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South Africa: Perlemoen Farm Gives Hope to West Coast Community

Doring Bay Abalone, 37% owned by the community, produces about 60 tonnes of abalone per year, mostly to legally export to China.

  • Doring Bay Abalone, a land-based aquaculture farm, produces about 60 tonnes of abalone per year and legally exports to China.
  • This project stands apart from other abalone farms because it is partly community-owned and employs about 50 workers from the area.
  • South African abalone is a critically endangered species because of rampant poaching and illegal exports to China. The illicit abalone trade still surpasses the legal aquaculture abalone market.

“If we protect what we have, eventually generations to come will benefit from it,” says Ruben Saul, chairperson of the Doringbaai Development Trust.

Saul is speaking to GroundUp about the Doring Bay Abalone farm based in the small West Coast fishing village, 40 kilometres north of Lamberts’ Bay.

The land-based farm extends along the harbour. The abalone, also known as “perlemoen”, are hatched and spawned in several old factory buildings. When we arrived, rows of tubs filled with more mature abalone were outside in the sun.

Nearly all the abalone hatched, spawned, and grown on the farm are exported to Hong Kong, China where it is highly-valued and regarded as a delicacy.

Doring Bay Abalone is one of a few companies in South Africa that provide abalone to the Asian market legally. The species of abalone grown on the farm, Haliotis midae, is currently a critically endangered species due to rampant poaching.

A 2018 report fromTRAFFIC, a United Kingdom-based conservation non-governmental organisation, estimated that between 2000 and 2016, almost 100 million abalone were illegally harvested from South African seas. The report noted that two-thirds of abalone imported from South Africa came via the illegal market.

A 2022 report by the Global Initiative, a Switzerland-based civil-society organisation, estimated that illegal harvesting currently exceeds 3,000 tonnes per year. The report notes that there is a “fast-growing abalone aquaculture sector, producing close to 2,000 tonnes of abalone annually”, much smaller than the illicit market.

While the Doring Bay Abalone fosters sustainability of the critically endangered species, the production of 60 tonnes of abalone per year is just a drop in the ocean.

When the farm opened in 2013, it had eight workers. Now it employs over 50 local people.