Fishery officers say they are shocked and horrified by the "horrendous" quantities of paua taken from the south Taranaki coast during the weekend.
Officers rushed to several locations along the coast after a spate of calls to the Ministry of Fisheries' tipoff line from people concerned about the amount of paua being taken.
Fishery officer Brad Dannefard says a group of three Stratford men was found with 701 paua, while a trio from South Taranaki had more than 150 shellfish.
The daily limit for paua is 10 per gatherer.
Mr Dannefard says if convicted, the poachers could face fines of up to $250,000 and the forfeiture of equipment such as dive gear and vehicles.
If there was a commercial element to the poaching, the offenders could face up to five years in jail, he says.