The Department of Conservation has decided not to lay charges against a group of six prison inmates on a rehabilitation programme who took seafood from a Central Hawke's Bay marine reserve on Saturday.
Hawke's Bay prisoners were directed to dive in the Te Angiangi Marine Reserve by their programme-provider supervisors.
DOC's Wellington-Hawke's Bay Conservator Alan McKenzie said the department takes protection of marine reserves very seriously and offenders can face up to three months in prison or fines of $10,000.
"We treat each case on its merits and our investigations have revealed that in this case the leader of the party has made a genuine mistake by directing the group into the reserve," he said.
"It is clear the members of the party did not deliberately set out to breach the reserve and all the seafood taken was returned."
The supervisors said they took a wrong turn on the way to the reserve, between Aramoana and Blackhead Beach, and while they saw reserve signage they thought they had directed the prisoners to dive for kina and paua in a non-protected area.
The programme provider, Choices Kahungunu Health Services, has formally apologised for the incident and the group involved will be returning to the reserve to help with DOC's work at the site.
Mr McKenzie says DOC has also agreed to work with Corrections staff to ensure the location and significance of marine reserves is included in future programmes.
Both the Department of Corrections and Choices Kahungunu Health Services are running their own investigations into the matter, with the tenure of the programme supervisors under review.
Planning for the trip, for prisoners near the end of their sentence, started in November.