Over the past 18 years, poachers have stripped South African coastal waters of at least 96 million individual 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 some of the shocking revelations contained in a new report, Empty Shells: An assessment of abalone poaching and trade from southern Africa, published by TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network. The report is accompanied by a documentary that delves deep into the illegal abalone trade and its wider social context.
TRAFFIC is calling for stricter trade controls on South African abalone and a listing of the species on CITES, the Convention governing trade in endangered, threatened, and at-risk species.
Driven by sophisticated transnational criminal networks and local gangs, the illegal abalone trade is fuelled by deeply entrenched socio-economic disparities in Western Cape, bitterly contested fishing quotas, drugs, and gang violence.