DOC’s Southern South Island Operations Director Allan Munn says DOC wasn’t in a position to grant the new applications before the season started on 1 December.
DOC sought undertakings from the operators that they would work under the status quo while the permit process was worked through.
“We have now issued permits which will run through until the end of the shark cage diving season in August 2017 or until the High Court makes its ruling on the permitting process,” Allan Munn says.
The High Court is still considering whether DOC has the authority to issue permits for shark cage diving, and if so, whether it should consider public safety when issuing permits.
Allan Munn says the terms and conditions of the permits will remain the same, with the added condition that from the middle of February 2017, operators will also be required to install video cameras on their vessels. The footage must be made available to DOC on request.
“This will give us a good opportunity to further scrutinise how the activity is carried out and see whether any changes are needed to the Code of Practice,” Allan Munn says.
“The process for issuing the permits has been complex and further complicated by the legal proceedings before the High Court,” he says.
“We have always tried to balance everyone’s interests and our responsibility is ultimately to ensure the sharks are not harmed by this activity.”
Great white sharks are a protected species. About 100 sharks visit Foveaux Strait each year between December and June.
Shark cage diving involves tourists viewing sharks from a cage attached to a boat. This activity was unregulated for several years before DOC introduced the permitting system in 2014. Under the Wildlife Act, DOC controls, manages and monitors impacts on great white sharks.
Given the protected status of great white sharks, cage dive operators must ensure their operations meet a Code of Practice that ensures the wellbeing of these sharks.