Hawke's Bay fisheries officers acting on a tip-off from a member of the public seized more than 300 mainly undersize paua. It is now preparing to lay charges against two Hastings men after setting up a roadblock just outside Blackhead Beach in Central Hawke's Bay on Sunday.
It was the second significant "catch" by officers from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI, formerly Ministry of Fisheries) during the past 10 days.
On September 21, officers intercepted two men gathering what ended up being 277 crayfish off the Cape Kidnappers coast.
They had been seen pulling crayfish from 24 pots, most of which turned out to be other peoples' pots.
That incident resulted in a car and a boat, with a total value of about $20,000 being seized, and four men facing a day in court; two for hauling in the crayfish and two for selling them.
Sunday's seizure was the first haul of illegally taken paua of the new spring and summer season, but given the patterns of previous seasons was unlikely to be the last.
The group intercepted had 303 paua. The legal limit per diver is 10 and the size limit is 125mm.
MPI officer Craig Petherick said when he and a fellow officer stopped the car there were five occupants in it.
"Two of them put their hands up for the paua," he said, which meant they had effectively taken 15 times the limit each.
The average size of the haul was between 99mm and 112mm.
The group said they had taken the paua for a tangi, but officers dismissed that in the wake of confirmed reports that the vehicle they were using had been spotted driving to and from the beach three times during the previous week.
A member of the public had become suspicious regarding the movements and had contacted the Ministry.
Officers had tried to intercept the vehicle on the two previous occasions but had not managed to locate it. On Sunday they were alerted in the late morning the vehicle had returned and officers responded immediately.
"It was another good call and good persistence by the member of the public," Mr Petherick said.
The group were pulled over at the roadblock just after 1.30pm.
"You could see the looks on their faces like they were asking themselves 'what do we do now?"' Mr Petherick said.
As well as the paua, the officers also came across 409 kina. The legal limit is 50 per person.
Mr Petherick said three of the group were responsible for that haul.
While enquiries were continuing those responsible would be facing prosecution.
"It is concerning, because if this keeps continuing then stocks will be in peril," he said.
Ministry for Primary Industries urges anyone seeing any suspicious activity along the coastlines to call the Napier office on 835 1065.
"We are on call," Mr Petherick emphasised.