Over the past 17 years, some 96 million abalones have been illegally poached from South Africa’s shore, according to the wildlife trade monitoring network, Traffic.
The mollusks species is under threat of extinction by gangs in South Africa and China, working together and effectively depleting the Haliotis midae abalone species to meet demand in Asia. The large sea snails are considered a delicacy in China and Hong Kong.
Annually, about 2,000 tons of abalone flesh is dried and smuggled abroad where they are re-hydrated and served as a gastronomic treat. Ninety percent of South Africa’s abalone end up in upscale restaurants in Hong Kong.
The illegal trade of the marine mollusk spans the entire sub-Saharan region of the continent and is nearing a whopping US$900 million, so far, the report states. The abalone is large, round and is found on rocks in the shallow, shark-infested waters off Cape Town.
South Africa has been losing an estimated US$42m each year from illegal harvesting of the mollusk, Traffic disclosed.
The report from the wildlife watchdog theorizes that joblessness in the province of Western Cape has enabled gangs to grow the trade, which often includes drugs, such as crystal meth from Chinese criminal syndicates, and other high-value wildlife products.
"Driven by sophisticated transnational criminal networks and local gangs, the illegal abalone trade has been fueled by deeply entrenched socioeconomic disparities in the Western Cape, bitterly contested fishing quotas, drugs and gang violence.”
The mollusk was removed from the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora list of at-risk species in 2010, despite diminishing numbers.
Abalone, known locally as perlemoen, are important to coastal ecology because the marine snails are important for keeping water clean. According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the species helps by feeding on seaweed and floating weeds.
“All you have to do is get it out of South Africa and Namibia —you are home free. There are no regulatory obstacles to the trade,” one of the report’s authors, Julian Rademeyer, told Reuters.