Abalone

Natural History

A flattened, spiral shell protects this marine snail's muscular foot—a highly prized dish on seafood menus. Those holes on the edge of the shell serve several functions: they release eggs or sperm, discharge metabolic wastes and allow water to flow out after passing through the animal's gill chamber.

Mostly sedentary, an abalone clings to rocks while waiting for a piece of kelp to drift nearby. The abalone clamps down on the kelp with its foot and then munches on the seaweed with its radula—a rough tongue with many small teeth.

Conservation

Abundant 30 years ago, abalone once supported huge commercial and sport fisheries. Due to overfishing and disease, today's abalone face extinction—the white abalone is officially listed as an endangered species. To protect abalone, strict fishing laws have been enacted. For example, laws prohibit commercial abalone fishing, and sport fishermen may take only red abalone—with a limit of three animals per day, and a total of 24 animals a year. Many more restrictions apply to abalone fishing—be sure to check them out if you're thinking of diving for abalone.

In the U.S., commercial fishing for abalone has ceased. Find out more about the sustainability of farmed abalone as a seafood choice in the Seafood Watch section of our web site.

Cool Facts

If an abalone is touched by a sea star, it twists its shell violently to dislodge the intruder and then gallops off—abalone style. 

An abalone's blood is blue-green. Since the blood contains no blood-clotting mechanism, an injury can be fatal to the abalone. 

On the black market, abalone sell for as much as $100 each. Poaching and selling abalone is a risky enterprise though: one poacher was sentenced to three years in jail and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

Abalone produce pearls by secreting a shell over parasites or irritating particles of gravel that lodge in their flesh. Some abalone farmers, hoping to harvest pearls at a later date, are now seeding abalones.