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South Africa bids to sate Asia's abalone cravings

by the Fish Site Editor
05 February 2007, at 12:00am

CAPE TOWN - Shipped halfway across the world to Asia as a seafood delicacy, abalone has become a prized commodity for South African entrepreneurs as well as criminals who have poached the mollusc almost to extinction.

Known colloquially in South Africa as "perlemoen", abalone is so endangered the government has drastically reduced the total allowable catch in the wild and attempted to encourage saltwater farming of the curlicue-shaped shellfish.

Once sucked from its hard shell, abalone has a soft but chewy flesh that is consumed in a variety of ways, but mostly steamed, grilled or, for the more adventurous, as a sushi dish.

Resembling a giant limpet and a distant relative of garden snails, it thrives only in oceans or special land-based farms that use seawater to cultivate the creatures.

ILLEGAL ABALONE

Abalone's growing popularity in Asia, where it is a status symbol and reputed aphrodisiac, has spurred sophisticated smuggling rings, some linked to China's notorious Triad gangs, according to South Africa's Institute of Security Studies.

The amount of illegal abalone confiscated in South Africa has skyrocketed to more than 1 million shellfish from a mere 21,000 in 1994 when the country held its first democratic elections.

It is now common for police to pull over trucks, sometimes refrigerated, carrying illegal abalone on the roads of the Western Cape and Easter Cape provinces, where most of the delicacy is harvested.

"We've had good successes, especially towards the end of last year, where we seized huge quantities of abalone ... this is just the tip of the iceberg," said Captain Billy Jones, a spokesman for the Western Cape provincial police.

But legitimate businesses also see a future in abalone farming in South Africa.

Source: Reuters South Africa

the Fish Site Editor