Storm Stanley, chairman of the paua industry representative group PauaMAC5, questions the validity of the permits.
“The Department has a legal obligation to protect great white sharks, but has authorised the cage dive operators to harm sharks and interfere with their natural behaviour” said Mr Stanley.
"By granting the permits, the Department has made it clear that it has no interest in protecting great white sharks and even less interest in the safety of the local community and paua divers.”
Overseas research shows that shark behaviour is modified by common GWSCDO practices such as luring sharks towards tourists, teasing sharks with baits and decoys, and encouraging them to bump into and attack the cage. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that great white sharks are becoming more aggressive towards boats and people in the waters near Stewart Island.
“Although the permits include conditions, the conditions will not prevent behavioural changes in sharks and do not address the risks for other users of the marine environment. The Stewart Island community now faces an elevated risk from the previously docile great white shark population and has made it clear that they do not want these operations to continue in their backyard”, said Mr Stanley.
“We note that the conditions attached to the permits are simply the outdated and inadequate 2013 Code of Practice, rather than new and enforceable conditions. For example, there is no provision for observer coverage, therefore no monitoring, which will make enforcement of conditions such as they are impossible. We don’t understand why DOC bothered with a consultation process, consultation with community and industry groups was a sham.
“The Department needs to take a good hard look at its priorities. Shark conservation will not be advanced by authorising adventure tourism operations that antagonise and demonise great white sharks”.
“I am especially sickened by the prospect that local families will be afraid to swim or enjoy water sports this summer and that paua divers will be risking life and limb just to make a living. Do we need to wait until someone is hurt by a shark for the regulators to pay attention?” Mr Stanley asked.
“The paua industry urges the Minister of Conservation to intervene by revoking the permits and imposing a moratorium on shark cage diving operations until we can be certain they are safe for sharks and for other users of the marine environment.”