Fisheries New Zealand is promising more on board cameras for the commercial fishing fleet, as marine advocates ask for better protections for Hector’s and Māui dolphins.

Figures from the Department of Conservation show that since the introduction of cameras in August 2024 10 dolphins have been killed, mostly in set nets or trawlers.

The Hector’s dolphin population is estimated to be 15,700, while Māui dolphins sit at just 54.

Steve Ham from Fisheries New Zealand said 122 vessels have had cameras installed as part of a $68 million initiative, which is half of the entire commercial fishing fleet.

He said there are 38 vessels with cameras on the West Coast of the North Island, and 67 vessels with cameras on the north, east, and south coasts of the South Island.

“The cameras on boats programme is really focused initially on the high-risk areas, so those areas where there’s high interactions with protected species such as Māui and Hector’s dolphins.”

Ham said each vessel has between two and four cameras – depending on the layout of the vessel and fishing methods used.

Fisheries New Zealand employs nine electronic monitoring video analysts to review footage from the on board cameras. There is also a team of three analysts who review footage that is referred to them by the video analysts.

Marine researcher Elisabeth Slooten wants all commercial fishing boats to have cameras on board to monitor what is being hauled in.

“It’s really important to monitor how many dolphins are being killed from fishing – and so from that point of view putting cameras on the boats is a really good idea in addition to observers.

“It’s only boats from 8 to 32 metres the fishermen can opt-out if they say they won’t fish in Māui dolphin habitat,” Slooten told 1News.

In some areas, like where Māui dolphins live, every piece of footage has been reviewed. However, overall only 30% has been checked so far.

Each vessel is subject to 5% of its footage being reviewed at a minimum.

“When the footage comes in over 5500 fishing events have been submitted through to MPI for review, 1700 of those have been reviewed in full,” Ham said.

“One thing with that %5 is that its random and is a blind review, so the chances of something actually being seen are actually quite high.”

Slooten is worried that some fishers will take a punt and not report dolphins being caught and killed.

“There is a case of a fishermen who reported he caught a dolphin and when they looked at the video footage they found he’d caught two dolphins.”

Fisheries New Zealand is hoping to roll out more cameras next year to try to prevent the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphins from swimming closer to extinction.