Shark cage diving prohibited in Kouga

By: Bev Mortimer

No shark cage diving of any kind will be allowed in Kouga.

This is according to Zolile Nqayi of the Department of Environmental Affairs, who has dispelled local speculation that this law was only applicable to ‘white’ shark cage diving.

But Nqayi stressed that no blue, brown or any other coloured shark cage diving will be permitted in Kouga.

St Francis and many Kouga residents were up in arms over the idea of a proposed shark cage diving operation and a petition was widely circulated on FB  and by email  by the Seal Point Boardriders Association at Cape St Francis that said it was sending the list of objectors and an objection to the Department.

Nqayi pointed out there had been no applications recently for shark cage diving in St Francis or elsewhere in Kouga. The current licence period for shark cage diving expires in July next year, he said.

Companies wanting to carry out cage diving can apply after that date but none will be granted for the Kouga area, Nqayi stressed.  When asked if an applicant could apply next year for a blue or brown shark cage diving permit in St Francis (instead of for white shark diving), he said such an application will not be granted either.

 “Jeffrey’s Bay, St Francis Bay and the Cape St Francis region are not designated for white shark cage diving under the regulations relating to the Management of White Shark Cage Diving,” he said. “Current designated areas where white shark cage diving activity is permitted and allowed are: Seal Island, False Bay; Dyer Island, Gansbaai; Quoin Rock, Quoin Point; Seal Island, Mossel Bay; and Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth.”

The Department in a press release last month said it noted with concern false allegations about a pending permit application for a white shark cage diving operation in Jeffrey’s Bay, St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis region.

Permits for white shark cage diving are allocated every five (5) years from the date of the previous allocation. A fresh invitation for applications for white shark cage diving permits only occurs every 5 years. Permits are allocated to any person who in response to an invitation placed in the government gazette, satisfies the criteria and objectives set out in the regulations and policy for the management of white shark cage diving. The current permits will only expire July 2016 and an invitation for interested parties to apply will be advertised in the current financial year.

Scores of St Francis  and Jeffreys Bay are against this kind of operation in a holiday town where most businesses rely on tourism to survive. Most believe cage dive operators use chumming  (throwing food in the sea to attract sharks for tourists to watch), which will in turn cause more shark activity in the area and be a danger to bathers and surfers.

The proposed shark cage venture actually was a bone of contention before Australian surfer, Mick Fanning’s shark encounter at neighbouring Jeffreys Bay (35 kms away by road) during the World Surfing event, the JBay Open.

When the story first started circulating on the area’s ‘village grapevine’ it was considered as no more than a rumour.  But following Fanning’s’ miraculous and narrow escape from a shark’s jaws, the majority of the St Francis Bay community is even more set against preventing any such operation from going ahead.

It was reported last month that a St Francis resident wished to apply next year and start the operation, reported to be a million dollar industry.

Seal Point is a famous surfing spot in Cape St Francis and the surfers there are dead set against any application for shark diving.

 “The potential danger to our lives is the reason we’re opposed to this shark cage diving permit potentially being issued,” said Seal Point Board Riders Chairman Dave Fish.

“Between J-Bay, St Francis and Seal Point there are a number of world class waves, and the number of surfers that visit the area far outnumber the potential visitors who’ll come to shark cage dive,” Fish says. “We don’t want to lose out on the tourism to the area because the shark situation becomes out of hand and surfers are too afraid to visit. Already we’ve had concerned mothers phoning us worried about their kids should things go ahead. It’ll be detrimental not only for the surfing community but the area as a whole.”

“Shark cage diving poses a potential threat to human life and as such could have a dramatic adverse effect on the world acclaimed Jeffrey’s Bay, St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis region. These areas depend on national and international tourism and the local economy is built on this cornerstone. Every year the area hosts international and national surfing competitions and is one of the homes of development surfing in South Africa.

“With this in mind we believe shark cage diving should never receive any consideration for this area given that the departments policy is to err on the side of caution.”

St Francis Bay Residents Association at its  monthly meeting unanimously agreed that it would object in the strongest possible way to such an activity (shark cage diving) taking place in St Francis Bay.  And St Francis Bay Tourism also came out strongly against any shark cage divining activity taking place in St Francis.

A letter signed by the organisation’s chairman, Brian Codling states the local tourism committee is unanimously oppose to shark diving in the area. “St Francis is long renowned as a destination for open water sport and attracts many families and young people to enjoy these facilities. It is felt shark cage diving will put this reputation at risk,” Codling said, adding that the letter had been sent to Kouga Municipality.

Residents opposed to shark cage diving voiced their opinions on FB. Here are a few… “Absolute madness!”; “Where is the petition, I want to sign it?” ;  “This must not be allowed to happen. Our families and children surf here.”

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