Support for shark cage diving decision

The Court of Appeal has ruled 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 and two companies - Shark Dive New Zealand and Shark Experience.

Paua Industry Council chief executive officer Jeremy Cooper welcomed the decision, saying ''having sharks primed and ready to hurt people is not a good look.''

However, Mr Cooper said the decision showed the Wildlife Act was no longer fit for purpose.

''It was produced 65 years ago, when everyone was killing great whites.''

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Stewart Island tour operator also supported the move.

Sharks were increasingly likely to approach boats and people in the water since the diving began, the operator said.

''We've noticed a change in behaviour, definitely.''

''I think the sharks come first ... they should be left alone.''

Shark Dive NZ operator Peter Scott said yesterday he would not comment until he had spoken with his lawyer.

Shark Experience did not return a request for comment from the Otago Daily Times.

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

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

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

PauaMAC5 supported the move, but said 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 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 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

- Additional reporting by RNZ


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