13 Jun 2011

Tonga limits numbers of operators in whale watching industry

4:02 pm on 13 June 2011

The Ministry of Tourism has issued 20 licences to whale watching operators in Tonga for the coming season as the government tightens controls on what's become a lucrative tourist attraction.

Since whaling was banned in 1978 Tonga has become an important breeding ground for whales.

Twelve licences were issued to operators in Vava'u compared to 18 last year with the Whale Watching Association calling for tighter regulations around who should qualify to run tours.

The Chief Executive of the Ministry of Tourism Sakopo Lolohea says whale watching generates a lot of money.

"The last information that I have I think this industry which runs from July to October contributes something like three or four million to the local economy so it is a very important and significant contribution for that time of the year."

Sakopo Lolohea says officially declaring Tonga as a whale sanctuary is in the pipeline.