$17million camera programme good for fishing sector not for dolphins


For years I’ve been writing on this blog and elsewhere about New Zealand’s shame in failing Māui and Hector’s dolphins. Here I go again.

On Friday just gone, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash assembled at Auckland’s waterfront to announce cameras on a paltry 28 of the 1000 fishing boats in New Zealand’s waters, with the claim they were taking action to save Māui dolphins.
But no one in the conservation or scientific community, has hailed this as a success or an action that is appropriate given Māui and Hector’s endangered status, and the risks they face in fishing nets. Conservationists and scientists who have been calling for better protection for Māui and Hector’s, and for the Labour-led Government to reinstate the (wider) camera programme they inherited from National, but cancelled, have unanimously given the camera programme announced by the PM, a resounding thumbs down. But why? And shouldn’t we just be satisfied with this modest first step? Are we a bunch of whingers, never satisfied, and shouldn’t we be grateful it’s not National we’re dealing with here?

Across the board, NGOs such as Greenpeace, Forest and Bird, World Animal Protection, Sea Shepherd and others, as well as leading scientists, have all denounced the camera initiative, saying it’s underwhelming, inadequate, a back down to the fishing industry. Indeed, Volker Kuntzsch head of Sanford’s was at the announcement, commending the Government. You know an initiative lacks rigour when the industry being regulated approves of it. Indeed, of all interested parties, the camera programme as announced, is a victory for the fishing industry, not for the dolphins.

Whereas National were proposing a roll out of cameras on all fishing vessels in the Māui and Hector’s habitat, Labour’s proposal covers just up to 28 in Māui’s North Island home. Whereas most industries have to pay for their own monitoring and enforcement, in this case, the ‘Wellbeing Budget’ – you and me – subsidises the fishing sector to the tune of an initial $17million. That’s a cost of about $600,000 a boat. The Government could have funded a switch to dolphin friendly fishing gear for that price, so the camera deal smells like a rort. Most of the core Māui dolphin habitat already has observer coverage – which has come at the cost of observers in the rest of New Zealand, where it’s especially needed, such as in the Hector’s dolphin killing fields, where dozens – even hundreds, of these endangered, endemic dolphins, are killed every year in set and trawl nets, unobserved, and often unreported. The proposed camera programme won’t stop Māui – or Hector’s dolphins being killed. It will just bear witness to those acts. Observation is no substitute for protection.

The Government says, ‘watch this space’, “the upcoming Māui and Hector’s dolphin Threat Management Plan may be the time for more substantive change”. Certainly, all the country’s NGOs, and those from around the world, including international experts, are calling for protection from set and trawl nets in the whole dolphin habitat – not just cameras. That means in water out to 100m deep wherever the dolphins are found around New Zealand, in the ‘dolphin corridor’ between the North and South Islands, and in harbours; essential, and urgent, if the species is to survive.

At least a dozen Hector’s dolphins are known to have been killed in the fishing industry in the last two summers, with indications that the real figure is at least four times as much, but the Ministry of Fisheries has declined to take immediate and interim actions to keep the remaining dolphins safe, pending the TMP review. But so why now, this media occasion announcing the expensive and fisher-friendly camera programme for Māui?

When you’ve got plenty of political capital, why would this government not do what it takes to keep both Māui and Hector’s safe, in an interim measure, rather than this unsystematic, ill-targeted camera programme? Why are the cameras not being rolled out in Hector’s habitat where the risk of net entrapment is so great, and where there are fewest existing observers? Why put on cameras where there are already observers; and where even though Māui numbers are so low, they already have more protection than most Hector’s?

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The answer lies in the economics. I can only suspect it’s because everyone knows Hector’s are getting wiped out in nets, and because there are no observers, that the fishing industry would never accept cameras on those boats. Why would they accept cameras on an industry that could also be closed if the real by-catch costs were once again proven. (Evidence of by-catch was suppressed in the past leading to a Governmental inquiry). The solution – only put cameras on boats where there are already observers, and where the population is so decimated, the chances of seeing a dolphin catch are incredibly slim. Instead, leave the cameras off the majority of the boats doing most of the damage. Don’t rock the boat. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
In Friday’s announcement, the Fisheries Minister said “For me this isn’t just about compliance in any way shape and form. It is about going to the world with a global brand and saying to the world when you buy fish from New Zealand, you are buying from a fishery which is sustainably managed.”

There lies the rub. While the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers a petition from Sea Shepherd for America to ban importation of New Zealand seafood because of Māui dolphin by-catch, the Government and the fishing industry share a podium to claim the high ground and credit for a hollow gesture. It won’t save Māui – or Hector’s dolphins, but it might save the NZ fishing industry reputation.

Many conservationists like me have spent the better part of our lives struggling against the fishing industry and even kind governments, for comprehensive, actual protection of these charming little dolphins only found here. We are told that we should be satisfied with paying millions of dollars for cameras on 28 of 1000 fishing boats. We’re told it’s a good start. We’re told we should be glad it’s not National. Indeed, these cameras should be just a start, and the Threat Management Plan has to deliver more for the dolphins, more for biodiversity, and perhaps less for the fishing industry, if the Government’s credibility on this issue, and the dolphins, are to survive.


  1. ….” The Government could have funded a switch to dolphin friendly fishing gear for that price, so the camera deal smells like a rort. Most of the core Māui dolphin habitat already has observer coverage – which has come at the cost of observers in the rest of New Zealand, where it’s especially needed, such as in the Hector’s dolphin killing fields, where dozens – even hundreds, of these endangered, endemic dolphins, are killed every year in set and trawl nets, unobserved, and often unreported. The proposed camera programme won’t stop Māui – or Hector’s dolphins being killed. It will just bear witness to those acts. Observation is no substitute for protection ”…


    Back around 1972 , a Hectors dolphin stranded on the mud flats of The Huia, West Auckland , I was around 9 years old at the time, and The Huia was and still is my spiritual homeland and my territory. I have an affinity with indigenous people the world over because of that and it was damn near a capital offense in my mind to call a native of The Huia an ‘Aucklander’. A native of The Huia knew they were on the way home as soon as they passed Titirangi and entered that deep , dark , cool and calming luxuriant native forest once again and those weirdo , wacko Aucklander’s rat race were being left far behind.

    I’m sure Tim Shadbolt and Leo Thompson felt something similar at the time.

    Hi Docky !- I still remember you as that cool hippy kid up at the commune. Leo’s son .

    We locals converged on the Hectors dolphin armed with buckets and along with those wonderful bearded , long haired ‘back to the land’ scruffily dressed conservationist types , several officials , dam and park rangers and concerned and keenly interested locals proceeded to do our damdest to keep that ‘big fish’ hydrated. All of us came down from the hills and out of the woodwork to aid that big fella. Amid listening to the various adults opinions, which were based on common sense and knowledge of the tides, we did our best to keep him alive , and prayed for the tides to float him back out again to safety.

    The Huia and the Manukau. Region of NZ’s biggest maritime disaster, the Orpheus.

    My place and the home of many colourful locals , many at that time of old pioneer type stock.

    The Huia is a magical place and its Bay was often a refuge for marine animals that were sick or ailing , being the first stop when the great tides flooded in to fill that ancient volcano gouged scarp, from petrels to rare whales… or the land itself was a dumping ground of those wacko Aucklanders abandoning unwanted pups , one of which was a wire haired terrier we adopted bringing our wolf pack up to three. He was a favorite of our big German Shepherd. We ended up nursing a petrel that seemed to fail to learn to fly for around 6 months,… trying to teach it to fly by hurling it off the local swing bridge into the water below … We think he finally learnt because he started to fly for some distances out of panic and the last time I saw him was happily floating on the waters of The Huia’s Bay when we sadly set him free…

    Back to the Hectors dolphin, … well ,…school at Laingholm Primary on Monday called ( my , how school seemed irrelevant to a native of The Huia ! ) ,… and I was removed from important local events , ( not Auckland’s – The Huia’s ! ) though asked my Huia Dam Ranger father how it was all going,… I heard that he didn’t make it and that scientists were doing autopsy’s to learn more about his kind… it was a crestfallen type of moment for those of us involved…

    As for the dolphin himself, his skin was smooth and a light blueish grey , around 5 feet long as I remember (he seemed big to me as a child though not what I expected as he was ‘small’ in a child’s mind for a ‘whale’ – and mighty peculiar looking ,- even ugly !) he was incredibly stocky compared to his length and his long thin beak or nose abruptly stuck out from his massive head, being around 8-9 inches long ?… you could detect he was looking at us yet was … ailing. Possibly a combination of illness and fear at being surrounded,.. so we were mindful of that.

    And its because of those wonderful memory’s of The Huia and the big fella that I have often googled NZ’s small endangered whale and dolphin species as an adult and wondered how they are faring,.. usually coming away with a sense of absolute disgust and cynicism at the decades of governmental lack of concern that once an animal species is extinct, it is gone forever.

    We had trawlers out there on the Manukau regularly putting out to sea in the 1970’s, braving the treachery that is the West coast of NZ. One of my sons good friends spends 3 months and more at sea on a large fishing vessel 200 kilometers from the Antarctic… I have nothing but respect for them. Them in their early twenties and the captain only barely approaching his thirties. Its not a life of ease to procure food that way and to develop our fisheries legitimately. It is fraught with various perils due to isolation and inclement environs.

    But here’s the thing: because of the wonderful gift of living in The Huia from 1970 to 1988, I was privy to another world entirely , that had nothing to do with drugs , crime or materialism and as as deer culler once said to me , ‘ the bush teaches you no wrong’ and at age 9 , I had a conservationist awakening with the big grey fish that beached itself in The Huia Bay. Now that big fella had an impact,… and 50 years from now?

    I would like to see future generations of 9 year olds experiencing the same sort of wonder I did way back in 1972. Preferably with seeing our healthy wild brethren swimming , flying and running free and happily without interference from us. We owe it to ourselves and our wild brethren in the skies, the water and the land to be good stewards and guardians of them.

    Because without them ,… we will MOST CERTAINLY perish as a species eventually ourselves.

    Either physically , mentally , emotionally or spiritually.

    We’ve wreaked enough havoc on our wildlife.

    And as Midnight Oil said ,… its time to ‘give it back’,… or at least , not act like a damn bull in a china shop and show some bloody respect.


    • There have been no Maui dolphin deaths attributed to commercial netting since 2002!! Check DOC. figures on dolphin interactions on their website for the real truth and not the rubbish written by wacky university nuts who know nothing of the actual fishing methods and have never been out there on the water where Maui habit. I have fished the lower Waikato river mouth for the the last 40 years and have never seen nor know anyone who has seen a Maui dolphin in the river.

  2. The emotion and mis-information that floods every conversation about fishing vessel interactions with marine mammals and seabirds has become something of a contemporary hysteria.

    The $17 million is greenwash, no more or less. And intended to seduce a few more votes from the touchy feelies. Cameras will not reduce dolphin interactions any more than onboard observers have been able to do. They will certainly not reduce mortalities. Like observers, cameras offer evidence that fishing vessels are not killing dolphins. That evidence is already available for the fleet now subject to video surveillance.

    The $17 million is not for cameras – it is for the supporting infrastructure and cameras – and an infrastructure that will support additional video surveillance in future.

    The $17 million was not a gift to the fishing industry as implied – it is money to set-up up the video surveillance system that will from year 2 be cost recovered from the fishing industry. Read the fine print on the MPI web site.

    The announcement was made without any formal consultation with anyone, let alone the operators of the 28 vessels that will now be subject to video surveillance. There is case law to show that such declarations are ultra vires – the Minister cannot discriminate conditions on the same classes of permit holders unless there is an amendment to the Fisheries Act.

    Volker and Sanford are desperate to ingratiate themselves with politicians and officials because the company inshore fisheries equity is in the Hauraki Gulf and there is increasing pressure to further restrict bottom contact fishing methods across that area. SNA 1 is not economical to catch on hooks alone. Always follow the money.

    This balls-up is on Nash’s watch – not the first and wont be the last. And the hypocritical Sarah Dowie weighing in on this just adds to the pathos. Bad decision; dud investment; no consideration of principal causes of dolphin mortalities as well documented.

    • Well we know these little fellas live and breed close to our shores,… why not an embargo on fishing within designated limits? I favour the Japanese system whereby they create artificial reefs made of old tires or concrete hollow cubes ( even better ) to encourage the natural breeding cycles of commercial fish species and as a spin off,… those species that maintain a balance , – such as Hectors and Maui dolphins…

      I also favor harsh penalties for those making premeditated infraction’s on those areas designated for the maintenance of our fisheries stocks,… they are simply acting as plunderers and pirates , so no sympathy for them whatsoever.

      Set your godammned nets far afield and ply your trade in legitimate areas…. no different from the days of the Tohunga or the village shaman. We all need to work together to protect vital natural stocks that have no advocacy. And every fatality of an endangered species must be logged and reported. Irrespective if that means a fine. It was your choice to fish in those waters. Learn to pay the price and man up.

      Because those species that have been there for thousands of years were there for a specific reason, – to maintain balance. And if that balance is upset , we, as the human species, … will assuredly suffer in the long term. Its that simple.


      Surely , … our fishery fleets can do better than it has been doing,… perhaps an upgrade and a tax incentive to travel further afield than it currently does , as my example of fishing 200 kilometers from Antarctica in my above post has shown , – where those boys really work bloody hard and honest for their livings…

      There is NO EXCUSE for some lazy arsed fleet leader to be POACHING close inshore for mere profits at the expense of our fragile and endangered native fauna.

      None whatsoever.

  3. Fuck this pisses me off.

    My Dad , who was a long time yachty on the Waitamata in his youth , a young Naval base worker , a greens-man and later one of The Huia Park / Dam rangers was a diligent old time conservationist… he went above and beyond his duty in ensuring that folk didn’t take more than their legal fair share of shellfish in The Huia before the days of Police backed Fisheries Officers ,… he did so alone and pitted against whole family’s of poachers.

    And I respect him for that.

    He discovered BOOTLOAD’S full of shellfish in cars. Way beyond the numbers of poachers required to fill those bootload’s.

    He could have earned a cracked and split head for his lone efforts.

    I picked up a lot from his and his fellow Rangers attitudes about conserving our natural resources. If anything, that was the main thing I learnt. To show some respect for a resource that lacks the same sort of advocacy that land based animal rights activists demonstrate today. And it extrapolates to not just our marine life,… it is land based as well.

    We need to steward our natural resources well. They are NOT infinite.

    FFS they are not !

    It is a sign of a mature nation / tribe / people that finite natural resources are managed well.

    To date , – New Zealand’s extinction rate has been ABYSMAL.

    Its time to reverse that.

  4. The Adern government will do what all governments do: promote busines as usual.
    At this late stage in the game that amounts to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic whilst making the overall predicament worse.

    We are in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction Event, with vertebrate life forms in the oceans in the front line. Humans are not far behind.

    ‘The Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the sixth mass extinction or Anthropocene extinction, is a current event, and is one of the most significant extinction events in the history of the Earth.’


  5. I wonder which govt will take responsibility when the last Maui or Hector’s dolphin is killed, and the species is finally extinct??

    All because no one had the balls to stand up to the fishing industry, where most of the catch is shipped of to fucking China to be processed


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