Administrative delays threaten shark-cage diving, whale watching

Members of the industry are concerned that boat-based whale watching and White shark cage-diving activities could cease to operate when the current permits expire as no provision has been made to renew these permits.

Operators are concerned that boat-based whale watching and White shark cage diving activities could cease when the current permits expire
Operators are concerned that boat-based whale watching and White shark cage diving activities could cease when the current permits expire

The permits for boat-based whale watching and White shark cage diving expire at the end of July and August respectively.

On Wednesday, Beverley Schäfer, MPP and Democratic Alliance Western Cape Spokesperson on Economic Opportunities, Tourism and Agriculture, warned that thousands of jobs were at stake if the Department of Environmental Affairs did not put in place an application process for new permit allocations. “These industries are a crucial part of South Africa’s tourism offering, and provide much-needed employment for local coastal communities, particularly in the Western Cape,” she said.

Shaheen Moolla, who is the legal adviser to the Great White Shark Protection Foundation as well as the Boat Based Whale Watching Association, toldTourism Update the industry was concerned and frustrated. He explained that when the permits expired, these activities would cease if no further provision had been made. He pointed out that operators would not be able to legally carry out these activities, while travellers would not be insured for these activities if the operators did not have the required permits.

Moreover, Moolla emphasised that many operators had advance bookings from international tourists. Should the department fail to renew the permits on time, the reputational damage to South Africa would be considerable, he said. He added that thousands of tourists came to SA for shark cage diving and the country was considered the whale-watching capital of the world.

Both Moolla and Schäfer pointed out that the department had had five years to put a new permit allocation process in place. Moolla said that just over a year ago, the industry raised its concerns with the department, but was told not to worry. He emphasised that the department was unlikely to allocate permits in time and had not communicated what measures would be put in place for the interim period. “As the regulator, they have the responsibility of ensuring continuity.

“We are particularly frustrated as an industry because, on the one hand, we are constantly told that we need to invest and transform and empower, and we do all these things and then permits aren’t issued,” said Moolla. “Industry is stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he said, adding that the lack of certainty prevented operators from planning and taking bookings.

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ Thobani Popose told Tourism Update the department would be engaging with the permit holders and before the permits expired and there shouldn’t be any concerns. However, he did not commit to the permits being renewed before the current ones expired. “We will have a stakeholder consultation process very soon,” he said, adding that during this process the department would explain the roadmap and the process towards the next permit allocation. “There will be no rights holders who would not be able to exercise their activities due to the fact that we are still implementing a roadmap.”

“The Department of Environmental Affairs has appointed a service provider to administer and implement the allocation process, but to date no communication has been received by the industries on how they should apply, despite their current permits expiring,” said Schäfer. “With the recent positive developments in the tourism sector, we cannot let red tape by the National Department of Environmental Affairs get in the way of growing the economy and enabling people to access much-needed jobs in the coastal communities.”

Tourism Update

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