Fee plan angers scuba divers
By MEGAN KINNINMENT
BYRON BAY scuba divers are unhappy they may have to pay a government fee for the right to pursue their sport.
Bay dive operators say they will fight a NSW Government proposal to charge scuba divers a fee for the right to dive in State waters. It could cripple the industry, operators warn.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has released a discussion paper proposing scuba divers be charged fees to dive in NSW as part of the Government's grey nurse shark recovery program.
In the paper, the DPI acknowledges fishing poses the biggest threat to the protected species, but also claims scuba diving may have potential negative impacts, including disturbance from anchoring, flash photography and repeated visits to the shark's habitat.
With fewer than 500 grey nurse sharks remaining in NSW waters, the fee proceeds would be used to offset the cost of conservation projects.
"Money raised will go directly to research and other projects aimed at protecting the grey nurse shark," the department says.
Byron Bay dive operators say they are already complying with tight regulations governing the shark's habitat, and imposing a fee would do little for conservation aims.
Operators say a fee may kill off the region's thriving dive tourism industry, estimated to inject $3 million a year into Byron Bay's economy.
"We are adamantly opposed to this," said Rob Dalton, own- er/operator of the Byron Bay Dive Centre.
"Dive operators will pay the price through decreased visitation."
Mr Dalton fears the fee will deter visitors from choosing Byron Bay as a dive centre.
"I've had divers tell me already that if this fee is introduced they will rethink diving at Byron and head to south-east Queensland instead, or the Sunshine Coast."
Mr Dalton has been diving for 30 years, a pastime he started as an environmental science student.
He takes issue with claims by the DPI that divers upset the grey nurse population in Byron Bay.
"Very few divers come to Byron specifically to view grey nurse sharks," he said.
"Our busiest season is during summer, and grey nurse sharks are not around then.
"We're happy to work with the Government and conservation groups to resolve any impacts and we already do that, we comply with all regulations."
Mr Dalton says there has been little consultation with the industry, particularly Byron Bay dive centres.
"I've had one informal call from the department back in May and we spoke for 15 minutes," Mr Dalton said.
"This plan could really affect the local tourism economy and yet there's been no real consultation with stakeholders."
The NSW Department of Primary Industries is calling for submissions on the discussion paper.
Comments must be received by December 1 and can be made online at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au