Scuba divers to pay

By JENI FAULKNER

IMAGINE having to pay to go surfing or swim in the ocean for a day.

It may sound ludicrous but it wasn't all that long ago you could drop a line off the jetty for free. That was until the sting of a fishing licence.

And, with the State Government proposing to establish a scuba diving fee, exploring the big blue appears to be getting more and more expensive.

Under the proposal divers will pay an annual fee of $30, similar to that of the recreational anglers. This money will be put into a trust and funds could be used to protect critically endangered grey nurse sharks.

Despite this though, dive shop owners are outraged by the proposal and the Nature Conservation Council has called for a complete boycott.

Mike Davey from the Jetty Dive Centre said the proposal would cripple the industry as many divers could give up their sport all together.

"This will stop occasional divers using the ocean because they won't bother anymore," Mr Davey said.

"I used to go fishing every now and then, but now I don't anymore because of the licence regulations."

On paper Mr Davey agrees the proposal sounds good, it mentions protection of endangered grey nurse sharks, but he argues this is 'pie in the sky' tactics.

"There is no possible way the revenue raised from a tax like this would generate enough money to protect grey nurse sharks," he said.

"In general terms the money would create about $150,000 a year and, to conserve grey nurse sharks, you would need 10 times this amount."

Mr Davey said all dive shop owners and general divers support anything which protects grey nurse sharks, but this proposal was definitely not one of them.

"It will start with us having to pay a fee to walk into the water and then people will have to pay to snorkel," Mr Davey said.

"Then what happens to the recreational users like surfers, or those using kayaks? Will they be forced to pay to use the water too?"

Mr Davey believes the proposal is a moral issue and divers are being targeted.

"Instead of introducing a fee the Government should just introduce better protection zones for sharks," he said.

"I went diving yesterday and I saw a total of 12 grey nurse sharks at South Solitary Island. At least six of them had fishing lines hanging from them."

Mr Davey said it was a proven fact that sanctuary zones increase in fish population when they are left alone and fishermen should not be concerned about losing areas.

"The problem with going vocal on this issue is that it often appears divers are in opposition to fishermen," Mr Davey said.

"We don't want to cause conflict with sanctuary zones and fishermen, we just feel that divers are a small population of people being targeted and that everyone is concerned about losing these beautiful creatures."



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