With the inshore on-board camera rollout now well underway, the NZ Federation of Commercial Fishermen has partnered with the Seafood NZ Inshore Council to provide fishers with the first set of guidelines issued this week.

They are practical ‘need to know’ guides to how Government video analysts will select, review and refer footage, to determine acceptable or unacceptable practice and behaviour.

This is another productive step forward, and industry-led. The intention is typical of the frontline-focussed, pragmatic role of the Federation for its members – to inform fishers about guidelines and support them in educating their crew, fine-tuning their fishing practice.

The guidelines might even serve as a bit of a reality check for some busy fishers who are still in the queue for cameras between now and February 2025. Using relatable language, the Federation likens cameras to having an MPI fisheries observer on board, asking fishers to consider what their fishing might look like to video analysts at the other end of the action.

In June, Seafood NZ’s CEO Dr Jeremy Helson wrote in the NZ Herald, about why the fisheries sector welcomes integrated camera and AI technology. To recap, AI offers huge potential for good in the commercial fishing sector. We can see a future where AI, linked to drones or underwater sensors, guides vessels to the most productive fishing spots, helps fishers avoid marine mammals, keeps trawl nets flying above or lightly on the seafloor, and more.

The Fisheries Industry Transformation Plan, finalised last month, is also a springboard from which this potential can be realised.

We’ve been ready for cameras for quite some time – now we’re getting on with it and looking forward to the opportunities they might bring, in terms of increased transparency, but also the first steps in exploiting technology to streamline paperwork and help us be more efficient when coupled with AI and other advancements.

The Federation / Seafood NZ Inshore Council’s guidelines go some way towards answering questions fishers and industry have had about the camera roll-out from the start of the planning and throughout the consultation processes, submissions and meetings with Government and industry.

While saying ‘yes’ to cameras, we made a clear recommendation and call to align camera policy with the Fisheries Amendment Bill as a useful science-based fisheries management tool as well as a ‘purer’, additional monitoring and compliance tool. These cameras are a $68M investment, of which $10M in costs will be recovered from fishers.

Industry and fishers have been asking basic – and very understandable – questions about how footage will be taken, stored, shared, distributed and used.

The guidelines describe, at this point of time in the camera roll-out, how footage is selected (a mix of random and targeted selection) and how and where footage will be referred to senior video analysts for review – at either Fisheries New Zealand, the Department of Conservation, NZ Police, or Maritime NZ.

Also, the substantial penalties, fines and enforcement processes are usefully summarised for each ‘type’ of potential referral.

We have offered an open line of communication with fishers – they are encouraged to get in touch with the Federation, or us at Seafood NZ, if they have questions or concerns. Let’s keep talking – one of the biggest positives we see for cameras remains the potential to integrate them with AI and other technology for better fisheries management.

Technology doesn’t sit still, so we aren’t either.