Animal rights advocates gathered in Napier, as a controversial live export ship docked at the port on Monday.

If approved by the Ministry of Primary Industries, the Yangtze Fortune will carry 4700 cattle from Napier to China, the fourth live export ship to leave the city this year.

In total, 11,929 cattle have left Napier on live export ships this year, with seven animals dying on the voyage.

Animal rights advocate Rachel Poulain said while she was unaware of any official protest, she turned up at Napier Port on Monday as the ship came in to port.

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She said people should think of the animals as individuals, not as a number.

"Every single one of those animals is a living, feeling being, that is capable of suffering and distress."

SAFE CEO Debra Ashton as the Yangtze Fortune docks. Photo / Warren Buckland
SAFE CEO Debra Ashton as the Yangtze Fortune docks. Photo / Warren Buckland

She said lots of New Zealanders were unaware of live export.

"If we're going to say we've got standards of animal welfare, things we wouldn't do here, ways we would treat the animals, it doesn't seem, in accordance with those value if we put them on a ship and send them to somewhere where we've got no control over the way they are treated."

She said live export should be halted while a review, which is currently under way, is completed.

Animal welfare group SAFE sent its CEO Debra Ashton, who she was surprised live exporting in Hawke's was allowed to continue while the review was under way.

"We'd seriously like New Zealand to stop doing these live exports of animals.

"They are all going to countries that have lower animal welfare standards than ours, and this is absolutely cruel to our animals."

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She said the practice damages New Zealand's reputation when it comes to animal welfare.

Minister for Agriculture Damien O'Connor said there appeared to be some confusion about what was happening with live animal exports at the moment.

He said while the review takes place, current laws remain in place.

The Yangtze Fortune coming into Napier Port. Photo / Warren Buckland
The Yangtze Fortune coming into Napier Port. Photo / Warren Buckland

"This is always the case with any review of regulations which are enshrined in legislation."

He said he understood some people wanted to see live exports halted while the review took place, but "it's simply not possible."

"So – yes – MPI are still receiving applications and assessing them and – if they meet the current legal criteria - approving them. They have to follow the law."

MPI is currently working with industry, trading partners and other stakeholders to develop options to be included in a discussions paper.

A draft cabinet paper is expected to be completed by December this year, which will be provided to the Minister for cross-party consultation.

Any decisions to come out of the review will not be implemented until December 2020.

MPI was approached for comment on Monday.