The Ministry for Primary Industries has denied reports that it sent a letter to volunteers today stating they can continue moving paua along Kaikoura's coastline.

An MPI spokeswoman said this information was wrong and the paua should be left where they are above water, as "it's a normal habitat" where they can survive.

Volunteers were sad and angry after they said government officials threatened to arrest them if they did not stop trying to move paua, yesterday.

The well-intentioned rescuers have been working to move paua back under water after Monday's 7.8 magnitude earthquake moved the seabed up by around 1.8 meters.

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MPI staff were originally helping the 300 strong team but that changed yesterday when new advice from the department said people should leave them alone.

This is because paua are haemophiliacs and can bleed to death if handled roughly.

However volunteer Ben Kepes called the move an example of bureaucracy getting in the way of common sense and pragmatism.

"Research says if they are handled poorly and removed badly they may die - that's different from they will die if they're left up in sun."

He said volunteers had now left the area, many of them feeling stressed and angry.

"It's just a real shame I think. Mike Vincent, the guy who organised it, was in the spirit of Sam Johnson of the Student Volunteer Army [following the Canterbury quakes].

"It's sad actually."

He said most of the volunteers had come from Christchurch because they loved kai moana and wanted to help.

In a tweet, Kepes said officers had threatened to arrest volunteers if they continued moving the shellfish.


MPI manager of compliance operations Gary Orr said he appreciated the volunteers were well-intentioned, but worried moving the paua could do more harm than good.

"We understand there are calls for people to take part in a rescue mission to save paua in the newly formed intertidal zone on the Kaikoura coastline."

They were more likely to survive if left alone, he said.

"They will migrate themselves into deeper waters over time."

Orr said the tidal areas were home to paua brood stocks and that any further damage could threaten the future of the fishery.

"Many people don't realise that paua are haemophiliacs. They need very careful handling. Any cuts they receive from being moved could cause them to bleed to death."

About 40 tonnes of paua were expected to have been cut free from the rocks along the Kaikoura coastline by Friday afternoon.

MPI has also given a strict warning to those stealing paua from Kaikoura coastline, bumping up security to try and prevent the theft.

Fines for breaking the rules range from $250-$20,000 and rule-breakers can face prosecution and the forfeiture of property used in any offending.

"The paua fishery is traditionally 'at-risk' and Monday's earthquake has now put it in a perilous position," Orr said.

"We cannot afford any further pressure on this fishery. That means we'll be increasing patrols in the area for the foreseeable future.

MPI urged locals who witness any offending to urgently contact MPI's 0800 line to report it on 0800 47 62 24.

People also needed to be aware that taking dead or dying seafood will pose a serious risk to health.