All About Abalone

Abalone, otherwise known as Perlemoen, is one of the most sought-after shellfish on the planet. The farming of these creatures is strictly controlled but poachers are slipping through the cracks.

Abalone is known for having a very colourful inner shell which is a shiny silvery white to green-red mother of pearl.  They are mostly found in cold oceans all over the world.  Often the Abalone is referred to as the “Ear-Shell” as most consist of a round shell with two or three spirals of which the last spiral grows out into an ear-like shape.  Their shell is very hard and made of very tiny calcium carbonate tiles stacked like bricks with a sticky protein substance between the layers.

These creatures reach sexual maturity between 8-10 years and their fertility increases with their size. They are known for laying 10 000 to 11 million eggs at a time.  The baby Abalones, which are known as larvae, feed on plankton, while the adults feed on plants and algae, preferring the red algae.  They vary in size from 20mm to 200mm.

The Different Species

Haliotis Midae is the largest of the five Abalone found along the South African coast and is commonly known in South Africa as Perlemoen.  This species grows up to 23cm (lengthwise) and has a corrugated shell and furry projection of tentacles protruding from its shell’s edge.  Perlemoen can be found along the coasts of the Western and Eastern Cape.

Haliotis Parva or Spiral-Ridged Siffie is the smallest species of abalone found in South African oceans.  It grows to about 45mm and is recognised by a large hump that traces the spiral of its shell.  It is found under rocks or in rock pools and has a mottled orange-brown shell and bright orange tentacles.

Haliotis Spadicea or commonly known as the “Venus Ear Siffie” this abalone grows to about 8cm and can be recognised by the red stain marks on its ear-shaped shell.  It feeds mostly on red-algae found in rocky crevasses along the Southern and Eastern coast of South Africa.

Haliotis Speciosa or Beautiful Ear-Shell is rarely seen, but for a chance to see it, you will need to dive the shallow waters on the coast of the Eastern Cape or Kwa-Zulu Natal.  Fully grown it measures about 9cm and has a smooth, mottled grey shell.

Haliotis Quekett’s or Quekett’s Abalone grows to about 8cm and can be found further east along the coast.  Although it is a rare species, it is easily recognised by prominent raised ridges along the edge of its shell and by its spirals.

Abalone was placed on the Red List, because you can only legally fish for them when they are 8-10 years old. And because they grow very slowly and only reproduce at that age, they are often harvested before they have time to reproduce.  Due to this problem, their numbers cannot recover between harvesting.

Abalone is commercially farmed in South Africa and they are on the Green List.  Once sure the “Perlemoen” on your menu is from a sustainable aquaculture source, you can freely enjoy your abalone.  South African Abalone farmers are ensuring that the gene pool of captive abalone remains diverse, as it is important should we ever need to replenish the wild abalone population.


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