Abalone aquaculture in Monterey

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Posted by on February 28, 2007 at 21:09:20:

Abalone's luster grows

Eco-friendly aquaculture lures endangered mollusk back onto Bay Area menus

Shortly before it ends in the ocean, Municipal Wharf No. 2 in Monterey Bay runs through a seafood warehouse that looks like a garage. A man paces by the front door, waiting. Sure enough, in 10 minutes, a trap door in the middle of the floor swings open and a tall, lanky fellow wearing rubber boots springs up the ladder.

It's Art Seavey, 49, co-owner of Monterey Abalone Co. At first glance, it looks like he is holding a handful of gray rocks, but they're live abalone. He gently lays them on a sheet of foam inside heavy plastic, clamps the bag, pumps in oxygen and seals it. He hands the package to the customer, takes cash, thanks him and waves him goodbye. Then it's back down the trapdoor to the ocean below where Seavey has a system of cages and pulleys to harvest the abalone.

Although they work mostly in isolation and obscurity, 10 years after the ban on commercially harvesting wild abalone went into effect, local growers are successfully producing the unique seafood delicacy.

California now has 15 abalone farms, constituting a business that, over the last seven or eight years, "has flourished and become more of a standard farming procedure," says Roy Gordon of FishTech, a worldwide abalone-farming consulting firm based in San Rafael.

Farmed abalone is the only type available for retail sale, although private divers may still hunt for abalone according to a strictly enforced quota.

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