New Zealand has its own, distinctive abalone, (Haliotis iris), known throughout the country by its Māori name, pāua. Also known internationally as 'black foot abalone', the species is recognisable for its beautiful blue/green, iridescent shell and thin, black surface covering its creamy-white flesh in its natural state.
To Ngāi Tahu, pāua is considered taonga (treasure), a gift from Tangaroa, the god of the sea. It is highly valued for its firm meaty flesh and savoury, sea flavour. Its shell is used for jewellery and incorporated in traditional carvings, usually to represent the eyes.
Pāua quota owned by Ngāi Tahu is harvested by hand by free divers, who dive to the sea floor without the use of oxygen tanks, which are prohibited in the gathering of this species. The live shellfish, typically weighing around 350gm each, are landed to Ngāi Tahu Seafood and third party depots around the South Island, where the product is shucked and the chilled meat delivered to a specialist cannery. There the pāua is processed and canned under the customer's brand, primarily for Asian markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China.
Abalone from New Zealand is well established in its markets and is served year-round in high-end Chinese restaurants. It is particularly prized as a gift at Chinese New Year and at Mid Autumn Festival.
The traditional canned meat is convenient for retail and for restaurants. Abalone can also be exported live, for the benefit of connoisseurs in a handful of live seafood restaurants, who welcome the opportunity to enjoy abalone in its freshest, finest state, just as it's always enjoyed in Aotearoa New Zealand.