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A fisherman emptying a net full of fish into hold on trawler. (Photo: Getty Images)
A fisherman emptying a net full of fish into hold on trawler. (Photo: Getty Images)

OPINIONPoliticsSeptember 25, 2020

Russel Norman: Enough with the delays, it’s time to put cameras on fishing boats

A fisherman emptying a net full of fish into hold on trawler. (Photo: Getty Images)
A fisherman emptying a net full of fish into hold on trawler. (Photo: Getty Images)

With Stuart Nash kicking the can down the road to 2024, the oceans have lost out in favour of fishing corporations yet again, writes Russel Norman.

A few weeks ago the minister of fisheries, Stuart Nash, backed into a corner by John Campbell’s relentless reporting on the state of our fisheries, announced more funds would be provided to try to get cameras on New Zealand’s commercial fishing fleet.

Finally, 14 years since cameras were first trialled and seven years since cameras on boats were promised under National, it seemed that New Zealand might join other fishing nations and get a programme to verify corporate catch. 

It seemed like a win for our long-suffering marine environment, for our threatened seabirds, dolphins and fish populations. Finally, a system that regulates an industry that has so far got off the hook. But is it?

Contrary to some uncritical reports that suggest otherwise, this announcement is another cop-out, passing the parcel further down the line again.

Instead, it was just another attempt by Nash to save political face following that leaked phone call in June, where he was heard admitting that New Zealand First has been blocking the cameras programme. In the call, Nash confirmed what many of us have long suspected: that it is NZ First who pulls the strings on fishing regulation, and not the fisheries minister himself.

Nash’s recent announcement is a scramble to prove he’s really in control; that there’s no ghost fishing minister at the helm. 

But if he’d really wanted to save his political bacon and better still, do what needs to be done to protect the oceans, he would have actually put cameras on all boats. Instead, we’re seeing the can kicked down the road to 2024. Even then, the funds amount to cameras for just a third of New Zealand’s commercial fleet. There is no guarantee that it will actually happen.

Nash’s implementation date takes us to two elections’ time, when the political landscape could look very different and someone else may well be steering the ship. If he cares about this policy at all, why not get it done on his watch? 

Time and again under this government and previous, the oceans have lost out in favour of fishing corporations. We’ve seen policies and regulation watered down or delayed, while weak commitments are presented as triumphs. We’ve seen the fishing industry protected on the domestic and international stage, while the oceans continue to decline and species are pushed to the brink. 

Compare this to when the current government decided to stop approving new offshore oil and gas exploration permits. It passed legislation to bring that decision into effect in this term of parliament. If a government says it might do something in a couple of elections’ time, then it is not credible.

Repeatedly, we’ve seen evidence to show that cameras work when it comes to getting more accurate reporting on fisheries. That is precisely why the commercial fishing companies are opposed to them.

With so many of our native marine species under threat, fish populations collapsing and ecosystems in trouble, we can no longer sit by and watch the government buy for time. If we want to be the environmental leaders we say we are, it’s time for those in power to make the bold moves to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises we face.

Environmentalists, customary fishers, recreational fishers and New Zealanders across the country cherish our blue backyard. Enough with dangling the bait, we need a government that has the conviction and courage to actually implement an independent cameras programme across the full commercial fishing fleet.

Russel Norman is the executive director of Greenpeace Aotearoa, and the former co-leader of the Green Party

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