Indigenous people living along the west coast of the US.once prized abalone both as food and the source of their sacred regalia.The word abalone comes from Isaulun, a word the Pomo, Karuk, Hupa, Wiyot, and Ohlone peoples all used to describe these giant colorful molluscs. With the arrival of the Spanish, Isaulun first became Abulon and later was anglicized into “abalone”.
The over-fishing of abalone began at turn of the 20th century, when helmeted divers began to arrive from Japan and nearly wiped out the population. Today climate-change and ocean-acidity are collaborating to spell the abalone’s doom. Warming water depletes the nutrients that keep algae healthy. This forces the Sea urchins that thrive on Algae to encroach on the kelp forests vital to the Abalone’s survival.
Though scientists at UC Davis’s laboratory in Bodega Bay are currently studying ways to encourage abalone reproduction in the wild and revive the health of the kelp forests, the outlook for abalone remains dire. Though fishing for wild abalone is largely banned in California, local chefs can still turn to sources of responsibly-aquacultured abalone .
At the Monterey Abalone Company Trevor Fay and his partner Art Seavey spend their days beneath a wharf feeding abalone with kelp culled from the undersea forest that fills Monterey Bay. The Monterey bay is a natural abalone farm where the daily tidal surge first pulls in nutrient-rich water to help nourish the kelp and then pushes abalone waste back out to sea to fertilize the submerged forest that surrounds the bay.
Just north of Santa Cruz, there’s also a dramatic spot betwee wave-washed rocks where Tom Ebert runs American Abalone Farms. Here, the pounding surge channels water through the seaside farm to nurture healthy and delicious abalone.
Abalone is expensive largely because it takes so long cultivate. A giant sea snail that grows at a snail’s pace, it can take several years for an abalone to reach marketable size.
In the kitchen, thinly-sliced aquacultured abalone can be pounded to a tenderness, then coated in a ground mixture of toasted bread crumbs and dried herbs. Quickly seared in fresh organic butter, the abalone can theb be served up with steamed artichokes or asparagus, fried new potatoes, tender greens, and a lightly chilled glass of cold climate California Chardonnay.