Shark cage diving deemed offence under Wildlife Act

A great white shark and shark cage diver in the ocean off Australia. Photo: Getty Images
The Court of Appeal has now found that shark cage diving is an offence under the Wildlife Act. Photo: Getty Images

The Court of Appeal has ruled that shark cage diving is an offence under the Wildlife Act.

The ruling ends a long running legal stoush between Stewart Island paua divers, the Department of Conservation (Doc) and two shark diving companies - Shark Dive New Zealand Ltd and Shark Experience Ltd .

In 2013, an industry group of Paua divers, PauaMAC5, called for Doc to regulate shark diving in the northern Titi Islands, located off the coast of Stewart Island.

PauaMAC5 said the companies were "pursuing" and "disturbing" the sharks, which posed a significant safety risk to nearby paua divers.

In 2014, the then-minister Nick Smith announced that any shark-diving operations would need a Doc permit.

PauaMAC5 supported the move, but stressed that any permit must be issued with the safety of other water users in mind.

Doc refused, arguing that public safety was outside its obligations under the Wildlife Act.

The act specifies Doc may from time to time authorise any person to "catch alive or kill for any purpose" any protected wildlife.

However in 2016, a high-court judge questioned whether Doc had the power to authorise permits under the Wildlife Act, because shark cage diving did not involve catching or killing sharks.

The Court of Appeal has now found that shark cage diving is an offence under the act, and that the the director-general of Conservation has no power to authorise the activity.

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