Maximising niche markets: South African abalone

Maximising niche markets: South African abalone

Agricultural abalone, commonly known as perlemoen in South Africa, is a sea snail in the mollusc family which generally includes clams, scallops, sea slugs, octopuses and squid.

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food producing sector in the world. Although abalone contributes a relatively small proportion to aquaculture, it is one of the most highly prized, premium seafood delicacies and most sought-after invertebrate. Prices for assorted farmed abalone products in South Africa have averaged US$30-50/kg over the last five years, with the value of total legal production totalling US$73 434 900 in 2015. This figure is projected to rise to US$135 million by 2020.

With such high returns, farmed, fished or ranched abalone, can generate foreign currency earnings for the aquaculture industry. In addition, farming uplifts communities along the coastline through generating higher levels of employment relative to other aquaculture activities. This is particularly so where fishing has diminished or been totally discontinued.

However, for the industry to remain sustainable and economically viable, four main factors need attention. First, all produced abalone is primarily destined for international markets in Asia. Exploring new export destinations such as the Americas and Europe, which show positive import growth rates, is important if dominant markets were to disappear or collapse. Second, improving branding of South African abalone as a premium product is imperative for sellers to capture its full value and buyers to appreciate its quality. That is its flavour, texture, form and size - a robust animal that travels and can survive well in restaurant tanks, prepared with no preservatives or bleaches added to the brine. In addition, with South Korea becoming a major producer, differentiating South African abalone is warranted. Third, adapting to trends in packaging preferred by Asian markets, such as sauced abalone in plastic bags. Fourth, illegal fishing worth nearly a billion rand represents loss of income and employment to communities and threatens the quality of legal exported abalone.

Rethinking strategies to mitigate illegal poaching is fundamental, such as partnerships between communities and business, and long-term fishing rights which will potentially incentivise fishermen to protect coasts and stocks of abalone

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