Tourism businesses viewing great white sharks will be required to have a permit in the same way as for whale, dolphin and seal watching, Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith announced today following meetings with the tourism operators and concerned divers on Stewart Island.
“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,” Dr Smith said.
About 100 great white sharks frequent the Foveaux Straight each year between December and June to feed off the large local fur seal breeding colony. Over the past few years, new businesses have developed that see tourists placed in a viewing cage off the boat.
“These fledgling tourism businesses have developed in an environment lacking appropriate controls. The concern of the divers is that the use of burley and feeding to attract the sharks to the viewing cages will change the behaviour of the great whites to expect food around boats – putting divers at greater risk. 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.
“Tourism operators interacting with wildlife need to be cautious of changing the behaviour of wildlife. That is why DOC regulates boats viewing dolphins, whales and seals. The concerns and problems around these great white shark tourism businesses have developed to the point where regulation is necessary.
“DOC will be writing to the shark cage tourism operators notifying them of the requirement to have a permit under the Wildlife Act. The Department will also be consulting the Stewart Island community on the details of permit conditions to ensure these tourism operators do not change the behaviour nor harm these great white sharks.
“The issue over great white sharks is causing increasing tension within the small Stewart Island community, between those supporting the tourism operators and those concerned about the risk to divers and others from shark attacks. There are reports of people deliberately killing these great whites even though they are a protected species. The solution lies in tightening the rules around shark tourism operators and taking a firm approach against anybody deliberately killing these sharks."