Newshub has obtained an explosive audio recording of Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash talking about NZ First MPs Winston Peters and Shane Jones.
The recording was from February 2018, around the time the Government first delayed the rollout of cameras on nearly 1000 fishing boats - since then it's been delayed again until at least October next year.
In it, Nash points the finger of blame squarely at them for delaying plans to put cameras on commercial fishing boats to make sure they don't break the law.
Cameras on fishing boats are causing conniptions and contradictions.
"New Zealand First has not been the cause of delays on cameras," Nash has claimed on Tuesday.
But in February 2018, a few months after he took office, the explanation was remarkably different according to this secret recording obtained by Newshub.
"I've got to play the political game in a way that allows me to make these changes. Now, Winston Peters and Shane Jones have made it very clear they do not want cameras on boats," Nash can be heard saying in a recording.
Nash then went on to say a public review of the fisheries management is needed to get the cameras rolled out.
"If Winston wants to have that discussion with Jacinda, it is had in the public arena and it is almost impossible for him to win it," he said.
"But if he has it behind closed doors on the 9th floor now, then the public will never know about it. So what I am trying to do is put Winston and Shane into a position where they cannot back down."
A strategy was discussed.
"By revoking these regulations, first of all people like Winston and the industry will go, 'oh there, there you go. That's fantastic, that's been done. We don't have to worry about this'," he said in the recording.
"Little do they know behind the scenes the tidal wave on this is coming and they won't be able to avoid it."
But that tidal wave never came, nor did the planned fisheries review nor cameras on all boats.
- If you have more information, contact Michael Morrah in confidence by email: email@example.com
On Tuesday, Nash said his comments were a mistake and that he 'misread' NZ First's position.
"I just got it wrong. I was a new Minister. I was coming to grips with the portfolio. I got it wrong," he told Newshub.
NZ First MPs are adamant they haven't delayed things, with Jones blaming the pandemic.
"I'm not the Fisheries Minister, but I suspect that COVID has got a lot to do with it," Regional Development Minister Shane Jones told Newshub.
"Cameras on fishing boats is really interesting. We haven't blocked cameras on fishing boats," NZ First MP Tracey Martin told Newshub Nation.
Although in an interview with Newshub less than two weeks ago, party leader Winston Peters eventually acknowledged NZ First was involved in the delay.
"Do we listen to industry representation, yes. Are we concerned about families and their economic representation? Yes. Are we the cause of that delay? Well, we are part of the representation that has ended up with a more rational and sane policy, yes" he said. Asked whether that was a yes to the original question, Peters responded: "yes".
Fishing company Talley's donated $10,000 to Shane Jones' 2017 election campaign. RNZ also revealed that Talleys donated $26,950 to the NZ First Foundation.
Newshub has verified these donations.
Talley's Andrew Talley told Newshub "within the right framework cameras have a place in modern fisheries management".
He says there's "no connection" with donations and the camera delays.
When questioned if NZ First had delayed the cameras because he got financial backing from the fishing industry, Peters called it an "insulting question".
"Stop making your vile, defamatory allegations by way of an accusatory question," he told Newshub. "This conversation is over."
And with that the interview ended abruptly.
Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman is convinced NZ First killed off the cameras.
"It is completely unacceptable that NZ First has anything to do with fisheries policy in this country, given the money flowing from the big fishing companies to them," Norman says.
"This recording just brings it to the surface more than it was already."
In the recording, Nash also offered a blunt assessment of the difficulties he'd faced with his portfolios.
"I've got Police, Fisheries, Small Business and Tax. Fisheries is by far the most philosophically challenging," he said.
"You think Police deal with dodgy buggers? They've got nothing in the fisheries sector."
Nash says the dodgy buggers were Hawke's Bay Seafoods, whose directors were prosecuted for misreporting catches.
"What I was talking about was a very high profile case in my own electorate," he told Newshub.
As for Peters - he didn't want to talk about anything on Tuesday but he did put out a press release.
In it, he claimed it was Nash's office who asked to delay the cameras on boats, not New Zealand First.
Newshub spoke to Nash's office. They said the Minister did sign off on the delay - but did so taking into account the views of NZ First and the Greens.
Peters went on to attack Morrah, saying the story was "unethical tabloid journalism" and "clickbait journalism at its worst" even though he hadn't seen it.
Newshub believes this story is in the public interest.
Fisheries is a public asset. There's been evidence of widespread dumping and misreporting in the past, and cameras on boats are all about transparency for the public and preventing illegal behaviour.