Stewart Island shark cage diving creates controversy

Stewart Island shark cage diving creates controversy

Posted in:

Residents’ petition demands immediate halt of shark dives

Great White Shark
Great White Shark

A New Zealand parliamentary select committee has raised concerns about the potential human risk from shark cage diving around Stewart Island. The Local Government and Environment Committee published a report considering a petition calling for the Department of Conservation (DOC) to immediately and permanently cease shark diving. The petition was created by Stewart Island resident Helen Cave and signed by 768 people.

In its report, the committee said the petition raised salient issues worthy of further investigation and supported further research on shark behaviour around Stewart Island. "Some of us remain concerned about the potential risk to human life from shark cage diving operations around Stewart Island, which could be attracting sharks to the areas where people fish and swim."

Allan Munn, DOC director of operations for the southern South Island said DOC's mandate was the protection of the sharks under the Wildlife Act. "It was because of the interactions that we were seeing, the sharks and shark cage divers, that the minister at the time (Nick Smith) decided that a permit would be required." DOC had been working with Maritime New Zealand and Work Safe to deal with any issues arising from the shark cage diving operations, he said.

No evidence

Peter Scott of Shark Dive New Zealand said he could see no evidence that substantiated any of the claims. "Where is the evidence of people changing their behaviour due to the presence of sharks that have lived there longer than humans?" He claimed the DOC gave islanders more weight to their opinions than what the shark cage dive operators were afforded. Dive NZ provided much of the content for the code of practice, and some of the final conditions for the permits arrived to the two operators with conditions that had had absolutely no input from the operators. Where these conditions originated is anyone's guess."

Scott said if shark diving permits were not renewed in August, it would not mean operations would cease.

"The code of practice is voluntary and the company doesn't actually need a permit to conduct the activity. Shark Dive NZ's philosophy is to educate its clients that the Great White Sharks are graceful and elegant fish, that they are sorely misunderstood, and are worthy of the status of protected species. If only the Stewart Islanders felt the same way about the fish."