A poacher with a bag of fresh abalone © Shaun Swingler

Empty Shells abalone poaching and trade from southern Africa

A poacher with a bag of fresh abalone © Shaun Swingler


Published 18th September 2018

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Organised criminal syndicates drive collapse of South African abalone

96 million abalone poached in 18 years, new TRAFFIC report finds

Pretoria, South Africa, 19th September 2018—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.

Empty Shells: An assessment of abalone poaching and trade in southern Africa

Report author(s):
Nicola Okes, Markus Bürgener, Sade Moneron, Julian Rademeyer

Publication date:
September 2018


1 CITES is the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

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A media package containing still images, graphics and a copy of the documentary can be accessed here.

Video footage from the documentary is available for use on request.

EMPTY SHELLS: INSIDE THE ILLEGAL ABALONE TRADE – watch the full documentary or watch the teaser documentary

THE ABALONE HEIST – watch an attempted in-transit robbery of a truck carrying farmed abalone.


About Arcadia

Arcadia is a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. It supports charities and scholarly institutions that preserve cultural heritage and the environment. Arcadia also supports projects that promote open access and all of its awards are granted on the condition that any materials produced are made available for free online. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $777 million to projects around the world. For more information, visit

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.