. In 2017, Talley’s donated $10,000 to Jones. The company also made a donation of $2000 to one other NZ First candidate, and donations of $5000 to seven National candidates and one Labour candidate in 2017.

“In terms of the allegation I’m personally involved with delaying that Cabinet decision, the accord or the rollout of cameras - no,” Jones said.  

Political handbrakes aside, it's clear the hold-up is not a technology availability issue. Fisheries NZ's Bolger explained decisions were needed before these could be identified.

“Technology considerations for a wider rollout include whether different on-board camera solutions should be scaled against different fisheries' management objectives.

“Depending on the outcomes of any public consultation, these objectives may vary from fishery to fishery. Alongside varying fisheries' management objectives, differences in fishing methods and vessels may mean different technology specifications are required, which also impacts on costs. 

“The capacity of the technology supply market would be another consideration in planning the implementation of on-board cameras across the wider fleet of commercial vessels.”

When asked about the cost, Bolger said the Government-funded $17.5 million Māui fishery rollout had an average cost of $34,500 per boat. The funding is expected to cover four years and includes purchase, installation and maintenance of the cameras as well as the costs of storage, review and analysis of the footage.

Why conservationists want cameras

As well as concerns about boats illegally dumping fish, a number of New Zealand's sea mammals and birds are threatened species. Cameras can’t stop the bycatch of dolphins, birds or sea lions, but conservationists believe they will lead to increased reporting of bycatch. It could also be a way to check required mitigation methods are being used. 

Currently there appears to be a difference between bycatch - self-reported by fishers when fishing observers aren’t onboard - and what is reported when a fishing observer is onboard. 

When observers are onboard, significantly more bycatch is reported. Data source: MPI annual review report for highly migratory species 2018-2019

A Ministry for Primary Industries annual review document looking at bycatch in the migratory species fisheries says the disparity “suggests a level of underreporting for non-observed trips”. 

Reporting non-fish bycatch is a legal requirement.

Forest & Bird spokesperson Geoff Keey said the fact the Government didn't rely on logbook entries to estimate the number of seabirds, mammals and turtles killed each year was telling. He sees cameras as a honesty system. 

“What they found in Australia is when you put cameras on boats, the reporting jumped … people are three to seven times more likely to report catching something with a camera on the boat.”

A tsunami of footage

While Fisheries NZ wasn’t forthcoming about specific technical issues, Keey speculated on potential pain-points in getting a system running. 

In his view, staging the rollout is a practical approach, but delaying it is disappointing. 

“Boats are different and the gear they use is different so where and how you implement cameras depends on the type of vessel and gear people are using and where you need to position cameras to monitor stuff”. 

A longline fishing boat may need just one camera that could easily show bycatch brought onboard. For trawlers, where seabirds can get caught on warps, a camera trained on these may be needed as well as a camera recording the fish brought onboard. For some factory boats it’s possible more than one camera could be required to record what happens on deck and what happens as fish get processed below deck.

Another reason for staging a rollout is to ensure there are systems in place to deal with the amount of footage cameras would produce.

According to an assessment of privacy issues prepared for Fisheries New Zealand, cameras would be activated by sensors when winches or net rollers were used. They would continue to record for 30 minutes after use has stopped. The encrypted hard drive it’s recorded onto would be couriered to the Ministry for Primary Industries each month. 

The privacy assessment said MPI was developing rules for what footage will be viewed, at what speed it will be viewed, and how it is accessed and used for compliance.

The footage could be stored for three months to two years. Any footage identifying a protected species would be kept for seven years. Commercial sensitivity around the location of fishing spots would be taken into consideration. A request by the fishing industry for footage to be exempt from the Official Information Act failed. 

Keey speculates a technical issue that may have taken Fisheries NZ off guard is the volume of data created by the 20 boats with cameras installed.

“They need to make sure they have the storage and processing capacity. That’s a good reason for staging things so the system doesn’t fall over, but that’s not a good reason for calling taiho on everything.”

His understanding is it's likely every dolphin incident would be reviewed by an MPI staff member, as well as a random assortment of footage. 

“Ideally the way you would use it [footage] is to verify the logbooks. You want the camera to effectively create the incentive on the fisher to report accurately what’s happening on the boat.”

Voluntary transparency

Hawke’s Bay owner of Better Fishing Karl Warr has voluntarily put a camera on his boat, which livestreams footage 24/7

His camera is from SnapIT, a New Zealand company, which was keen to find someone to test drive cameras for overseas markets.

He said installation was “not a lot harder than bringing home a vacuum cleaner and plugging it in”, and required a power source, cables and a couple of screws.

One reason he’s voluntarily opened his boat and fishing methods to the public is because he feels the public deserves to be informed about their decision to support the fishing industry or not. 

“I would have thought the industry would be embracing that opportunity to show a good example.”


2012 to 2013 - Video-monitoring pilot programme shows some monitored boats illegally discarding unwanted fish.

May 2016 - A report by an MPI investigator is leaked which called for prosecutions to be pursued. MPI announces an inquiry by former Solicitor General into the lack of prosecutions.

May 2017 - $30.5 million boost to fisheries management announced by then-Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy. It includes funding for GPS monitoring, electronic logbooks and was to be "followed by cameras on every vessel phased in from 1 October next year".

November 2017 - Minister Stuart Nash postpones cameras on fishing boats saying: “I am working with MPI officials on options for timing and these will be communicated once a decision has been made.”

July 2018 - Letter from fishing companies sent to Nash saying the companies do not support cameras on boats.

January 2019 - Rollout of cameras delayed until August.

June 2019 - $17.1 million announced in Budget for cameras on boats fishing in Māui dolphin habitat by November 2019.

June 2020 - Rollout delayed to a "holding date" of October 2021.

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