Ministry of Fisheries officials are still baffled over what killed hundreds of snapper washed ashore on the Coromandel Peninsula.

A spokesman said it looked at this stage as if the fish starved to death because of harsh weather. The ministry has taken a sample to find the cause of death.

But Charlotte Pearsall grew up on the Coromandel and suspects a trawler dumped the dead fish off the coast. "The kids were body-surfing alongside hundreds of dead snapper ... It's far too many legal-sized fish for a mass starvation.

It's so many it could have fed the whole tip of the Coromandel Peninsula for a week."