Processing and sales of pāua and pāua products are managed by a number of New Zealand companies.
The largest of these is the Māori-owned company, Moana New Zealand. The Pāua Industry Council is not involved in the marketing or sales aspects of the industry. Our mandate is to concentrate on issues "below the high water mark".
In the past almost all exported pāua was canned for markets in China. The demand for canned abalone dates back to the 19th century when canning was adopted in Asian markets as a convenient way to safely store, transport and sell seafood in place of the alternative - drying it.
The last decade has seen a shift to a variety of different product forms. Increasing percentages of the national catch are now exported into the premium live market, as whole snap frozen, retort packed ready-to-eat pāua and other product lines. But the majority of pāua continues to be canned as there is still a strong demand.
The most common export-market product is canned pāua.
Freshly caught pāua is first shucked, then the black pigmentation is removed as many markets do not find pāua’s pigment attractive. The pāua is then canned and assembled into packs of 24. Asian markets are the key market for canned paua. Chefs are particularly fond of canned pāua products as it acts as an excellent food to pair with their traditional sauces and flavourings.
Live pāua are also exported, which involved conditioning pāua in live holding tanks before transportation and then careful packing in especially designed containers to be airfreighted to distribution hubs in target markets. The live market tends to receive the larger size ranges of pāua.
Pāua exports have increased steadily since 1991, from $34 million to a peak of $80 million in 2001. Exports have since plateaued. In 2004, 89 percent of exported pāua was canned or in jars, with the remainder exported as either chilled, live, salted, dried, salted, or in-brine product.
The domestic market for pāua meat has increased in value and volume in recent times.
Today, there are a number of established and emerging suppliers who sell pāua directly into restaurants, larger retailers and high tourism areas like Auckland and Queenstown. A number of boutique artisinal fishers now specialise in fresh caught pāua that customers can order too. As a result, Kiwis can easily buy fresh pāua online, at fish retailers and order it in restaurants.
No longer seen as a novel kaimoana, rather, a locally caught and sustainable delicacy; pāua increasingly features on menus and in local products such as the world famous Tokamaru Bay Pāua Pies and local fish and chip shops’ pāua patties. Tora Collective are an outstanding example of marketing pāua – from ocean to plate – delivering the freshest of pāua in natural, sustainable packaging - kelp.
For the other parts of the pāua such as “skirt”, roe and gut, established and emerging nutraceutical and beauty product manufacturers ensure that no part of the pāua harvest is wasted.
Pāua shell is a valuable by-product of the harvest process and prized in both domestic and export markets.
As the shell is in high demand, it is returned to the divers after the meat has been processed. Divers then on sell the shells to shell processing specialists. Pāua shell is used in a number of product lines. Raw shell, trophy shells, pieces for the jewellery manufacturing, whole shells used as incense burners, shell used as inlay veneer and more.
Family-run and owned Ocean Shell in Riverton is New Zealand’s largest shell buying, processing and retailing company.
The pāua pearl is a further value-added product that a number of boutique businesses have established. These pearls are considered as the most lustrous and are some of the rarest cultured pearls in the world. Mabé pearls, also known as blister pearls, are placed on the inside of the pāua shell to cultivate. Over a period of two to three years, the nucleus of the Mabé attached to the pāua shell accumulates nacre – the luminous inner shell layer. The result is beautiful, highly sought-after pearls with pāua’s rainbow colouring.
After they’ve been processed and graded for size, colour and lustre, pāua pearls are sent to the high-end jewellery markets.