Posted by on June 24, 2005 at 06:57:29:
SCUBA divers could be forced to swallow a fee as high as $20 each time they plunge into the ocean to watch grey nurse sharks.
The State Government is considering the surcharge for diving in the critical habitat areas of the endangered sharks.
Under the plan, divers with their own boats would also be banned from entering the areas, restricting access to accredited professional dive charter operators.
The Fisheries Department, part of the Department of Primary Industries, is asking divers for their views on the new charges.
Primary Industries Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald told The Daily Telegraph that while no price structure had been set, similar schemes are commonplace overseas.
"In addition, most other recreational users of NSW coastal waters pay a small fee," he said.
Forcing divers to go out only with licensed operators is an attempt to limit the number of people in the water.
"Because of [the shark's] endangered status, the State Government believes some control measures should be in place," Mr Macdonald said.
He said money raised from the fees would go back into research and conservation programs for the grey nurse shark.
Dive shop owner Jack Cavazzini was contacted by the Fisheries Department for his views. "They said it could be a fee per dive or annually and it could be as high as $20 per dive," he said.
"I told them $20 a dive was pretty expensive, especially when some people are only paying $40 to go diving."
Mr Cavazzini, who owns Sundive in Byron Bay, said a fee would be hard to administer and would put people off the sport.
"We do have some impact [on the area] but we try to minimise that – we tell people not to take anything and not to touch anything. There are certain protocols we follow with the grey nurse shark anyway.
"A large proportion of our divers are backpackers and if there's a large increase in price they wouldn't dive here."
Ten critical habitat areas were declared in 2002 for protection of the grey nurse sharks. Fishing has already been banned from these areas and divers are not permitted to dive at night, touch or harass the sharks or use electronic shark repellers.
Grey nurse sharks are listed as critically endangered in NSW and Australia, with fewer than 250 believed left in the wild
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