Key Points:

White pointer sharks will be fully protected within 200 nautical miles of New Zealand and from fishing by New Zealand-flagged boats on the high seas from April next year, the Government said today.

Conservation Minister Chris Carter and Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said the species, also known as the great white shark, would be protected under the Wildlife Act.

It would be illegal to hunt, kill or harm a white pointer shark within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the 200 nautical mile limit around the coast, and it would be illegal to possess or trade in any part of a white pointer.

The species will be protected on the high seas (outside the EEZ) under the Fisheries Act, which applies to New Zealand-flagged boats.

Mr Carter said New Zealand was a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and had an obligation to protect white pointer sharks.

Although they had a reputation as a predator, the species was vulnerable and was becoming rarer throughout the world.

"These majestic animals occur naturally in low numbers and, without protection, could be pushed to the brink of extinction," he said.

Mr Carter said shark nets would still be used around beaches in Dunedin, and fishers accidentally catching and killing white pointers would not be prosecuted provided they registered the death with authorities.

Mr Anderton said white pointers were not known to be targeted by commercial fishers, but they were occasionally taken unintentionally as by-catch.

He said they were sometimes targeted by recreational fishers, and there was some demand for jaws and teeth as fishing trophies.

Some white pointers were unintentionally caught in set nets.

"No one wants to see an animal hunted to extinction for the sake of a jaw or a few teeth, or to be placed under pressure by accidental catch," he said.

"Under these new regulations no fisher will be able to profit from taking a white pointer, and any fisher inadvertently catching one will have to return it to the sea, intact and alive, if possible."

When the regulations are in force, the maximum penalty for targeting white pointers will be a $250,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

White pointers are found across the Pacific Ocean, around North and South America, and parts of Africa and Europe.

Their jaws have been reported to be worth as much as $18,000 and teeth up to $1700.