Shark cage diving constitutes "hunting or killing" great whites and is therefore an offence under the Wildlife Act, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
The judgement was greeted as a major victory for pāua divers and the local Stewart Island community.
"We've been arguing for many years that shark cage diving creates a risk for other users of the marine environment and that it needs to be properly regulated by the Department of Conservation. Our original case was all about protecting public safety," Storm Stanley, chairman of pāua industry organisation PauaMAC5, said in a statement today.
"Because the Court found that shark cage diving is essentially illegal, the judgement did not directly address public safety. However, the judge said that if shark cage diving were able to be regulated under the Wildlife Act, the Director General must give consideration to the possible effects of shark cage diving on local pāua divers. We’re very happy with that outcome."
The Court found the Director General of Conservation has no power to authorise shark cage diving under the Wildlife Act, effectively putting operations employing the practice out of business for now.
"We're interested to see what the Department does now. They have received a clear signal from the Court that the Wildlife Act, which was enacted 65 years ago, is not fit for purpose in relation to controlling activities such as shark cage diving,” Mr Stanley said.
"We look forward to a broad public discussion to help develop a new law that protects species such as great white sharks, while recognising that the range of ways in which New Zealanders and tourists interact with protected wildlife has changed over time and will continue to evolve."
"In the meantime, Stewart Islanders and pāua divers can look forward to a summer where they feel safer in the water."