Commercial fishing vessels at greatest risk of encountering the rare Māui dolphin will be required to operate with on-board cameras from November 1 in a bid to strengthen the country's fisheries management system, the Government announced today.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said in a statement today that the Budget would set aside $17.1 million over four years to ensure that fisheries are managed sustainably, compliance is encouraged, and monitoring and verification are increased.
"Māui dolphins are critically endangered. It is estimated just 63 adults remain in our 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," Ms Ardern said.
"It is crucial we act to protect this fragile population of marine mammals. On-board cameras will give us independent, accurate information about the impacts of commercial fishing in this area. It will encourage compliance and ensure fishing practices are sustainable and verified."
Enhanced fisheries management will work in tandem with "other efforts to deal with long term environmental challenges", including "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."
The on-board cameras are expected to encourage the fishing industry to "meet expectations from consumers and overseas regulators about how seafood is caught and how we protect species such as Māui dolphins", she said.
The funding would go towards purchasing, installing and maintaining the cameras, as well as the costs of storing, reviewing and analysing the footage, Mr 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."
Up to 28 vessels will be affected, though the final number will depend on whether they continue to fish using trawl or set nets in the area, Mr Nash said.
"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.
"By December 2019, all commercial fishing vessels will be reporting their catches and positions electronically and in close to real time. This will give us better data about what they catch and where."
Legislation is expected to be introduced later this year after public consultation on the rules governing commercial fishing.
World Wide Fund for Nature New Zealand praised today's announcement but said cameras should be required for every vessel to reduce accidental by-catch.
"This is a great first step to protect Aotearoa's native species but it is only a first step," said CEO Livia Esterhazy.
While protecting the rare dolphins is important, they "are not the only threatened species in our ocean", she explained.
"We believe cameras on every vessel will not only reduce accidental by-catch but will also ensure accountability leading to a sustainable seafood industry," she said. "We look forward to continuing to work with the Government to meet this goal."