The shellfish known as black gold in New Zealand faces a whitewash to make it look more like the rest of the world's stock.

Seafood New Zealand has applied to use sodium hydrosulphate to bleach exported paua to make it appear similar to the light-fleshed or "blonde" abalone found elsewhere in the world.

Spokesman Don Carson said the practice had been around for many years, and the Food Standards permission would make it official.

"Overseas consumers are used to eating white abalone," he said. "Obviously, some of our seafood is further processed than others."


Paua Industry Council chief executive Jeremy Cooper said his organisation oversaw how the paua was collected but any further processing was not its territory.

He said recreational paua collectors would sometimes lessen the black colour with lemon juice and by brushing the flesh, but exporters needed a commercial solution.

However, Cooper wished people would be happy to consume paua in its natural state.

The Food Standards Authority believes the additive is technologically justified and would be safe to eat.

The authority will consult government agencies, public health professionals, industry members and the community until June 27.