Permits now needed for sharks

New rules have been announced for the shark diving industry.
New rules have been announced for the shark diving industry.

@devlincolle Stewart Island shark dive tourism operators have welcomed new rules to tighten up the industry.

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith announced today tourism businesses viewing great white sharks will be required to have a permit in the same way as for whale, dolphin and seal watching.

The concerns and problems around great white shark tourism businesses had developed to the point where regulation is necessary, he said.

The announcement follows meetings with the tourism operators and concerned divers on Stewart Island.

The issue about great white sharks was causing tension within the Stewart Island community, between those supporting the tourism operators and those concerned about the risk to divers and others from shark attacks, he said.

''There are reports of people deliberately killing the great whites even though they are a protected species. The solution lies in tightening the rules around shark tourism operators and taking a firm approach against anybody deliberately killing these sharks.

"There is a place for tourism operators that enable people to see these magnificent great white sharks in the wild, but a permit system is needed to ensure it is done responsibly,'' he said.

About 100 great white sharks frequent the Foveaux Strait each year between December and June to feed off the large fur seal breeding colony.

During the past few years, new businesses have developed that see tourists placed in a viewing cage off the boat, he said.

"These fledgling tourism businesses have developed in an environment lacking appropriate controls. The concern of the divers is that the use of burley and feeding to attract the sharks to the viewing cages will change the behaviour of the great whites to expect food around boats - putting divers at greater risk.''

There was also concern from wildlife experts that the sharks were being encouraged with the use of bait to attack the cage, causing permanent injury to the sharks.

Tourism operators interacting with wildlife needed to be cautious of changing the behaviour of wildlife. 

DOC would  be writing to the shark cage tourism operators notifying them of the requirement to have a permit under the Wildlife Act.

The Department will also be consulting the Stewart Island community on the details of permit conditions to ensure these tourism operators do not change the behaviour nor harm these great white sharks.

Shark Dive NZ director Peter Scott said regulation was a good idea and he had been asking for it for years.

It would mean compliance, which would make the industry safer for everyone.

''Some people will have to behave,'' he said.

It would also ensure the safety of the sharks, which was a priority, he said.

The industry needed regulating, which would come with the permit.

''There needs to be a push on the regulations of how the Great Whites are treated to protect them further,'' he said.

He believed the permits would do nothing to calm the angst of the Stewart Island community.

''There has always been animosity there and we have been living with the threat of killing will probably never change but we have got to change the attitude of the people.''

Mike Haines from Shark Experience, which also operates off Stewart Island said permits were a brilliant idea. 

It would mean a safer industry, he said.

The Stewart Island community needed to look ''outside the square,'' he said.

Shark diving was bringing money into the community but it had been a bit of a sticking point for them, he said.

An understanding with Stewart Island paua divers needed to be reached.

''We need to consider a dedicated Island to conduct our business ... sticking to one site for diving.''

He was unsure if the permits would mean a price increase for tourists.



The Southland Times