Those who dive for paua fish have been long fighting hard for regulations against shark cage diving at Stewart Island. The main reason they have put up such a fierce argument? Cage diving poses a considerable risk to the paua divers, one that many people feel is not worth it at all. The Titi Islands are just off the coast of Stewart Island and are not only used for free diving for food and paua, but also for great white shark, and seal, cage diving.
A diver in a shiny wetsuit has a similar appearance to seals, posing a threat of an attack by a great white shark. Thankfully, despite this risk, only two minor attacks have been recorded over the past 20 years. This number is at risk of increasing because cage diving is known to change the behaviour patterns of a shark. This is because the professional divers who accompany the tourists, (tourists who pay upwards of $600), entice the sharks and attract them with tuna bait, and then meat, to get them swimming up close to the cage. A Paua Industry Council chief executive has said that since this started in 2008, it has changed sharks’ behaviour. He has indicated that even without provocation, sharks have begun attacking boats because it does not take much to provoke or attract them.
This has been somewhat addressed, as the Court of Appeal made a decision on granting permits for cage diving, as well as whether shark cage diving is an offence under the Wildlife Act. Both of the decisions were in the paua divers favour, with no permits being issued and cage diving now an offence.
This is excellent news for paua divers, and their overall safety and well-being, as well as their livelihood, and sustainability of the industry.