Artificial intelligence to be used in monitoring illegal fishing in New Zealand

Newshub can reveal artificial intelligence (AI) will be used to monitor illegal fishing in New Zealand.

The Government's signed a deal to use the technology as part of its cameras on boats rollout, with the gear capable of detecting fish being discarded or nets being hauled up. 

A drone developed by AI company Qrious and MAUI63 has been using artificial intelligence to recognise a Māui dolphin and follow them. Similar gear - only fixed cameras - will eventually be used on 300 fishing vessels. 

"This will improve trust and accountability in the seafood sector. It will further burnish their credentials," said Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker.

Qrious, which is part of Spark, has been appointed to manage the rollout and supply the technology.  

Qrious CEO Stephen Ponsford said the gear could detect things such as fishing dumping, nets or lines being retrieved, and sorting of fish. 

"You can think of it as a human doing a new job. We simply need to train what to do and the system is fully capable of learning that," Ponsford said.

This means only pertinent footage will be kept, saving the laborious task of trawling through hundreds of hours of footage. 

"This will absolutely save time in the review process," said Bubba Cook, WWF Western and Central Pacific tuna programme manager.

Cook was consulted on the plan. 

"This could be groundbreaking. It's probably the most advanced system that's being proposed for electronic monitoring on fishing vessels around the world," Cook said.

The rollout has seen years of controversy and interference. 

In 2016, Newshub revealed Operation Achilles, a report detailing widespread illegal fish dumping where MPI failed to prosecute.

In 2017, then-Minister Nathan Guy then promised cameras on "every boat", but it didn't happen. 

In 2019, Stuart Nash said 20 boats in Māui dolphin habitat would get cameras.

In 2020, he delayed a wider rollout, with Nash stating in a recording Newshub obtained that NZ First didn't want them. 

Then, new Minister David Parker said 300 vessels would get cameras by late 2024.

Finally there's momentum, with 50 of the 300 vessels - ones that work in Māui dolphin and yellow-eyed penguin habitats - to be fitted with the equipment and start transmitting data to MPI from late November.

"It's quite a sophisticated project so it's taken a while to put together," Parker said.

A project that will eventually accurately assess catch records and give detailed data about the plight of some of our most threatened species. 

The cost of the rollout - which will be staggered - is estimated to be $68 million, with the industry paying back about $10 million of the total costs.

Cameras will be fitted to all vessels that use set nets and are eight metres or larger, surface longline vessels, and bottom longline boats. Trawlers of 32 metres or less are also included.

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