Five people have been caught with more than 100kg of paua following an operation at Makara, near Wellington, fishery officers say.
Ministry of Fisheries district compliance manager Ross Thurston says more than 900 paua were stashed in backpacks hidden among rocks and bush.
Officers acted after spotting a group of people loading a vehicle late on Wednesday night and seized diving gear and a vehicle, he says, and charges are likely.
Mr Thurston says it is disappointing that paua poachers still exist despite a major crackdown along Wellington's south coast last year.
The paua has a retail value of about $10,000. Inquiries are continuing to try to establish the planned destination for the paua.