An airport quarantine officer was shocked to find eight very large and very much alive crabs in a chilly bin from Samoa.

The Ministry for Primary Industries staffer removed the individually wrapped crabs from a passenger's luggage, to find they were still moving.

The crabs had been bought at a market in Samoa, and the passenger had declared them as food upon arrival at Auckland Airport earlier this month.

"They were individually wrapped in thin plastic. The officer emptied the chilly bin and noticed one of the bundles move. Upon opening the wrapping, he found the crabs were bound in twine and were very much alive," MPI border clearance manager Craig Hughes said.

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Hughes said it is forbidden to bring live marine products into New Zealand for consumption.

"The crabs could have been released into New Zealand waterways. They could have harmed local marine life and introduced unwanted diseases - so we're talking about a very real biosecurity threat."

He said MPI often saw dead crabs coming through the border, but live ones were fairly unusual.

"The good thing here is the passenger declared the crabs, saving herself a fine and doing her bit to help protect New Zealand's economy and environment."

The crabs were "humanely euthanised".