Abalone has been facing extinction along the Northern California coast since the turn of the 20th century, when helmeted divers nearly wiped out the population. Today, still facing threats from over-fishing and now global warming, wild Abalone must remain rigorously protected in the wild. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy Abalone. Abalone and oyster farming are actually two forms of aquaculture that, when done correctly, leave little or no negative environmental effects. So in an ironic ecological twist, eating farmed Abalone ( if you can afford it) is a great way to sustain a valuable, struggling and ruggedly independent California fishery.
Trevor Fay and his partner Art Seavey run Monterey Abalone Company. They spend their days catering to the appetites of Red Abalone under a wharf in Monterey Bay. The Abalone are fed their natural diet, fodder from the undersea kelp forest that surrounds the wharf, and which can grow up to 6 feet per day.
The Monterey Bay is a natural abalone farm. It’s daily tidal surge provides a steady flow of nutrient-rich water that first feeds the kelp and then washes all the abalone-waste back out to sea to fertilize the rest of the submerged forest.
Just north of Santa Cruz, there’s a picturesque spot on the coast by wave-pounded rocks where Tom Ebert runs American Abalone Farms. Ebert raises the abalone in a very environmentally sensitive manner allowing the ocean water to wash through his beautifully designed beach-side sea-farm.
Since abalone grow at an (obviously) snail-like pace, sea farmers like Ebert and Fay face constant financial uncertainty as they attempt to raise abalone to their full market size.
Their goal is to develop a sufficient local customer base (most of their demand now comes from Asia) allowing them to increase their production, and, eventually, lower the price. Their hope is that savvy chefs will come to realize that responsibly farmed Abalone atually provides a sustainable local alternative to the imported shellfish stll commonly found on their high-end restaurant menus.
The word Abalone is a derivation of the word Isaulun, which is what original Californians such as Pomo, Karuk, Hupa, Wiyot, and Ohlone called them before the word was misconstrued by the Spanish as abulon, and then eventually anglicized into abalone.
The Ohlone, who have made the waters of the San Francisco Bay their home for at least eight thousand years, hold the Abalone in the highest regard as both a source of food and sacred regalia. Tragically, scientists today agree that the wild black abalone is headed irretrievably toward extinction due to a combination of over-fishing, disease and the effects of global warming.
Read an Ode to Abalone
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