New Zealand fisherman and conservationists clash over bycatch

22nd Jan 2018

A proposal to put cameras aboard fishing vessels to prevent bycatch has started a debate about whether the footage should be in the public domain, as many fear it could be misunderstood or misused.

A spokesperson for New Zealand's Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash told the BBC the minister had "not seen a compelling case" that the bycatch footage should be kept from the public.

Many conservationists believe the public should know about the footage these cameras are picking up and the true scale of the threat posed to native species the Hectors dolphin. Authorities in New Zealand monitor the environmental impact of commercial fishing and not reporting bycatch incurs a fine, and in some cases a fishing ban.

The government have planned that eventually every vessel will be equipped with monitoring cameras to better understand the threat of bycatch, and the public could then request access to the footage. However, in a letter written last year to the government, representatives from the fishing industry worried if the footage was made public it  "could be reduced down to a collection of stark instances to create a distorted and misleading picture of the seafood industry".

In the UK bycatch has been a problem for decades and, despite being protected under European law and the UK having a national cetacean bycatch strategy, thousands of marine mammals are accidentally caught in the fishing gear and die every year. In ORCA’s The State of European Cetaceans 2017, we looked at the tragic fate many victims of bycatch face, and are continuing to work with partner organisations to encourage the government to take action so the number of cetacean’s deaths are prevented and reduced in the UK. ORCA are also a member of the bycatch subgroup in Wildlife & Countryside Link, working to address the issue in the UK.