15 Jul 2015

Growing unease over shark cage-diving

6:41 pm on 15 July 2015

People are feeling more uneasy in the water around Stewart Island since shark cage-diving started in the area, according to a local community leader.

The Department of Conservation has carried out a review of the permits issued to two companies to take shark cage-diving tours, amid concerns raised about breaches of the conditions by one of the companies.

Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) an open ocean predator, swimming near diver in cage, California.

Photo: AFP / Biosphoto / Minden Pictures / Norbert Wu

Stewart Island Community Board chair John Spraggon said the diving is done quite close to an urban area, and it is making some locals feel uncomfortable in the water.

Mr Spraggon said in recent times the sharks seem to be taking a lot more interest in boats, and there is concern that it is caused by the sharks being feed by the tour operators.

He said he had not previously been opposed to the shark cage-diving, but would be concerned if the rules aren't being followed.

Paua Industry Council chairman Storm Stanley said Department of Conservation checks found serious breaches of conditions, such as feeding the sharks and allowing them to bump the cages.

Mr Stanley said, when the permits were issued, the Department of Conservation said that if there were any breaches of the conditions, then the permits would be revoked.

He said instead the company has been hit with a wet bus ticket over the breaches.

Mr Stanley said he has no faith in the permit process because of the lack of enforcement.

He said the shark diving puts other sea users at risk, because the sharks are associating humans with getting food.

Department of Conservation's director of Southern South Island, Allan Munn, said some problems were identified in the first checks carried out shortly after the permits were issued, when people were still coming to grips with the system.

"I think December of January was the first breach we dealt with," Mr Munn said.

"But we thought that might be a bit excessive. I wrote to one of the operators and said this has to stop or we will revoke your permit, but since then compliance has been very good."

Mr Munn said he was yet to see the completed report on the follow-up checks, but he was not expecting any of the permits, which are valid for two years, to be revoked.

He said some changes may be made to the conditions.

The operator from Shark Dive NZ said his company has had no reports of breaches from the Department, but would not comment further.

Shark Experience Limited could not be reached for comment.

A public meeting is being held on Stewart Island on Friday night to update people on the outcome of the Department of Conservation's review.

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