Species Focus - Paua (blackfoot paua - Haliotis iris)

Paua is highly valued by both our non-commercial and commercial sectors.

It is a particularly valued customary fishery, as providing paua at important events like hui or tangi helps uphold the mana of the host marae. The use of paua shell for decoration and fishing devices is also a big part of Maori tradition. In some places, paua is an important part of the diet.

The main paua fisheries are in the lower half of the North Island (Wairarapa/ Wellington south coast), top of the South Island (outer Marlborough Sounds and Kaikoura), the lower half of the South Island (Otago/Southland/Fiordland), Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands.

Because paua is so commercially valuable and so easy to access, the theft and illegal sales of these shellfish is a big problem. The government has increased its focus on this issue.

Status of the stocks

Stock assessments for most of our main paua stocks are completed every three to five years.

No stock assessment is done for the lower North Island stock.

Assessments for the Marlborough Sounds and Chatham Islands fisheries have been updated in the last two years.

Paua stocks in the Marlborough Sounds are rebuilding to a level that will better support a stable, sustainable fishery. Paua around the Chatham Islands are thought to be sustainable at current catch levels.

Stewart Island stocks are currently thought to be at sustainable levels, since catches there were reduced in 2002.

The Southland/Otago stock was assessed in 2006. The assessment produced ambiguous results, so we don't know whether catches are sustainable here at the current level.

For the Fiordland paua stock, the 2006 assessment showed that the current catch levels are not sustainable.

Current management issues

The most important management issue in this fishery at present is the theft and illegal sale of paua.

This is particularly a problem around the lower North Island.

Actual quantities stolen are hard to accurately estimate. However, some estimates suggest that nearly as much paua may be stolen each year as is harvested commercially. Industry and government are working together on ways to reduce this theft.

Another issue that affects paua fisheries is that paua will bleed to death if cut. This is a problem where fishers damage a paua when taking it, then find out it is too small and have to put it back.

Paua catch limits and allowances

The commercial catch limit for all paua stocks have been set at 1059 tonnes for the 2005/06 fishing year.

Allowances for recreational and customary catch have not yet been made in every paua stock. Likewise, allowances for issues such as paua mis-handling (bleeding to death), theft (poaching and illegal sales), and illegal fishing (eg mis-reporting) have not yet been made in every paua stock.

Paua size limits are the same for recreational and commercial fishers.

Recreational fishers can take 10 paua per person per day in most areas. However, smaller bag limits are in place in Fiordland and some mataitai reserves. In the Otago/Southland fishery, recreational fishers have introduced a voluntary bag limit of five paua per person per day.

Updated : 16 November 2007


Paua distribution map.

Paua distribution and management areas