NZ Divers at risk from sharks

by SCOT MACKAY, The Southland Times.
12 July 2011

Southern paua divers are worried it will take someone being killed by a great white shark before the Government enforces restrictions on tourism dive operators.

Paua divers and shark dive operators have been working with government agencies for several years to get restrictions imposed on caged shark diving.

Several agencies are looking to form a diving code of practice.

However, Southland divers say a no-teeth approach will not keep them safe.

Paua Management Area Council 5 chairman Storm Stanley said a code of practice was not legally binding and he queried whether it would take a diver’s death or serious injury to get any real action.

There was a growing number of shark dive operators working around Stewart Island in Foveaux Strait. Feeding sharks bait to get divers a closer look was putting lives at risk because sharks would start associating people with food, he said.

The Department of Conservation had the power to stop people baiting the sharks because they were a protected species, but even after extended contact with government agencies and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson, nothing was being done to enforce that, Mr Stanley said.

“This is one of those occasions that lives are at risk and I don’t think we can rely on operators to do the right thing – I’m afraid that DOC is going to wait until something happens before they do something decisive,” Mr Stanley said.

Liquid Action Films owner Dave Abbott, who has been working with Shark Dive NZ for several years in the Strait, agreed the Government needed to impose regulations. .

However, a code of practice was a step in the right direction and he expected one in place by summer.

He did not believe cage diving was adding risk to divers’ lives and said operators were not feeding sharks, but were using fish to draw the attention of ones already trawling the area.

Stewart Island paua diver Zane Smith said he had already noticed great whites coming up to boats stopped in the strait to see what was going on and some got close enough to bump them.

“They (operators) are putting too much danger on the recreational and commercial divers and they are changing their (the sharks’) behaviour by feeding them,” he said.

SOURCE:  The Southland Times.


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