Māori Name: Pāua
Name Scientific: Haliotis iris
Availability: Year round
Attributes Length: 12.5–18cm (12.5cm legal minimum shell size for harvest)
They are widespread around the New Zealand coast. Found from the intertidal zone down to approximately 15 metres.
Single shell with a pale grey to brown outer surface. The inside shell shows brilliant iridescent colours. The shell is oval shaped with faint ridges and a curved row of holes. The flesh has a black covering and is darker than many other species of abalone. Paua are exploited for their meat, their shells, and more recently for their ability to produce lustrous pearls that capture the colours in the shell.
Paua belong to the Haliotidae family (abalones). Related species: Related species include Yellow-foot paua (H. australis) and Virgin paua (H. virginea). H. australis is widespread around New Zealand in small numbers. It has a pale yellow-brown shell. The foot is pale yellow with a black rim. H. virginea is similar to H. iris but the foot is white. Four subspecies are found between North Cape and the Sub-Antarctic Islands.
They spawn in the late summer and autumn, moving into deeper water as they mature. They are relatively slow-growing and long-lived (up to 50 years).
The commercial fishery for paua dates from the mid-1940s. In the early years of this commercial fishery the meat was generally discarded and only the shell was marketed. However, by the late 1950s both meat and shell were being sold. Most of the current commercial catch is from the Wairarapa coast southwards with the major fishing areas located in the South Island, Marlborough, Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands. In most areas paua can only be harvested by free diving. In addition to catch limits, there are limits on the size of paua that can be harvested. In many areas these have been voluntarily increased by commercial fishers to improve the fishery. Paua abundance is assessed by MPI as being stable in some areas, while in other areas catch limits have been reduced when required and abundance is increasing.
They are harvested year-round, mainly from the Kaikoura and Southland coasts, Stewart Island, and the Chatham Islands. Only Paua over the minimum size limit may be taken by divers who are restricted to using snorkelling equipment.
Did You Know
Paua shells, as well as meat, are highly prized. People now also successfully cultivate Paua pearls - provided they can keep Paua stress levels low!
The secret to tender paua is to gently ease it out of the shell and cook quickly on a high heat with a light, gentle touch. If overcooked, the texture of paua can become rubbery. The colour will change and edges will begin to curl when the paua is cooked. Paua can be tenderised by a variety of methods. Light pounding with a metal hammer or par-boiling for a few minutes in steaming (but not boiling) water are popular options. Grill, stir fry, saute, bake, poach in a seafood broth,barbeque or use in a Kiwi classic: paua fritters.
While many New Zealanders harvest their own paua, it is available for sale, usually as chilled shucked paua meat (at a fresh seafood bar) or frozen shucked paua meat. It is best consumed as soon as possible after purchase.