Fisheries officials are investigating the death of hundreds of snapper washed up on Coromandel Peninsula beaches.
Beachgoers at Little Bay and Waikawau Bay found the fish - many with their eyes missing - dead on the sand yesterday.
Aucklander James Hughes, who was visiting friends, said they were sitting around when children in their group ran towards them holding fish.
"We said, 'Where'd you get them?' and they said they just started floating up to the beach."
Mr Hughes and others on the beach began walking towards the spot where the fish had washed up, and found many dead fish in the water too.
"We spoke to boaties coming in and they said there was a carpet of them floating in the water."
A Department of Conservation official told Mr Hughes fish in the Coromandel area were starving because of weather conditions.
"That's just completely untrue. This was something deliberate and it's just wrong," Mr Hughes said.
Ministry of Fisheries official Brendon Mikkelsen said the fish had been in the water for at least 12 hours and would be unsafe to eat.
Last night, another ministry official said the matter was being investigated.
It would be illegal to deliberately dump snapper, but there could be an innocent explanation, such as a net splitting.