Ian Wiggins – Prue Leith Chefs Academy
This edible sea snail is one of the most internationally prized culinary products indigenous to our country but due to poor resource management and poaching they are more readily available in China than in South Africa.
The poaching of abalone not only has an environmental effect but a social one as well. Due to the illegal nature of the abalone trade payment often comes in the form ingredients with which to make drugs. This illegal trade is so vast that, according to Reuters, in March 2012 2.6 tonnes of abalone were returned from Hong Kong to South Africa and whilst it is good news that the shipment was retrieved it does beg the question, how much is slipping through the system unregulated?
Abalone has long been popular in parts of the world where they occur naturally. According to an academic paper dealing with the association between drug use and abalone trade by Brick et al the vast majority of illegally acquired abalone are exported to Hong Kong and China where they are considered a delicacy on the same scale as shark fin or bird’s nest. With China’s economy on the up and up more people are able to afford them so it is unlikely that we will see a drop in demand in the near future.
In Japan it is used in sushi preparations both raw and cooked. In California it even finds its way onto pizza. In South Africa however it is barely available to the public and since 1 February 2008 according to the Government Gazette No. 30716 it is illegal to dive for them recreationally in many areas. I would guess that the majority of the public have not eaten it or if they have it was either quite a long time ago or it was illegally acquired. Imagine that!
Despite the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ best efforts the illegal trade of abalone continues to thrive. So until South Africans develop a social and environmental conscience, and pride in something other than our pockets we won’t be enjoying much abalone in our homes. It seems such a waste for one of our greatest products to pass the lips of so few South Africans.
If we want to see more abalone on our plates we have a lot to do. We need pride in our local produce and pride enough to dissuade poachers from illegally harvesting and selling these molluscs to the highest bidder. There is frankly too much coastline in South Africa to properly police abalone harvesting. Instead solution needs to be a socially driven one. Education and community involvement can be the only way forward and these efforts take time.