Fishing boats with cameras twice as likely to report catching threatened seabird than those without - Govt docs

Government briefing documents obtained by Newshub show fishing boats fitted with cameras were twice as likely to report catching black petrels than those without the technology.

A briefing to Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash from Fisheries New Zealand’s Deputy Director Dan Bolger provides an update on a camera research project that’s been running since 2016 on some boats fishing around Little Barrier and Great Barrier Island. 

The islands are a breeding ground for the black petrel, the seabird species identified as being at the highest risk from commercial fishing. The black petrel is described by the Department of Conservation as unique to New Zealand and vulnerable. 

The briefing, obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act, says in the first three years of data gathered, it was established "seabird captures were about twice as high on the vessels with cameras on board compared to those without cameras installed." 

Nine of the 41 longline vessels targeting snapper in the area volunteered to use the cameras as part of the trial. The trial was initiated and partly funded by the fishing industry, according to the briefing. 

"Seabird captures in the trial fleet were 2.2 times as high when vessels had cameras on board". 

Forest and Bird’s Chief Executive Kevin Hauge said the findings show why cameras are important, even on smaller inshore vessels. 

"Inshore boats are often too small to take government observers, yet they are a big risk to coastal species like albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels, penguins and dolphins," he said. 

Seafood New Zealand chief executive, Jeremy Helson, told Newshub the industry supported and funded much of the project and wants to see better reporting of seabird bycatch. 

"We are aware of the shortcomings in reporting and are supporting government work to improve it."