Red Abalone

Common name:

Red Abalone

Scientific name:

Haliotis rufescens

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Sourcing Summary

< 4 in.

Farmed abalone is available year-round although the supply is limited and the prices may be high. Red abalone is produced live, fresh, frozen, as well as processed and tenderized, dried, salted, and canned. Farmed U.S. red abalone should be between two to three inches in size, any larger than four inches and it’s either imported or illegally poached. Tenderized and cooked abalone is mild and slightly sweet in taste with a firm and tender texture, however if there are needle marks in an abalone steak, it is actually tenderized cuttlefish.

Harvest Methods

Farmed

Open/Uncontained
Off-Bottom Culture
Closed/Contained
Closed/Contained
Cages

Product Forms

Fresh

  • Live
  • Raw Shucked
  • Steaks

Frozen

  • Raw Shucked
  • Steaks
  • Value-Added
Fresh Seasonal Availability
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Culinary Composition

Flavor

Mild
Sweet
Strong

Texture

Delicate
Medium
Firm

Health & Nutrition

Nutrition facts

Serving size: 100 Grams
Amount per serving
  • Calories
    105.00
  • Total Fat
    0.76
    g
  • Cholesterol
    85.00
    mg
  • Sodium
    301.00
    mg
  • Carbohydrates
    0.00
    g
  • Protein
    17.10
    g
  • Omega-3
    0.10
    g

Cooking Methods

Advisory Concern

Biology

The red abalone’s shell exterior is brick red to pink, with 3-4 oval, open respiratory pores that are externally raised above the shell surface. Abalone “breathe” through these pores, under which their gill chambers are located. Algae growth often obscures their coloration. Their shell interior is iridescent with a large, oval muscle scar. Their mantle and tentacles are black, and the underside of the foot is slightly yellow. The shape of the shell depends on its habitat – if they grow into an adult in a rocky crevice where there are strong currents, the shell forms into a flat, low profile. If the abalone grows into an adult in an open area with little current, its shell will be highly rounded.

Abalone are slow-growing, and most California abalones mature between 3-7 years and can live up to 35-54 years. Wild red abalone can grow up to 10 in (26 cm). They are the largest in the Haliotis genus. Farmed abalone average about 4 in in length (10 cm) and can take 3-4 years to reach marketable size. When abalone grows, the mantle edge adds new material to the shell’s outer rim, increasing the shell diameter and adding new layers to the inside, which thickens the shell.

Red abalone are herbivores and feed on algae like drift kelp. During El Niño events when ocean temperatures are higher, kelp abundance decreases, which slows down shell growth, especially in Southern California. Their main predators are sea otters and humans.

They are broadcast spawners and spawn in the spring and early summer. Fecundity is directly related to adult size, so older and larger individuals are significantly more productive. A large adult can spawn as many as 6 million eggs, while a young female can only broadcast a few thousand. Because abalone are broadcast spawners, successful fertilization is also heavily reliant on other large adult populations living in close proximity. A minimum density of spawners no more than 5 ft (1.5 m) apart is essential for successful fertilization. The spawning season in Northern California occurs from April to July, which reflects the seasonal availability of kelp.  In Southern California, spawning can occur year-round. When one abalone begins to spawn, it triggers the spawning of others in the aggregation. Embryos develop into planktonic larvae and juveniles develop two ciliated flaps for swimming and feeding, eventually maturing into fully grown adults.

Species Habitat

In the wild, red abalone can be found in the Eastern Pacific, from Coos Bay, Oregon down to Bahia Tortugas, Mexico. They live in subtropical to temperate waters between temperatures from 46.5° F – 64.5°F (8°C - 18°C). They are benthic animals, living in or near rocky macroalgal substrate in depths ranging from 0-79 ft (0-24 m). They do move across sandy and gravel bottoms, between low intertidal to deeper waters. In Northern and Central California, they can be found in intertidal and shallow subtidal waters, and in Southern California, they only live in subtidal areas and in locations where there is upwelling of cooler water. Where sea otters are present, red abalone stay within deep cracks and crevices, but will occur out in the open when sea otters are not present.

Science & Management:
  • Farmed
    Science: 

    NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s Genetics, Physiology, and Aquaculture (GPA) Program researches local abalone species to develop methods to support and expand commercial abalone aquaculture in the region. Research on red, pink, and green abalone helps to guide restoration efforts for the endangered black and white abalone. The program is working on creating the first red abalone genome assembly for both males and females, which will help selectively target beneficial traits, improving aquaculture practices in the US.

    A chronic wasting disease called withering syndrome (WS) can affect red abalone populations, but the disease is not well-studied. The presence of WS is most notable in red abalone commercial farming, especially during ocean warming events like El Niño.

    Management: 

    Once a plentiful and lucrative fishery, wild red abalone populations along the US West Coast has been decimated by predation, disease, loss of habitat, and overfishing. Intense commercial harvesting started in the 1960s and 1970s. This led to a closure of all California commercial and recreational harvest of all abalone species in 1997, with the exception of a small, highly regulated freediving and rock picking recreational fishery of red abalone north of San Francisco. Illegal harvest, disease, sea otter predation, and reproductive failure has kept populations at low densities.

    The California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW), previously California Fish & Game Commission, adopted the Abalone Recovery and Management Plan (ARMP) in 2005 to manage the recreational fishery in Northern California. The ARMP also helps with the recovery of depleted abalone populations in the rest of California. The CDFW is additionally developing a Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the recreational red abalone fishery on the north coast, set to be adopted in 2021.

    Farmed supply has been alleviating the wild harvest shortfall over the past decade. Attempts began in the 1960s and became a successful business in the 1980s. Now, commercial abalone aquaculture is a thriving global industry valued at over $100 million. Abalone is one of the few species where aquaculture dominates the global market. Red abalone is the most popular and common abalone species in the North American market. It is currently available farmed from California north of Point Conception and wild-harvested and farmed from Baja California, Mexico. Mexico also produces green and pink abalone. They are grown in onshore saltwater pens or in suspended cages.

Wild
Farmed

Habitat Impacts

Red abalone counts for most of the abalone produced by Californian facilities, which grow the abalone either inland suspended in barrels or in cages suspended in sheltered waterways. China and Taiwan produce most of the world’s abalone. Strides are being made in producing farmed abalone sustainably internationally.

Feed

The largest Chinese farming operations grow their own kelp to feed abalone. Others use wild kelp. In California, where kelp has been harvested for various uses since 1911, some diving groups and conservation organizations are opposed to taking wild kelp for abalone farming. The Monterey Bay Aquarium cites a report by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stating that kelp harvesting has had “no significant negative impacts on the kelp forest.” In South Africa research is under way to find alternatives to fresh kelp for feed.

Disease, Pathogen and Parasite Interaction

In the early 1990s, a parasitic pest called the sabellid worm that causes shells to become brittle and deformed ravaged South African abalone farms. However, government and industry research has nearly eradicated the problem, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In California, abalone farms are spot-tested to check for the worm, and can become certified as sabellid-free. A disease called withering syndrome has been even more problematic because it killed abalone. The bacteria that causes this disease is also found in natural systems, so it’s just as likely to damage wild populations, reports the Monterey Bay Aquarium. State and federal agencies monitor for the disease.

Origin Harvest Method Sustainability Ratings
Unassessed Origin Unassessed Farming Methods
Seafood Watch- Unrated
Ocean Wise- Unrated
Good Fish Guide - Unrated
Worldwide Open Bottom Culture
Seafood Watch- Good Alternative
Ocean Wise- Recommended
Good Fish Guide - Unrated
Worldwide Off-Bottom Culture
Seafood Watch- Best Choice
Ocean Wise- Recommended
Good Fish Guide - Unrated
Worldwide Outdoor Flowthrough Tank
Seafood Watch- Best Choice
Ocean Wise- Recommended
Good Fish Guide - Unrated
Worldwide Enclosed Bottom Culture
Seafood Watch- Best Choice
Ocean Wise- Recommended
Good Fish Guide - Unrated
Worldwide Indoor Flowthrough Tank
Seafood Watch- Best Choice
Ocean Wise- Recommended
Good Fish Guide - Unrated
Name Country State/Province
American Abalone United States California
Catalina Offshore Products United States California
FreshCatch United States California
Mikuni Wild Harvest United States Washington
Monterey Abalone Company United States California
OM Seafood Company United States Oregon
Real Good Fish United States California
Royal Hawaiian Seafood United States California
Sea Forager Seafood United States California
The Abalone Farm United States California
The Cultured Abalone Farm United States California

Acknowledgements

  • NOAA Fisheries
  • SeafoodSource
Last Updated: 7/24/2020