Five paua poachers were caught in a joint Defence Force and Ministry for Primary Industries anti-poaching operation in Hawke's Bay over the past two days.
An Air Force helicopter has just completed patrols on about three hundred kilometres of coastline in Hawke's Bay, catching six groups that were taking paua illegally.
The operation focused on the coast from Akitio to the Mahia Peninsula.
The Ministry said the operation may lead to prosecutions and five infringement notices being issued.
A spokesperson said some people were very surprised when a helicopter dropped on at a remote east coast reef at low tide and a crew asked to inspect their catch.
The spokesperson said the numbers of paua involved were not hugely significant, somewhere in the low 100s, but all were returned to the sea.
The ministry is now completing investigation work, so charges might be laid.
Air commodore Kevin McEvoy said there was significant activity around Mahia yesterday when the patrol encountered several groups that were behaving suspiciously.
He said legal fishers had welcomed the presence of Defence, however poachers were not too pleased to see the personnel.
Mr McEvoy said none of the poachers encountered were armed.
He said gone were the days when poachers could count on their activities remaining hidden.
"In the past they might have thought they could hide from us.
"We've got the Navy out there patrolling the coastline. We've got the Air Force patrolling the skies and Ministry of Primary Industries are coming in from the ground, so there's no where really that they can hide now.
"It's a great opportunity for us to make sure that New Zealand's fishing stocks are sustainable for the future."