Abalone is one of the most prized sea delicacies. Worldwide there are over sixty species of abalone, half of which are harvested commercially. Countries with a larger abalone fishery include Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Korea, Taiwan and China. Numbers in the world catch have been reduced from 50 to 95 percent over the past twenty five years. This gave rise to commercial culture of abalone in numerous countries all around the world.
Background to the Abalone Industry
Abalone is an extremely valuable and fragile resource. Exploitation by both commercial and recreational fishery as well as poaching has placed too much pressure on natural resources worldwide. The resultant effect is a shortage of supply in world markets. Since abalone are such slow growing animals it is not likely that the natural fisheries, however well controlled, will recover to fill the shortage in supply.
As a result of the abovementioned the market for farmed abalone has become extremely lucrative. Prices attained even after the Asian collapse are in excess of $US35/kg for live abalone. The technology for the various stages of the mariculture process has advanced considerably in the last 10 years. Much of this has been transfer of technology from other abalone producing nations such as Australia and the United States. In South Africa, the technology for conditioning, spawning and rearing of abalone is now well established.
It is important to differentiate between the market for cultured abalone and the wild product. Wild product has limited markets as it is restricted (in South Africa) by the minimum harvest size limits imposed on capture (120-145 mm) and governed by seasonal quotas, unlike the mariculture product that can sell a product of any size throughout the year. The world market for the abalone mariculture product is characterized by size (70-90 mm) and it is predominantly sold live and by the individual piece, much like oysters. Conversely wild product is sold by weight and in some instances is treated more like a commodity. Asian markets are looking for quality tissue in their abalone, and it could be exported live, canned, fresh frozen or dried.
The worldwide demand for abalone is estimated at 20 000 tons. Growth is spurred mainly from the east where abalone is a delicacy. It is estimated that supply will reach the 15,000-ton level, which will leave a shortage of more than 5,000 tons.