Budget 2019: $17.1m to protect Māui dolphins with on-board vessel cameras

The Government has set aside $17.1 million over four years to protect rare Māui dolphins from commercial fishing vessels at greatest risk of encountering them. 

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said commercial trawlers and set netters working in Māui dolphin habitat will be required to carry cameras "because their fishing methods pose most risk to dolphins".

He said it will affect up to 28 vessels, "although the final number requiring cameras will depend on whether they continue to fish in the area using trawl or set nets. 

"The final number may be fewer as some of these vessels may choose to fish elsewhere," Nash said, adding that lower-risk vessels will not be part of it. 

"Other vessels that work the area use methods like long-lines, purse seine nets and potting that pose a lower risk and they will not be required to carry cameras at this stage."

Installing cameras on commercial fishing boats was an idea proposed by the previous National-led government, and plans to install them on all boats were delayed by the Government in late 2018.

The Green Party welcomed the announcement on Friday, but said the roll-out of cameras on selected fishing boats "needs to be scaled-up fast".

The party's fisheries spokesperson, Gareth Hughes, said: "We need cameras on all fishing boats as soon as possible to help stamp out illegal practices and protect our fisheries for future generations."

Budget 2019: $17.1m to protect Māui dolphins with on-board vessel cameras
Photo credit: Fisheries New Zealand

"The Greens have been calling for increased accountability for years and we want to see a rapid implementation timeline for cameras on the remainder of the fishing fleet."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the on-board cameras will give the Government "independent, accurate information about the impacts of commercial fishing in this area". 

She pointed to the priorities of the Wellbeing Budget, one of which was supporting regions and businesses adjust to long-term environmental challenges facing the economy.

"The on-board camera programme encourages our fishing industry to meet expectations from consumers and overseas regulators about how seafood is caught and how we protect species such as Māui dolphins."

Why protect Māui dolphins?

Māui dolphins are critically endangered. It's estimated there are just 63 adults left in New Zealand waters. 

Their habitat stretches from Northland to Taranaki and overlaps the inshore fishery where commercial vessels catch species like snapper, tarakihi, gurnard and John Dory. 

Ardern said it's crucial to protect the fragile population of the marine mammals. She said fisheries management "sits alongside other efforts to deal with long term environmental challenges". 

Māui dolphin.
Māui dolphin. Photo credit: File

"This includes a proposed network of marine protected areas off the Canterbury and Otago coast, legislation to tackle greenhouse gases, phasing out single-use plastics, greater funding for predator and pest control, and support for sustainable tourism growth."

Nash said the roll-out of cameras in the dolphins' habitat will allow time to refine systems and processes before a wider camera programme is considered across more of the commercial fleet.

He pointed to Australia where 75 vessels have operated with government-funded cameras since 2015.

Other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia in Canada, ran four-year camera trials with the government before making cameras mandatory on over 100 vessels. 

Nash said by December 2019, all commercial fishing vessels will be reporting their catches and positions electronically and in close to real time.

He said legislation is also likely to be introduced later this year after public consultation on the rules that govern commercial fishing.