February 2015
This report reviews the strategic framework that generates information needs that may be addressed by fisheries observers and evaluates current observer data collection protocols in that context.

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Seabirds gather around the back of a trawl fishing vessel. Seabirds gather around the back of a trawl fishing vessel

INT2013-04 Optimisation of observer data collection protocols final report (PDF, 6, 831K)


The deployment of independent fisheries observers is widely recognised as a key component of best practice fisheries management. In New Zealand, observers have been a critical component of the commercial fisheries management regime since the 1990s. The data collection approaches and protocols used by observers in New Zealand fisheries have generally become more detailed over time, as well as covering a greater number and diversity of protected species groups and fishing gears.

Here, we review the strategic framework that generates information needs that may be addressed by fisheries observers and evaluate current observer data collection protocols in that context. The review covers internationaland national agreements, legislation, policies, management plans, and international approaches to observer data collection, as well as manuals, briefing notes, protocols, and forms used by observers in New Zealand fisheries.

Broadly, the strategic documents reviewed focused on the achievement of sustainability in environmental management and/or the conservation of biological diversity. Information needs that creates for New Zealand in relation to commercial fisheries encompass the characteristics of the fishing operations, the nature and extent of protected species captures, the status of captured animals, the operational and environmental factors that may contribute to captures, and, measures in place to avoid or reduce captures.

Protocols and forms currently used by observers to collect data from New Zealand fisheries partially address these information needs. Scope for improvements includes ensuring clarity and consistency in observer instructions, the addition of new fields or amendments to current fields on current data collection forms, the creation of new forms to capture additional information, and, the discontinuation of forms, fields, and metrics that are redundant or no longer useful. Priority areas in which to improve information collection relate to longline gear and protected species bycatch mitigation, purse seine gear and protected species interactions, mitigation of seabird strikes on trawl warps, cryptic mortality of protected species interacting with commercial fisheries, and coral bycatch. However, the most significant current impediment to meeting information needs is the paucity of observer coverage achieved in some fisheries, especially smaller-vessel fisheries operating in inshore areas. For those fisheries, our limited understanding of protected species interactions compromises New Zealand’s ability to deliver on domestic and international obligations.

To progress the work described in this report, at-sea testing of the proposed forms is required. Overall, regular review of the data collection approaches observers implement, combined with ensuring effective coverage of New Zealand commercial fisheries, will maximise the current and future benefits gained from observer deployments.

Publication information

Pierre, J. P., Thompson, F. N., and Mansfield, R. 2015. Optimisation of protocols employed by New Zealand government fisheries observers for protected species data collection. Report prepared by Dragonfly Data Science for the New Zealand Department of Conservation, Wellington. 79p.


Conservation Services Programme
Department of Conservation
PO Box 10-420
Wellington 6143


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