'Huge relief' for businesses as Supreme Court overturns shark cage diving decision

New Zealand's highest court has overturned a decision which made shark cage diving off Stewart Island an offence.  

In September last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the popular tourist activity was in breach of the Wildlife Act. 

The decision means that now, the company Shark Experience has the all-clear to forge ahead with the summer season - its busiest time.

"It's a huge relief, now that we have that decision we can now get on with business," says Mike Haines, Shark Experience Ltd director.

Cage diving uses burley and bait to attract sharks, but that tactic alarmed paua divers and in 2013 the industry group Paua Mac called for new rules.

The group argued in court it amounted to hunting or killing great white sharks, a protected species.

Eventually, the Court of Appeal agreed it was an offence because operators were "pursuing" the sharks to deviate off swimming patterns. 

"[It's] really unfortunate, because one of the two companies has already gone out of business - they were called Shark Dive NZ," says lawyer Sue Grey.

But Shark Experience Limited took the case to the Supreme Court, which today agreed with the Court of Appeal's finding that hunting or killing had a wider meaning - such as pursuing sharks.

But it said that the ruling had also made the mistake of declaring shark cage an offence under the Wildlife Act, concluding the court: "erred in issuing a declaration that shark cage diving is an offence under the Wildlife Act. "

So Shark Experience is now looking ahead, after barely surviving the last year. 

"[We] couldn't use any enticements, couldn't advertise, so the numbers for last season, we would have never carried through to this season," says Haines. 

Paua Mac has not responded to Newshub's request for comment on the ruling.