NZ fishing industry wants damaging videos suppressed

The commercial fishing industry wants to stop the public getting access to videos and images of fish being discarded and seabirds being caught by fishing boats because they say it could be bad for New Zealand's reputation.

The industry has asked the Government to change the law so that the Official Information Act could not be used by journalists, competitors and other groups to access such information.

Dolphins, sea lions and seabirds being scooped up in trawl nets is sometimes a reality for crews on commercial fishing boats.

But the industry doesn’t want the public seeing photos or videos of it.

Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague says the New Zealand fishing industry is trying to cover up the evidence of what's really going on in our waters.

"They are trying to prevent the public from really seeing the terrible toll that their industry takes," he told Newshub.

Dr Jeremy Helson, Fisheries Inshore New Zealand Chief Executive, says that's not accurate.

"It's not about trying to hide information, it's about trying to protect people's rights and interests."

A letter signed by fishing industry leaders was sent to MPI last year. It warns that the planned rollout of video cameras on boats will "raise significant risks for MPI and for 'New Zealand Inc'".

It goes on to recommend that the Government change the law to stop video and data generated by the monitoring equipment from being released under the Official Information Act.

"We suggest that the Fisheries Act be amended to clarify the purpose for which the IEMRS information (and other information on commercial fishing activities) will be obtained by MPI, and to expressly provide for the OIA to not apply to this information," the letter reads.

The document raises concerns about video revealing secret fishing spots, and that "potentially embarrassing" footage of paua divers getting undressed and changed into their wetsuits would be held by MPI.

Dr Helson says the fishing industry doesn't want to deny the public information, but privacy must be taken into account.  

"What we want MPI to do is engage in a conversation with us about how we respect people's rights and interests, and get the balance right between transparency and releasing what's potentially quite sensitive information."

But the letter also highlights industry concerns about footage being used in what it calls "anti-fishing campaigns" by some groups.

It warns video of seabirds being caught and other unintended bycatch "would provide those opposed to commercial fishing or to government with a powerful tool for their propaganda".

"New Zealand's international reputation as a reputable source of quality, sustainably-produced seafood could be significantly impaired."

Mr Hague says trying to conceal the impact of commercial fishing on New Zealand's oceans is the wrong approach.

"The way to deal with that reputational risk is for the industry to change its practices, not to cover them up."

Despite telling MPI there are organisations that campaign against commercial fishing, the industry wouldn't tell Newshub who exactly they're referring to.

"[We're] not talking about anyone in particular," says Dr Helson. "It's just a hypothetical."

MPI says it has reviewed the industry's proposal but is yet to make a decision.

It points out, however, that clear protections already exist under the OIA for private and commercially sensitive information.