Paua or pāua is the Māori name given to three species of large edible sea snails, marine gastropod molluscs which belong to the family Haliotidae (genus Haliotis), known in the USA as abalone and in the UK as Ormer shells.
There are three species of New Zealand paua;
- Paua - Haliotis iris
- Queen paua- Haliotis australis
- Virgin paua - Haliotis virginea
New Zealand's most well known paua species is Haliotis iris. It is also the most common species, growing up to 18 cm in length.
DistributionThese three species of haliotid are endemic to New Zealand coastal waters.
HabitatPaua are commonly found in shallow coastal waters along rocky shorelines in depths of 1 to 15 m.
Life habitsThese large sea snails survive the strong tidal surges by clinging to rocks using their large muscular foot. They feed on seaweed.
Shell descriptionThe shell of the paua is oval and the exterior is often covered with greyish incrustations. In contrast the interior of a Paua is an iridescent swirl of intense green, blue, purple, and sometimes pink colours.
Human useThe paua is iconic in New Zealand: its black muscular foot is considered a delicacy, and the shell is frequently used in jewelry.
To Māori, paua are recognised taonga, or treasure, esteemed both as kai moana (seafood) and as a valued resource for traditional and contemporary arts and crafts. Paua are frequently used to represent the eyes in Māori carvings and traditionally are associated with the stars, or whetu the eyes of ancestors that gaze down from the night sky.
Paua are gathered recreationally and commercially but strict catch limits are set for both - for recreational fishers this is 10 paua per person, per day. The minimum legal size for caught paua is 125 mm for Haliotis iris and 80 mm for Haliotis australis. Paua can only be caught by free diving. It is illegal to dive for paua using scuba equipment.