Details needed on cameras on vessels announcement

In response to Minister David Parker’s announcement on 25 May about the national roll-out of cameras on commercial inshore fishing vessels, Seafood New Zealand (SNZ) Chief Executive Jeremy Helson says the most important questions still remain unanswered.

“The industry has been working in partnership with MPI on this programme since its early days. We have been very clear in our conditional support for cameras, and our recommendations for how they should fit into a larger strategy for sustainable fisheries management.

“We now know a couple more details, and it is good to see progress, but we are still very much in the dark about the important things. We had a briefing with MPI this morning, and none of our key questions could be answered. We need to adequately advise and help prepare quota holders and fishers for what is shaping up to be a make it or break it business consideration for them, but we still can’t do this.

For example, the details that industry leaders such as SNZ and Fisheries Inshore New Zealand (FINZ) have asked of MPI and the Government, and that have still not been communicated to industry, quota holders or fishers are:

1. What the actual AI technology will be, and will it be ready for the first rollout? Dr Helson says that while it’s promising that Spark has been announced as the contractor leading the rollout, there is huge sector interest in the provider of the technology and what kind of AI will be ready in time for the installation of cameras that fishers will be paying for.

“At a high level we have been told that motion sensor-type technology will drive what the cameras will capture.

“But the delivery of the generation of AI we are hopeful of – that we are relying on for evidence-based fisheries management decisions – is still uncertain. We’ve been told the cameras will be ‘high definition’ and we’d expect this of a $68M investment. But is the AI ready now to analyse screeds of footage to determine the details that MPI has indicated cameras can deliver on?

“We need cameras with sufficient resolution that the footage can identify what fish species are returned to the sea, what their length is, what species we land, what protected species we do or don’t catch

2. Cost recovery

Dr Helson says that while it’s useful to have certainty that cost recovery will not start until the 2023/24 fishing year, quota holders and fishers need to know what the bill will be. We still have no idea what this is going to cost.

“At a time when small owner-operators are having to leave boats and crews on shore, because they can’t afford the rocketing cost of fuel, they deserve greater certainty about costs coming so they can prepare.”

SNZ maintains its position that, until the cameras are proven to be adding value to fisheries management, they should be paid for by Government.

“When the benefits of the investment to fisheries management can be demonstrated, industry will readily pay its share of those costs. We still don’t have any clarity around this.

“We’d like to remind people that fishers already bear considerable costs and have built their business around these. Seafood is the only sector in New Zealand that pays for itself to be independently regulated and policed and the funds come from every fisher, regardless of the size of their boat and crew. Those single owner-operators at the heart of New Zealand’s small coastal communities are playing – and paying – their part, but there is a limit to this.

“The fishing industry is paying approximately $35 million in annual cost recovery levies to the Government for fisheries management activities in 2021/22. Notwithstanding all the difficulties of increased costs and logistical difficulties from COVID-19 those levies are already $5.3 million more than the previous year. Imposing additional costs in the order of $10 million on the inshore fleet in the next two years, and an unknown sum after that, will be enough to put some out of business and New Zealanders will need to give up eating their fish”

3. Access to information/privacy

Dr Helson says that privacy remains a key concern, despite assurances that cameras will not roll ‘around the clock’ indiscriminately.

“There is further work to do – fishers need to know how their footage will be accessed, used and stored. How it will be protected from privacy breaches or theft.”

The fishers also need to know where and how they get access to view their own footage through that secure framework.

4. More research needed as well as cameras

The question remains whether the cameras will adequately compensate for underfunding in fisheries science and research.

“Our fishstocks are in a better position that they have been for decades – and where we know there is a problem, we have programmes underway to address those. One of the reasons the Quota Management System (QMS) has been so successful, and is held in such high esteem internationally, is that it is informed by high-quality data and science. This isn’t static either, the QMS is adjusted as data is updated.

“We need more science to stay on top of sustainable fishing practices, but investment in fishing research has increased less than 10 percent over the past decade while enforcement and monitoring of commercial fishing have increased by over 50 percent in ten years.

“Are cameras an investment in research, or simply for yet more enforcement and monitoring?”

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