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Live abalone - Haliotis midae © Rob Tarr

Live abalone - Haliotis midae © Rob Tarr

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Published 21st December 2022

First-ever global Red List assessment of abalone underlines urgency of combatting illegal trade

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM reveals as much as 44% of all abalone shellfish species are threatened with extinction. The primary threat to one of the newly assessed species, Haliotis midae, found in South Africa, is illegal fishing, mainly for international trade. TRAFFIC is actively supporting the South African Government to address this long-standing illicit trade in the country by assisting in the development of a National Strategy and Action Plan.


Confiscated abalone
Image by Markus Burgener / TRAFFIC

The Red List update was given during the CBD CoP15 last week and coincides with TRAFFIC’s ongoing work on the trade in South African Abalone Haliotis midae (commonly referred to as perlemoen). As well as monitoring the state of trade, TRAFFIC is assisting the South African Government in the development of a National Strategy and Action Plan to Prevent and Combat the Trade in Illegally Harvested South African Abalone.

The National Strategy and Action Plan seeks to bridge the gap between compliance and enforcement with a regulatory framework that engages with and uplifts communities and explores economic opportunities of the fishery for the benefit of the South African people and the resource.

These efforts could not be timelier as the impact of the illegal trade in H. midae has been severe. It is estimated that South Africa has also lost billions of Rand in revenue to date to this illicit trade.” 

Sade Moneron of TRAFFIC South Africa

Furthermore, the supply chain of South African Abalone has also exploited the country's social, political, and economic vulnerabilities, including unemployment, widespread poverty and inequality, and inadequate service delivery. The convergence of this trade with other crimes, including the trade in drugs, other wildlife products, gangsterism and corruption, has further added to this lucrative and violent criminal economy, with dire ramifications for the country’s fiscus, its people and the abalone resource.

In 2018, TRAFFIC released the Empty Shells report, which documented the alarmingly high poaching levels of abalone in South Africa – estimating that 36,958 tonnes of abalone were illegally harvested between 2000 and 2016 – approximately double the quantity that was legally produced over the same period. A more recent analysis of the available data by TRAFFIC indicates that this trend has continued, suggesting that the poaching pressure exerted on South Africa’s abalone resource appears to have remained constant.

The harvesting of H. midae, a slow-growing endemic species, has mainly supplied East Asian countries and territories where abalone is considered and consumed as a high-value delicacy. Between 2000 and 2021, H. midae occupied approximately 15% of the total imported quantity of abalone into Hong Kong Specialist Administrative Region (the world’s largest importer of abalone). Additionally, it appears that H. midae transits through a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa before being exported to the final destination. This activity is made easier as H. midae is currently not regulated by any international trading agreements. 

The listing of H. midae as Endangered on the IUCN Red List reinforces the need to continue the ongoing efforts to prevent and combat the illegal trade in South African Abalone. Sade continues, “we are looking forward to the New Year in seeking input and commitment from a variety of stakeholders within government, the private sector, academia, and civil society in efforts to bridge the gap between compliance and enforcement, and this way boosting the legal and sustainable trade of the species.”

Watch the video from the Empty Shells Report


Notes:

The Empty Shells: abalone poaching and trade from southern Africa report was produced by the TRAFFIC ReTTA project. This project continues to research ongoing abalone trade. 


About ReTTA

ReTTA is a TRAFFIC project aiming to Reduce Trade Threats to Africa’s Wild Species and Ecosystems. The project is funded by Arcadia—a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

About the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (or The IUCN Red List) is an invaluable resource to guide conservation action and policy decisions. It is a health check for our planet – a Barometer of Life. It is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant, animal and fungi species. It is based on an objective system for assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no conservation action be taken.

Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on whether they meet criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as ‘threatened’.

About IUCN

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union uniquely composed of both government and civil society organisations. It provides public, private and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together. For more information visit: iucn.org