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Shark cage status quo in meantime

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/12/2016

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has put in place a temporary fix to allow shark cage diving off Stewart Island this season while a challenge to it continues.

It said on Friday it has reissued temporary permits and sought undertakings from the operators to preserve status quo.

Shark cage diving, which involves tourists viewing sharks from a cage attached to a boat, was unregulated until DOC introduced a permit system in 2014.

The High Court is considering whether DOC has the authority to issue permits, and if so, whether it should consider public safety when issuing them.

PauaMAC5 Incorporated, which represents the southern paua industry, is seeking a declaration that DOC should consider the safety of other water users when issuing a permit.

DOC said it wasn't in a position to grant the new applications before the season started on December 1 so it had reissued the temporary permits.

"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," DOC's Southern South Island operations director 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," Mr Munn says.

Operators had been telling DOC to hurry up so they could have paperwork in place for this season's operations.

The shark cage diving season traditionally starts at the beginning of December, but operators had been waiting for DOC go-ahead.

Great white sharks are a protected species and about 100 visit Foveaux Strait each year between December and June.

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