Commercial diving for abalone began in the early 1960s in Western Australia. Today commercial abalone fisheries produce a high-value product worth millions of dollars a year. Most is exported either canned or frozen to Hong-Kong/China, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia and Japan.
The fishery is managed mainly through quotas set each year to ensure its long-term sustainability.
Abalone divers operate from small fishery vessels (generally less than 9 metres long). The main harvest method is a diver working off a ‘hookah’ (surface-supplied breathing apparatus) or using scuba equipment, using an abalone ‘iron’ to prise the shellfish off rocks.
Three species of abalone – Roe’s, greenlip and brownlip – are harvested by commercial fishers.
WA commercial abalone catch 2011
In response to declining wild stock populations in other areas in the world and high market prices, an abalone aquaculture industry is being created in WA. Although only in its early development stages, this industry is showing good growth potential.
Abalone farmers obtain broodstock from the wild. The broodstock abalone spawn under controlled conditions in a hatchery. The eggs and larvae are then reared through stages before being transferred to a nursery and then a farm or grow-out facility. Abalone grow-out farms can be based on land or in the marine environment.
In land-based abalone aquaculture, high-quality oceanic water is pumped and reticulated to a system that mimics a reef structure, such as plastic trays or concrete raceways.