Sea Shepherd's Canadian founder has resigned his position with the anti-whaling group, swapping his leadership role for "observer" status in order to comply with a court ruling.

In a statement released Monday, Watson said he was giving up his paid positions with the organization, including his roles as president of its U.S. and Australian branches, as well as his command of the ship Steve Irwin.

"As a United States citizen, I will respect and comply with the ruling of the United States 9th District Court and will not violate the temporary injunction granted to the Institute for Cetacean Research. I will participate as an observer within the boundaries established by the 9th Circuit Court of the United States," Watson wrote in a statement published online.

Although Watson now lives in the U.S., he was born and grew up in Canada.

Watson, 62, has been a fugitive from the law since July, when he fled Germany after being arrested in May following a request from the Costa Rican government.

The Costa Rican charges relate to claims that, in 2002, he endangered the crew of the fishing vessel Varadero. Watson's organization has since claimed they encountered the boat in Guatemalan waters, where it was engaged in an illegal shark-finning operation.

While Sea Shepherd contends the ship's crew were simply asked to stop and head to port, the fishers countered that Watson's vessel tried to ram theirs.

Watson was one of the founding members of the environmental group Greenpeace, but left that organization in 1977 to establish the more action-oriented Sea Shepherd Society. As a result of its aggressive campaigns, some of which have been documented in the television reality series Whale Wars, Sea Shepherd has been accused of perpetrating violent, terrorist activities.

In his latest statement, however, Watson maintains his goals have never been to protest or engage in civil disobedience.

"We are an anti-poaching organization established to uphold international conservation law," Watson wrote, emphasizing that his group's actions have never resulted in the injury of any of their targets.

"We operate within the guidelines of the United Nations World Charter for Nature that allows for intervention by non-profit non-governmental organizations and individuals to uphold international conservation law."

While Watson plans to remain aboard the MV Steve Irwin, which is now under the command of former first officer Siddharth Chakravarty of India, this year's anti-whaling campaign dubbed "Operation Zero Tolerance" will be led by former Australian Senator, Bob Brown.

The organization claims its campaign this year will be its biggest yet, involving four ships, three drones, one helicopter and more than 100 crew.

Their target is the Japanese whaling fleet, which makes the annual trek to Antarctic waters for what it claims is whaling for scientific purposes.

Critics say the claim is a ruse to sidestep the 25-year-old commercial whaling ban, however, and allege that the whales caught each year do end up served to Japanese diners.

This year, the whaling fleet intends to catch close to 1,000 Antarctic Minke whales and another 50 fin whales.

According to the Sea Shepherd Society, its efforts have prevented the capture of 4,000 whales over 8 seasons.

Last February, a U.S. federal judge in Seattle ruled against a request submitted by Japanese whalers' organization the Institute for Cetacean Research, that sought to limit Sea Shepherd's activities.

But in December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling that ordered the conservation group to stay at least 500 metres from any Japanese whaling vessels and also banned them from "physically attacking any vessel engaged by the plaintiffs."

The ruling also banned Sea Shepherd from "navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation" of any whaling ship.

With files from The Associated Press