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New Zealand deserves a better camera strategy for seafood

The seafood industry is calling for Fisheries New Zealand to create and progressively implement a better strategy for using cameras on vessels.

4 May 2022

The seafood industry is calling for Fisheries New Zealand (FNZ) to create and progressively implement a better strategy for using cameras on vessels to achieve transparent improved fisheries management that is fit for the future.

FNZ is currently considering providers for the cameras proposed for 300 inshore fishing vessels.

Seafood industry organisations Fisheries Inshore New Zealand (FINZ), Seafood New Zealand (SNZ), and Southern Inshore Fisheries (SIF) made submissions to FNZ, supporting cameras, saying they should be part of an integrated future fisheries management strategy.

Laws Lawson, Executive Chair of Fisheries Inshore, which represents inshore finfish fishers, says New Zealand deserves more from the proposed camera investment. 

“Fisheries management needs to be comprehensive and active,” Laws says. “We need to work together to pull all the component parts together – the law, policies, cameras and operational activities - to improve fisheries management for the future.

“It is disappointing that FNZ’s most recent proposal still lacks vision and a strategic pathway to maximise what this kind of additional electronic monitoring could achieve,” he says.

“Instead, imagine having cameras that can identify what fish species are returned to the sea, what their age is, what species we land, what protected species we do or don’t catch. Imagine getting that data electronically and using it to better actively manage our fisheries. We could have an at-sea monitoring service that doesn’t require us to bring back every fish so it can be counted, instead, we would monitor the fish catch in their habitat. That is the vision we seek to be made real that the FNZ’s proposed cameras programme can’t deliver under the current implementation plan.”   

“We consider the estimated $68M price tag, in the absence of a strategic pathway, to be a risky use of public funds, at a time when we desperately need more investment in research that will really make the difference for future fishing management,” Laws says.

Seafood New Zealand Chief Executive and Chair Jeremy Helson says the fishing industry has long supported the use of on-board cameras as a fisheries management tool.

“We have no wish to see this initiative fail,” says Jeremy. “Done well, it can provide a significant step-change and secure New Zealand’s place at the forefront of fisheries management. We share this common desire with Government, but New Zealanders are currently being led to believe that simply installing cameras and accumulating screeds of footage is the answer to fisheries management.

“We have publicly expressed our support for cameras and made it clear that cameras can be an effective management tool, filling information gaps for better science. The investment of public funds in the technology needs to provide a return to the nation through the enabling of better management of the fisheries resource.

“Cost recovery should be fair, not crippling to the inshore sector, and reflecting the national benefits to be gained. The new technology needs to protect fishers’ privacy, while improving the transparency of their activities,” he says.

The two Executive Chairs stand together in their call for a better way forward. “We, Fisheries New Zealand, the Department of Conservation and industry can do so much better than what is proposed. There is still time, we don’t need to stop the rollout plan, but now is a good time to work together to get the best out of the technology, to get this right.”

The four main areas the industry wants to see improvements in are:

1.       Future-based strategy required 

 A fishing sector camera strategy must be future-focused, so it adds value to fisheries management and sets New Zealand on a path to lead the world in the management of its fisheries resources and oceans.

The Government has introduced a Bill this month to make changes to the current Fisheries Act. As it stands, the Bill does not take advantage of the opportunities that camera technology can provide in the future. At a time when cameras can provide greater transparency and monitoring of at-sea activities, the Government is looking at a “bring it all home” approach, that is both inappropriate and short-sighted.

Industry would far prefer to see the Government provide a strategy for the future of the industry where cameras would be an integral component. The current FNZ vision appears limited initially to using the cameras to replicate what observers do today rather than stretching the vision to provide a pathway on which to build better, more informed fisheries management. 

Cameras with suitably developed systems can provide improved scientific information on the whole fleet and the whole catch, overcoming the constraints on smaller fishing vessels.

Adopting an electronic monitoring strategy that is fit for the future will provide a higher quality management regime in which all New Zealanders can trust.

It is greatly concerning that a planned $68M project is based on no evidence that cameras will achieve the desired goals.

2.    A phased roll-out using the right technology

The $68M to implement cameras on inshore vessels is the single largest investment in fisheries management in New Zealand history. This initiative cannot only not be allowed to fail – that will not serve the Government, FNZ, the industry or New Zealanders well – it also needs to better integrate information and management. Notwithstanding best endeavours by all parties, the industry is concerned that the current programme will fail to do this.

The current FNZ proposal mentions the success of a camera trial on vessels fishing on the west coast of the North Island, but FNZ has not provided any detail about the trial, or evidence the cameras ‘worked.’

Given the protected species content of the programme, we need the Department of Conservation to report and demonstrate how useful cameras were in identifying any protected species. And how cameras will assist in the future. New Zealand needs to know the degree of risk in implementing camera technology and know that FNZ is capable of managing that risk and attaining the maximum benefits the technology can offer.

Industry implemented camera technology on vessels nearly ten years ago on its own initiative and this has been extended into other fisheries and their interactions with the environment. It knows what cameras can do and what they are not capable of delivering currently. It is concerned that FNZ has not reached out to industry to allow industry to become engaged in the project and benefit from its hard-won experience in this field.

On-board cameras have only been used successfully overseas to monitor catches of individual fish – when single fish are brought on deck on a longline or setnet and the footage can be reviewed to determine the exact species, length and other details. But this doesn’t translate easily to trawling, New Zealand’s most common method of fishing.

To achieve the benefits desired, FNZ will need a generation of cameras that have far greater resolution and a change to on-vessel fishing processes to provide opportunity for viewing the catch. And the resulting footage then needs to be ‘translated’ using artificial intelligence (AI) to identity species and species detail. This AI is not here yet, but is crucial technology alongside cameras.

The best that current camera technology can capture is coarse measurements. We know this because cameras on board aren’t new, they’ve been used for many years to observe fishing activities. For example, many vessel operators were involved in the 2016 black petrel initiative on the north island’s north-east coast, and companies like Moana and Sanford and their fishers were early adopters of cameras on their fishing fleets for years. These organisations, and many vessel owners who use cameras to help with their vessel activity, such as health and safety monitoring, know the current limitations of both vessel configuration and the cameras themselves, so we ask that FNZ speaks with industry and fishers about this experience.

In support of cameras as part of fisheries management, in our submissions we suggested a strategy that had an alternative order for implementation; staggering the roll-out of the first basic cameras, accompanied by an early commencement to a programme to develop and implement artificial intelligence, and developing processes to use what can be gained from the footage in terms of the information and insights to improve fisheries management. 

3.   More research needed as well as cameras

The sustainability of New Zealand’s fisheries depends on robust scientific information, and yet research investment in our fishing sector has increased less than 10% over the past decade, while enforcement and monitoring of commercial fishing have increased by over 50% in ten years.

The cost of the camera roll-out comprises more than 50% of total Government funds for fisheries management – and nearly triple the funds available for research. We need to flip this equation - underfunding the research needed to inform sustainable fishing is a poor strategic decision, especially when it is in favour of what looks like ineffective monitoring. Quite simply, the proposed camera spend, as it stands, is not going to give New Zealanders and industry the results they want from such investment. We need to ensure it provides robust scientific data and enables more science to be undertaken on the inshore fish species to help with their management.  

4.   Cameras should add value 

 FNZ is proposing that at least $10M in costs is recovered from industry in the first four years.

If the camera initiative only replicates existing services on vessels, as it is currently designed, it should be paid for by Government. When the benefits of the investment to fisheries management can be demonstrated, industry would see value in paying its share of those costs.

Industry acknowledges that it needs to meet some of the costs for the management of the fisheries resources. In fact, seafood is the only sector in New Zealand that pays for itself to be independently regulated and policed. The fishing industry currently pays approximately $35M in annual cost recovery levies to the Government for fisheries management activities. The levies for 2021/22 are already $5.3M more than the 2020/21 levies.

The inshore sector is not a wealthy fishery, and particularly at a time when costs on fishers are high due to fuel and market pressures, it’s not feasible that they pay such a high-cost for a tool that won’t provide any additional benefits to how we fish, or the environment. Our concern is that this cost will undoubtedly drive even more hard-working Kiwis, who are fishing sustainably, out of business.