Paua is a member of the abalone family (Haliotidae) of which there are around 140
species worldwide. The paua is native and unique to the cold, blue waters of the
New Zealand coastline. There are three types of Paua in New Zealand:
Paua - Haliotis Iris - The largest, most common and best known of our species. The
shellfish is black and the interior of the shell has waves of colours with blues
and greens being dominant.
Silver or Queen Paua - Haliotis Australis - A smaller species readily distinguished
by the silvery lustre of the inside, the ridging of the outside and by the yellow
colour of the shellfish. It lives in the same areas as the large paua but is not
Virgin Paua - Haliotis Virginea - Much smaller and rarer, with a most attractive
and strongly coloured shell. The shellfish is a dirty whitish colour and is not often
Paua are marine monovalve molluscs that live in rocky, coastal areas at depths between
1 and 15 metres. They graze on seaweed and range in size from 70-140mm at maturity,
but can grow to a maximum of around 200mm. Paua grow larger in the cool South Island
waters than they do in the warmer north. Consequently, most paua are harvested from
the South, Chatham and Stewart Islands and from the North Island’s southern coast.
The holes in the shell are for breathing and reproduction. Paua Shell is the most
colourful and vibrant of all the abalone shells. The shell is iridescent in that
the colours in the paua shell change when viewed at different angles, this makes
paua shell sort after as a gem for use in jewellery. Every paua is different in it's
colours and patterns within the shell. The black patterns in the shell come from
layers of protein that are laid down between the layers of calcium that make up the
shell. The brilliant colours are from light being refracted within the crystal layers.
Paua shell was traditionally used by Maori to illuminate the eyes of their carving
New Zealand's paua fishery is managed by strict quotas, which allow only a set amount
of paua to be taken commercially each year. Restrictions on size and harvesting method
also apply: they must have a minimum shell length of 125mm and can only be harvested
by free-diving. The use of compressed air equipment is strictly prohibited. The recreational
taking of paua is governed by the same size and method restrictions with 10 paua
being the daily catch limit per person. Severe penalties are in place for those who
would break the laws. This maintains a sustainable and environmentally sound fishery.