Paua divers are appealing to Parliament for help with their number one workplace hazard - increasingly aggressive great white sharks.
The paua industry believes shark diving companies that operate in the coastal waters around Stewart Island are modifying the behaviour of the 100-strong great white colony by making them expect food when swimming near humans or boats.
The industry's lobby group, PauaMac5, claims tourism companies are using new methods to attract sharks such as diver-shaped dummies, which could elevate the risk of attack on paua divers - a claim that was strongly rejected by companies in the region.
The paua divers' concerns were raised at a select committee considering health and safety reforms yesterday.
Initial research has downplayed any increased risk to divers or swimmers as a result of shark tourism.
But amid increasing tension in the Stewart Island community between fishers and tourism companies, the Government last year moved to regulate the growing shark diving industry. Beginning this summer, operators will require permits and face limits on the use of bait to attract sharks.
PauaMac5 spokesman Storm Stanley said these changes were conservation measures designed to protect sharks, not humans.
His organisation wanted further changes which set out clear rules of accountability in "shared workplaces" such as coastal waters.
"When the source of a workplace hazard is a great white shark that has been the victim of behavioural modification, the consequences of regulatory failure of the workplace health and safety regime are likely to be catastrophic for those affected," PauaMac5's submission said.
Committee chairman and National MP Jonathan Young said MPs were "pretty stunned" by the submission and would seek official advice.
"We're going to have a pretty good discussion around that because we don't want any New Zealanders put at that sort of level of risk in doing their business, which they've been doing for over 30 years now, where suddenly they can be at risk of life and limb - literally."
No local research has been carried out on the impact of the industry on great whites, but a South African study found sharks changed their behaviour only if they were fed regularly and in predictable patterns, and it was "highly improbable" that cage diving increased the risk of attacks on divers.