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Abalone aquaculture could end poaching

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By Milthon Lujan

By Sulaiman Philip
Southafrica.- The demand for abalone, or white gold, has devastated natural stocks of the delicacy along South Africa’s south and east coasts. In the Western Cape, overfishing and poaching are beginning to have the same effect on that region’s perlemoen, as abalone is known locally.

A new research study being conducted by a team from the universities of Fort Hare and Rhodes, as well as Nelson Mandela University and commercial fisheries, hopes to find ways to restock natural populations and produce abalone for the export market.

The team is headed by Professor Peter Britz of Rhodes, former head of the International Abalone Association. The project is looking at restoring natural stocks and researching the viability of abalone aquaculture projects.

It began in earnest in 2014, when rights were granted to black-owned fish company Ulwandle Fishing. Andrew Witte, researcher and doctoral candidate, explains: “The purpose of the rights and permits are to encourage the establishment and development of a sustainable fisheries industry as well as drive community upliftment and ensure the health and protection of reef systems along the South African coast.”

Preliminary research began two years earlier, however, when researchers assessed the habitat and population status of the abalone beds in Cape Recife, Port Elizabeth. They released abalone into research plots before the project’s 2014 start. As Witte explains, the plots grew into a commercial seeding pilot project. “The focus now is on the dispersion and migration of seeded abalone and the goal is the establishment of the first stages of a harvesting programme. More than 170 heavily poached and depleted plots along reefs in Port Elizabeth have been seeded with 30 tons of abalone, which translates into 1.7 million abalone.”

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