Hectors dolphin & trawler. Photo: Liz Slooten, Otago University & Earthrace Conservation (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

On-board cameras rolled out to more fishing boats – Expert Reaction

Surface longline vessels operating near New Zealand’s shore will be required to have cameras on board by today, with the aim of getting a more accurate picture of bycatch.

It comes after an incident in last year, where on-board camera footage was used to identify an endangered Hector’s dolphin as bycatch on a commercial vessel, after it was incorrectly reported as a different species of dolphin.

The SMC asked experts to comment. 

Professor Bruce Robertson, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, comments:

“My focus has been on marine mammal bycatch in New Zealand’s deepwater fisheries. With these fishing vessels, in the past, there has been issues with compliance with NZ laws. For example, we have seen vessels disregard NZ’s labour laws. Given the labour laws were ignored, it is reasonable to ask whether the reporting requirements for fishing bycatch are being followed, as also required under NZ law.

“We know from government data released under the Official Information Act that there has been consistent underreporting of fishing bycatch for New Zealand sea lions, New Zealand fur seals and common dolphins.

“Cameras are a good tool to ensure bycatch is properly reported, which is a requirement under New Zealand fisheries law. It is not illegal to incidentally kill a marine mammal while commercial fishing in NZ waters so long as it is reported. We can only have so many government observers on vessels, and they can’t be awake 24/7 – some of these boats are operating around the clock.

“So far the government’s on-board cameras are only rolling out to inshore vessels, not the large deepwater vessels. This is a missed opportunity, and it would have been better to start rolling these cameras out to the deepwater vessels, given the past compliance issues with these larger vessels.

“Without cameras on vessels to record marine mammals bycatch and consistent underreporting, we do not have a good understanding of the risk to marine mammals of bycatch in NZ fisheries. Instead, we have relied on modelling to determine commercial fishing’s impacts. However poor bycatch data means that some models for marine mammal bycatch have little certainty, which is not helpful when attempting to manage this impact. We must understand the magnitude of the bycatch problem if we are to change fishing practices to reduce the risk.

“NZ prides itself on being a leader in sustainable fishing practices. NZ’s seafood is marketed as sustainable to its international markets. Cameras on fishing vessels represent an important way to demonstrate to our international consumers that NZ’s current fishing practices do not impact NZ’s marine mammals.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Emeritus Liz Slooten, University of Otago, comments:

“It will be interesting to see how many longline boats will have cameras fitted by tomorrow. As outlined in the MPI document attached, 83 longline vessels are to be fitted with cameras. However, progress so far suggests that the number may be much lower than that.

“Camera monitoring of fishing vessels is standard technology overseas. The first trials of cameras on fishing boats in NZ were in 2011. About 12 years later, the first priority was to put cameras on 58 trawl and set net vessels off the west coast of the North Island in 2023 (see here, page 14) out of 178 gillnet and trawl vessels fishing in this area. This would have been a third of the set net and trawl vessels operating in Maui dolphin habitat. In 2023, cameras were only put on only 23 fishing boats resulting in 13% coverage. The next priority was to put cameras on 83 gillnet and trawl vessels off the North, east and south coast of South Island. However, it sounds like cameras were only put on 70 of these vessels. Here are the stats so far:

Trawl and set net vessels off west coast of North Island (Maui dolphin habitat):
Intended: 58
Actual: 23

Trawl and set net vessels off North, east and south coast of South Island:
Intended: 83
Actual: 70

Surface longline vessels:
Intended: 83
Actual: ?

“Despite the very small number of fishing boats with cameras so far, the results have been alarming. So far 6 Hector’s dolphin deaths in fishing nets were detected In just over 3 months (20 September 2023 – 3 January 2024) off the east coast of the South Island. In the same period last year only 1 dolphin was caught.

“Deaths of Hector’s and Maui dolphins in fishing nets have been going on for decades, but it has finally become more obvious because the number of boats with cameras or observers on board has increased. Right now about 25% of NZ fishing boats using trawl or set nets have cameras onboard, and MPI are aiming to put cameras on about 50%.

“What we really need is 100% monitoring. Better still, removing fishing gear that kills dolphins (set nets and trawling) from Hector’s and Maui dolphin habitat as these dolphins are endangered and only found in NZ. There is no need to remove all fishing, just those methods that kill dolphins (set nets and trawl nets).

“For more information, see this submission by the NZ Marine Sciences Society on the camera monitoring scheme.”

30 Jan update in response to MPI: “The main reason why cameras are on a much smaller number of boats than MPI announced in 2021, and an even smaller proportion of the total number of fishing boats, is that gillnet boats smaller than 8 metres and trawl vessels larger than 32 metres are not included. As a result, fewer than 10% of gillnets used in the habitat of the 48 remaining Maui dolphins will be monitored. Another exemption is that fishermen can opt out of camera monitoring by promising not to fish inside dolphin habitat. The problem is, the MPI model of ‘dolphin habitat’ doesn’t match the sightings data and is far too small. On top of that, only about 30% of the video footage has been reviewed to date. Plans are to increase that proportion for some areas, but for other areas only 5% of the footage will be reviewed.”

No conflict of interest.

Response from Marie Fitzpatrick, Director Digital Monitoring, Ministry for Primary Industries, comments:

This comment is in response to Professor Liz Slooten.

“As of 16 January 2024, the rollout of on-board cameras on fishing vessels has been completed to the first four priority groups as identified by the government on 25 May 2022. You can see the full rollout timeline, and details of the priority groups, on our website.

“Any fishing activity that falls within the criteria laid out in these four priority groups is now required to be monitored by an on-board camera.

“In Professor Liz Slooten’s comments, she has pointed out a disparity between the intended number of vessels operating with cameras, and the actual number, implying that there are commercial fishers who should have cameras but are operating without them. This is misleading, as the intended figures she refers to appear to be estimates of the number of vessels that were operating in these fisheries prior to the camera roll out. All vessels that are currently required to use on-board cameras to monitor fishing activity have them installed.

“The number of vessels that are operating using cameras is lower than these estimated figures because some commercial fishers have chosen to change their fishing areas or methods, and so are no longer in-scope for the camera roll out as it currently stands.

“Human-induced threats to Hector’s and Māui dolphins are managed under the Hector’s and Māui dolphin Threat Management Plan by Fisheries New Zealand and the Department of Conservation.

“As part of this work, Fisheries New Zealand has introduced a range of measures and restrictions on set nets and trawling across the North and South Island, including:

  • 12,825 square kilometres of trawl closures and restrictions,
  • 32,675 square kilometres of set net closures.

“While it is too early to draw wider conclusions about the on-board camera rollout’s effect on reported captures, based on international experience, we would expect cameras to drive more reporting of bycatch of all kinds, including Hector’s and Māui dolphins.

“Reporting seen to date is in line with our estimates of commercial related bycatch. According to our records, there have been 5 Hector’s dolphin captures since 20 September 2023.

“On-board cameras give us independent information about what goes on at sea to help verify catch reporting and monitor commercial fishing activity. They also encourage compliance with the rules, and to identify the circumstances surrounding by-catch, and so inform potential ways to avoid future captures.”

MPI is responsible for the on-board camera rollout.