Fisheries Minister pours cold water on bycatch video suppression

The Fisheries Minister has rejected a call by the fishing industry to stop the public getting footage of bycatch like seabirds and dolphins from fishing boats. 

Industry leaders told the Ministry for Primary Industries that third parties having access to footage and fisheries information could damage the country's international reputation. 

The fishing industry's warning was clear. It said MPI would get "negative press", it was "unnecessary and unacceptable" and would be "difficult and costly to resolve" if the public got hold of video and images from cameras on boats.

The solution the industry proposed was to change the law around the Official Information Act. But the Ministry has poured cold water on that suggestion. 

"You have to be honest in the way we do things," says Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash. 

"I don't think covering information up is the best way to go forward. If we are catching dolphins and seals and penguins, we need to understand why this is happening and if we can mitigate that."

The law change being sought was to make material from cameras on boats as well as fisheries data exempt from the OIA.

"I haven't seen a compelling business case that would make me consider changing the OIA," says Mr Nash.

"If the Fisheries Industry wants the general public to get onside, then they need to understand what goes on there. Trying to cover stuff up really doesn't engender any form of relationship or social license to operate."

Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague says the minister has made the right decision. 

"He really has put a line in the sand as soon as he reasonably could have done after we raised the issue, and that's great." 

World Wildlife Fund for Nature's western Pacific tuna manager Bubba Cook agrees, and says transparency is important when it comes to fisheries. 

"It is a public resource managed with public funds and it is intended to be managed in the public interest. So the resource belongs to the public," says Mr Cook. 

The minister says he understands the industry has concerns and will sit with leaders to talk about them.

Seafood New Zealand Chief Executive Tim Pankhurst says the industry hopes the current protections under the OIA are sufficient to address serious concerns around privacy, intellectual property and potential misuse of data. 

He says there is no cover up, and there never has been.