Poaching threatens to wipe out South Africa’s gourmet snail

Rampant poaching has nearly wiped out the abalone in southern African waters, as chronic poverty fuels an illegal trade in the gourmet mollusc that’s coveted in some parts of Asia. David Doyle reports.

CAPE TOWN AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA / HONG KONG, CHINA (REUTERS / TRAFFIC) – South African police raid a house in Johannesburg where suspected poachers are holed up.

But this isn’t about rare animals like the rhino – these men are accused of illegally harvesting the abalone.

If you’re not familiar, that’s a large sea snail coveted as a delicacy in some parts of Asia – and nearly wiped out off the coast of South Africa.


“You can compare it to very expensive champagne or caviar”

A report released by wildlife trade NGO TRAFFIC on Tuesday says the shellfish – which is also found in cold water off New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the United States – has almost been wiped out in South African waters due to illegal harvesting.


“For the last five or more years the amount of abalone that’s come out the water illegally is more than 95 percent, that means only about 5 percent or less of what is fished has been legally fished the rest has been poached.”

Only a limited number of fisheries have licenses for a highly circumscribed amount of abalone, and penalties for breaking the law are harsh.

Nevertheless, an estimated 96 million were illegally harvested between 2006 and 2016.

Government officials say the situation is so bad they may have to impose a blanket ban on all abalone fishing – in a bid to stave off extinction.

The epicentre of the poaching wave is South Africa’s Western Cape province, where the Atlantic’s waters were once rich with the gourmet mollusc.

Chronic poverty and joblessness mean the illegal abalone trade’s rewards outweigh its risks – pushing mostly young men to risk shark attack, as well as arrest, in the hunt for a delicacy that’s been dubbed “white gold”.

Associated Links

  • Wildlife smuggling
  • Environmental crime
  • Abalone
  • Endangered species
  • Hunting legislation
  • Hunting methods
  • Crime
  • Human behavior
  • Poaching
  • Biota

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