Bringing back Abalone to West Coast waters.
By Brianna Kwasnik
There was once a time on the Westside when you could go into a restaurant and likely find abalone on the menu. Because they tasted so good, however, abalone was doomed from the beginning, overharvested and for the last 30 years, their numbers have been on the decline.
Abalone, a common name for a group of small to very large sea snails is native to the waters of Southern California. The Santa Monica Bay was once thriving with seven different species: red, pink, green, white, black, pinto and flat. However, according to The Bay Foundation, due to severe over-harvesting and a disease called withering syndrome, the species have been on the decline since the late 90’s.
The abalone have a vital role in the marine ecosystem, as they have predators that feed off them. They are herbivores and feed off drift algae, which frees up space for other types of algae to live in the reefs, researcher and Cal State Fullerton graduate student, Marissa Velarde Wu said.
Marine Biologist Nancy Caruso works with large green abalone and out-planting them to restore their numbers.
“Abalone was as iconic [in Southern California] as lobster is in Maine, so you could get them in virtually every restaurant in a beach town,” Caruso said on KPCC’s “Take Two” podcast. “They taste really good, so they were doomed as soon as humans started liking them.”
The Bay Foundation is an organization that has been actively working to restore the abalone to the Santa Monica Bay since 2010. This work includes scientific monitoring, extensive research, deck spawning and outplanting.
People used to go down to the tide to collect them recreationally to barbecue. The shells have also commonly been used for decoration or using the mother of pearl found inside the shell for jewelry, art pieces or fishing hooks.
They may not look like what you would typically think of when you think of a snail. The shell of the abalone varies depending on the species. Their shape can be oval or round, highly arched or flat.
According to the Fish and Game Code, in the state of California, is illegal to take, possess, or land abalone for commercial or recreational purposes. Fishing licenses for abalone are reserved for researchers or aquaculturists intending to collect abalone for broodstock.
You may still find abalone listed on a seafood menu, as there are aquaculture farms in the area that provide it to restaurants.
“Overall, it’s a good idea to know where your seafood comes from,” Velarde Wu said. “If you see red abalone in a tank and they’re selling them, find out where it comes from. As a consumer, you’re allowed to ask these things.”