Regulation of shark tourism welcomed

Regulation of shark tourism is being welcomed by Dunedin cage-diving operator Peter Scott.

The Shark Dive New Zealand director said he had lobbied the Government for five years to have rules established in the industry.

Speaking from Stewart Island yesterday, Mr Scott said he was pleased Conservation Minister Nick Smith had finally acted on the issue.

Dr Smith announced yesterday that permits would be required for all great white shark-viewing tourism businesses, in line with legislation around whale, dolphin and seal watching.

''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.

His announcement came after a meeting on Stewart Island with dive operators, including Mr Scott, and other interested parties on Thursday night.

Mr Scott said the existing code of practice for cage-diving operators was useless because compliance varied.

''A permit system keeps everybody playing by the rules, and if they don't I'm sure their permit will be removed. It just gives us more structure within the industry,'' he said.

About 100 great whites visited Foveaux Strait each year between December and June.

Dr Smith said tourism operators had to be aware of, and comply with, best practice around the sharks.

In the past few years there has been increased concern about operators changing the sharks' natural behaviour.

Divers worried sharks were associating boats with food as a result of burley being used to attract sharks to cages.

''There is also concern from wildlife experts that the sharks are being encouraged with the use of bait to attack the cage, causing permanent injury to the sharks,'' Dr Smith said.

The Department of Conservation will inform operators of their need to have a permit under the Wildlife Act, and consult Stewart Islanders about permit conditions to ensure operators do not harm or change the behaviour of sharks.

Dr Smith said there was tension among Stewart Islanders about shark tourism and the solution was to tighten rules for operators.

Mr Scott said his was one of only two commercial cage-diving businesses at Stewart Island and he did not know of any rogue operators.

He has repeatedly rejected claims his operation changed sharks' behaviour.

''I don't know how many permits Nick's looking at dishing out, but it will be good to have a permit system so everyone's on the same playing field and we can get on with business.

''I welcome it with open arms,'' he said.

- rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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