Indigenous people living along the coast of California revere the Abalone both as a vital food source, and as the material source for much of their sacred regalia.
The word abalone comes from Isaulun, a word shared by tthe Pomo, Karuk, Hupa, Wiyot, and Ohlone people. With the arrival of the Spanish, Isaulun evolved into Abulon and was then anglicized into Abalone.
At turn of the 20th century helmeted commercial divers nearly wiped out the Abalone population. Though the decimated poulation continued to struggle on for another century, climate-change and ocean-acidity are now conspiring to spell the Abalone’s doom. Warming sea water depletes the nutrients needed to keep Algae healthy. As a result, Sea Urchins, who normally nosh on Algae, have begun to encroach on the fragile Kelp forests Abalone need to survive.
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. However, unless conservation tactics are accompanied by a drastic global reduction in ocean-bound waste, the outlook for Abalone remains dire.
Thouhg fishing for wildAbalone is now largely banned in California, local chefs can still turn in good conscience to several local 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 forest that fills the bay. Monterey Bay serves as tbe ideal Abalone diner. A daily tidal surge nourishes the kelp upon which the Abalone love to nosh, and then sweeps its waste back out to sea to fertilize the surrounding kelp forest along the coast.
Just north of Santa Cruz, there’s a dramatic spot betwee wave-washed rocks where Tom Ebert runs American Abalone Farms. Here, the pounding surge channels sea water through a cannily constructed Abalone cafeteria.
Abalone is expensive largely because it takes so long cultivate. It is a giant sea snail that grows, naturally, at a snail’s pace. It can take several years for an Abalone to reach a marketable size.
Back in your kitchen, thinly-sliced aquacultured abalone can first be pounded to a tenderness, then coated in toasted bread crumbs and dried herbs ground finely in a coffee mill, then quickly seared in fresh organic butter. The Abalone can then be served alongside steamed artichokes, grilled asparagus, fried new potatoes, tender salad greens, and perhaps a glass of cold climate California Chardonnay.