Kelpfish.net's Abalone Page
Last Modified 2006-May-22
n. a large marine mollusk of the genus
Haliotis, having a bowllike shell bearing a row of
respiratory holes, the flesh of which is used for food and
the shell for ornament and as a source of mother-of-pearl.
[1840-50 American; taken as singular of
California Spelling abulones, plural abulon,
aulon (accent over the "o") descended from a word in
Rumsen, a Costanoan language formerly spoken in Monterey,
--Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Ed.
"Abalone are mollusks of the genus Haliotis ("Sea Ears").
They are in high demand as a shellfish delicacy. Commercial
fishing boats in California are getting up to $600 per dozen
right off the boat.(Note: This quote was pre-1997 when commercial abalone
diving was still legal.)
Other names by which abalone are known include pauas (New
Zealand), perlemoens (South Africa), ormers (British Channel
Islands), awabi (Japan), mutton-fish (Australia), and
silieux (France). Any other local names I've missed?"
1: Abalone Nominclature
2: Top and Side view of clean and encrusted ab
Abalone Life Cycle
Abalone are broadcast spawners which means at
certain times of the year when the tide/water temp/etc.
are right the female abalone releases millions of eggs (a
1.5" [38mm] abalone may spawn 10,000 eggs while
an 8" [200mm] abalone may release 11 million or
more) and the male sensing the eggs in the water,
releases a cloud of sperm. The sperm unites with the egg
in the water becoming an embyro abalone (plankton).
The embyro abalone drift on the current for
about a week as plankton then they sink to the bottom and
attach to a rock.
Attach to Rock and Grow to Sexual Maturity
The tiny abalone starts eating algae; scraping
it off the rocks with its file like tongue, the radula.
As it grows larger, it starts to eat the broken off
fronds of kelp that fall to the bottom. Abalone grow at
different rates depending on water temperature and food
availibility. (warmer water and more food=fast growth?) I
think I read somewhere that a 7" [178mm] red
abalone is approximately seven years old and their growth
rate slows when they get over 7" [178mm]. The red
abalone is sexually mature (able to spawn) at 1.5"
Species in California waters
Why Northern California has so many Abalone:
During the 1800s, Russian traders landed on the west
coast of North America in what is now Alaska to hunt sea
otters for fur and elephant seal for blubber. They worked
their way down the coast decimating the otter populations to
supply the demand for otter fur coats, hats, gloves, etc. in
Europe and the Eastern United States. Eventually, they ran
out of otters to kill. (Except for a small sea otter
population south of Monterey.) The elephant seal was also
almost wiped out.
After the otters were gone, the abalone population exploded
along the entire west coast. (Otters are the abalones' main
predator.) Commercial abalone harvesting started in the
early 1930s in central and southern California. The annual
catch was small for the first ten years, around 2 or 3
million pounds? After World War II, the abalone catch
increased to roughly 5 million pounds a year until the early
'70s when it peaked at 7 million pounds and then quickly
tapered off. (The north coast of California has never been
legally open to commercial abalone havesting.)
Sport diving for abalone in northern California has always
been breath holding only. (I think Jack London and some of
his cronies started this tradition and upheld it in the name
of conservation when scuba became available.)
The double-edged sword of commercial urchin diving
Urchins compeat with abs for living space and food.
Commercial urchin divers collect millions of pounds of
urchins a year, clearing more room for abalone. The problem
is most commercial urchin divers also have commercial
abalone licenses. (Which rumor has it, can lead to
temptation to poach abalone from the north coast, make a
quick trip out to the Farallon Islands on the way back home,
and land the abalone in Half Moon Bay claiming they were
caught at the Farallons.)
A few words on Conservation:
Examples of over-fishing, resource mismanagement:
The Central Coast of California used to have large
populations of abalone; but, due to over fishing (there are
pictures from the 50's of ab shells stacked 10ft
[3m] high covering acres), the construction of
Highway 1 (silting up some of the prime beds), sea otters,
etc. There are very few abalone left. Most of them are
tucked far back in cracks so the sea otter can't get
In the Channel Islands of Southern California, abs are being
affected by a shrunken-foot blight killing them off. (cause
unknown: pollution? water temp.? disease?) Commercial
abalone diving and scuba for sport ab diving were (as of
September '97, all ab diving south of the Golden Gate Bridge
is closed and there's is no commercial abalone fishery)
allowed on the islands. (Try to find legal 7"
[178mm] red abalone now, good luck.)
The North Coast of California in recent years has seen large
scale poaching of abalone. (F&G estimates that up to 25%
of the abalone harvested on the north coast are poached. I
have seen a few reefs stacked with abs one year, only to
come back the next year and only find scars on the rocks,
where the abs were.) There is also intense pressure from
commercial ab divers to open the deeper waters of the North
Coast. (What do you think will happen to the ab population
when this happens? Look at Southern California and the
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Last Modified 2006-May-22