Over the past 18 years, poachers have stripped South African coastal waters of at least 96 million abalone.
Efforts to curb the illegal trade have roundly failed. Once abundant, the population of South African abalone Haliotis midae is declining at unprecedented levels.
On average two thousand tonnes of abalone are bagged annually by poachers – 20 times the legal take – in an illicit industry estimated to be worth at least US$60-million a year.
These are just some of the shocking revelations contained in a new report, Empty Shells: An assessment of abalone poaching and trade from southern Africa, published today by TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network.
Driven by sophisticated transnational criminal networks and local gangs, the illegal abalone trade has been fuelled by deeply entrenched socio-economic disparities in the Western Cape, bitterly contested fishing quotas, drugs, and gang violence.
Despite the very real threat that Haliotis midae could go extinct if poaching levels continue unabated, it is not currently listed on CITES and beyond South Africa the trade in Haliotis midae remains unregulated.
That lack of regulation means that once abalone shipments have been smuggled out of South Africa to neighbouring countries, they can easily be laundered without fear of law enforcement action.
World imports of Haliotis midae outweigh legal production levels in southern Africa with the total mass of imports of H. midae from 2000–2016 being 55,863 tonnes, while only 18,905 tonnes was legally produced over the same period.
H. midae illegally harvested between 2000 and 2016 is accordingly estimated to total 36,958 tonnes, representing an average of 2,174 tonnes per annum and equating to a total of over 96 million individual abalone poached since 2000.
The rampant illegal harvesting of abalone has resulted in the loss of a valuable commodity worth approximately R 628 million per annum to the South African economy.