The Court found that the Director General of Conservation has no power to authorise the activity under the Wildlife Act, effectively putting shark cage diving operations out of business for now.
Storm Stanley, chairman of paua industry organisation PauaMAC5, reacted with relief. “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.
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 paua divers. We’re very happy with that outcome.”
The judgement also raises some fundamental policy issues around New Zealand’s conservation legislation.
“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. 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 paua divers can look forward to a summer where they feel safer in the water.”
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Note to editors: A paua diver is available for interview if required