Monday, January 19, 2015

Stewart Island - the Gloves are off!

From the Stewart Island News, January 2015.
The shark cage debate caught the attention of some MPs who came down here on a fact-finding
mission and held two meetings at the Hall.

Clayton Mitchell and Fletcher Tabuteau hope to take the case to Parliament and convince the
government to change DoC’s decision.

MPs Clayton Mitchell and Fletcher Tabuteau of NZ First recently visited the island on a fact-finding mission to chat with locals and learn more about the shark cage diving issue here. They held two meetings and discussed their assessment of the situation, fielded comments and questions from attendees, and promised to take the case to Parliament. “This is a unique situation and there should be a moratorium while a study is conducted,” said Mitchell.

One interesting angle Mitchell sees in this issue is the new PCBU (Person Conducting Business or Undertaking) work safety legislation coming out, adopted from Australia, which will have a huge impact on the nation, holding every person accountable for their actions at work. The goal is to reduce work-place accidents by 25 percent by 2020. Mitchell wants to point out to the government that trying to enact this legislation in an environment where shark divers and paua divers share the same work-space poses a logistical nightmare.

The meetings were a bit of “preaching to the choir” as the majority who went are opposed to the cage activities, but it was interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives on the situation.
Charlotte Bates and Diane Smith both demanded to know WHY DoC went ahead and issued the permits. One B&B owner suggested that businesses refuse to accommodate shark tourists, though Mitchell pointed out that could be tricky if the visitor spent five days at a place and then decided to go cage diving on the last day. He also pointed out this could make the Island look inhospitable.
Eamonn Ganley voiced a concern felt by many: ‘The horse has already bolted. The sharks’ behaviour has already changed. How are we going to turn that around?”
Zane Smith responded it could be changed back; and Mitchell replied that we need to try to stop it, as soon as possible, and reverse the damage done if possible.

Paua diver John Hildebrand pointed out that if it is assumed that while a shark boat is operating then dive operations cannot work in the area, that is setting a dangerous precedent for all industries nationwide. Mitchell agreed: ‘It’s ridiculous, it’s like if I open a fish and chips shop across the road from yours and then asked you to stop operating.” John also pointed out that blocking out access to the islands would mean a quota reduction for the paua industry.
Phil Sanford, who had seen a great white at Bragg’s Bay the previous day, pointed out what many long time area fisherman and divers have been saying: the back of Edward’s is a primo spot and why has this essentially been given over to shark cage divers? “They are blocking out use for most of the islands out there – who’s going to want to go paua diving or codding in a small boat now?”

Tabuteau confessed he’d been on the fence about the issue when he came down to the island, and in their caucus some politicians assumed there was more hysteria than reality being reported. But after talking to locals he believes there is a real cause for concern.
Both men are fathers, water-users, and first-time MPs. Micthell has promised to come back to the island for another meeting.
Articles here and here.
And then, there's this.
Community monitoring of shark cage diving operations 

Two Great White Shark Cage Diving Operators (GWSCDOs) were recently granted permits by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to operate in the waters around Edwards Island, despite vocal and sustained opposition from commercial paua divers and a large proportion of the Stewart Island community. Now that the permits have been granted, Stewart Islanders have a strong interest in doing everything possible to minimise the risks that GWSCDOs create for other users of the marine environment. Part of this is to make sure GWSCDOs adhere strictly to the conditions of their permits. DOC can (but doesn’t have to) terminate a permit if any of the permit conditions are breached, including any breaches of the GWSCDO Code of Practice. 

However, the permits don’t require DOC to have observers on all GWSCDO vessels or to undertake any other compliance monitoring. In these circumstances it’s not clear how DOC will detect any breaches of the permit conditions or enforce compliance. The Paua Industry Council (PIC) is therefore urging local paua divers and the Stewart Island community to keep a close eye on the GWSCDOs to make sure that they adhere to their permit conditions and to report any breaches to DOC. This article suggests how GWSCDOs can be monitored by community members and identifies some of the main permit conditions to watch out for. 

Community-based monitoring 
Ways in which the local community can usefully monitor GWSCDO activities include: 
  • Anecdotal information from tourists who have been on GWSCDO vessels; 
  • Observations of changes in shark behaviour around Stewart Island; 
  • Observing GWSCDO activities if you happen to be in a nearby vessel (but avoid interfering with GWSCDO operations); 
  • and Monitoring You Tube and other social media for film clips of GWSCDOs posted by tourists. 
In all cases it is best, if possible, to back up any observations or anecdotal evidence with documentary evidence such as film or photographs. 

Permit conditions to watch out for 
The permits restrict GWSCDOs to operating within 250m of the shore around Motunui/Edwards Island. Any GWSCDOs operating outside this area should be reported immediately to DOC. Shark behavioural change has been attributed mainly to the methods used to attract sharks to the dive site.
Watch out for the following shark-attracting activities, all of which are prohibited by the permit conditions and therefore should be reported to DOC: 
  • Berley which is so coarsely minced that it provides food for sharks; 
  • Sacks of berley hanging from the side of the vessel or from a float or any other device; 
  • Throw baits that are made from anything other than legally obtained fish products; 
  • Throw baits that are pulled into or allowed to drift into the cage; 
  • Use of throw baits before the vessel is anchored; 
  • Use of more than one throw bait at a time; 
  • Use of throw baits after a shark has already been attracted to the boat; 
  • Sharks feeding on or taking the throw bait; 
  • Continued use of throw baits after a shark has taken a bait (if a shark takes a throw bait, no further throw baits can be used on that day); and 
  • Any use of artificial decoys or lures. 
Once the dive is underway, watch out for any diver behaviour that that harasses or is potentially harmful to a shark and also identify any situations where a shark shows signs of becoming distressed or alarmed. In both these cases the dive supervisor is supposed to terminate the dive. 

The permits do not allow commercial filming during GWSCDO trips (separate authorisation must be obtained). 
If you become aware of any commercial filming this should be reported to DOC. 

Other events that should be reported to DOC include all incidents of shark entanglement, shark ingestion of material, sharks becoming trapped or partially trapped in the dive cage, and injuries to sharks. 

Finally, DOC is able to terminate a permit if the GWSCDO causes any “unforeseen or unacceptable adverse effects” on great white sharks. All changes to shark behaviour such as examples of aggression towards people or boats around Stewart Island should therefore be immediately reported to DOC, ideally with documentary evidence. 

Reporting to DOC 
DOC is in the process of setting up a system for members of the public to report any observations about GWSCDOs. Until that process is set up, any observations of breaches in permit conditions, complaints about GWSCDO operations, or shark behavioural changes should be reported to DOC at
It really is a bloody can of worms.
But what riles me most in this communication fiasco is the apparent total absence of DoC, the researchers and the operators. The only viable long-term chance to make this a sustainable industry is to engage the local stakeholders - and on that front, all I can see is a rather abject fail.
Dunno whether it is cowardice or merely stupidity - but they got to do better!

Not impressed!

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