Inside Abagold: Abalone Farms That Send Tons of ‘White Gold’ to China Every Year

  • The abalone industry which started in 1984 in South Africa has come a long way.
  • Abagold is one one of the largest abalone farms in Africa, it comprises four aquaculture farms spread over 10 hectares and is home to some 10 million abalones.
  • At any one time, 630 tons of abalone in tanks of various sizes are busy crossing the pipeline. It takes five years for the abalone to reach maturity.
  • On Saturday, the company was recognized for its sustainable farming practices with a major awardn by Friend of the Sea, an independent NGO. Their highly sought-after environmental certification is found on some 1,500 products in more than 80 countries.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

It all started in 1984, when a veterinarian, prompted to find a sustainable way to ensure that abalone, a mollusk commonly known as perlemoen found in the kelp forests off the west coast of Africa, would not go extinct. not.

“Dr. Pierre Hugo dedicated his life to trying to figure out how to spawn abalone because once you could spawn them, we thought we should be able to spawn them and he was able to. This recipe is what was shared and that is why we now have 13 different abalone farms in South Africa.”

These are the words of Tim Hedges, Director of Abagold, who has been part of abalone history for over 25 years. Their business, which began on the shores of Hermanus, grows the world’s most desirable seafood, highly sought after on dinner plates in Hong Kong, as part of a massive aquaculture venture that in 2018 , reached 46,400 tons per year.

Now one of the largest abalone farms in Africa, it comprises four aquaculture farms spread over 13 hectares and is home to some 10 million abalones. The company employs 381 people and in 2021 saw more than 500 tons of production, 95% of which is sold abroad. .

“At any given time, we have 630 tons in tanks of various sizes busy moving through the pipeline. It takes five years for the abalone to reach maturity. The people who raise the abalone are very, very patient. Because this what you put in at the start is what you get five years later. Once the pipeline is filled, it makes the process easier,” says Hedges.

South Africa’s highly sought-after species of abalone, Haliotis Midae, can fetch a high price in Hong Kong, where the majority of abalones are found. Here, abalone is considered “white gold” eaten everywhere in high-end restaurants or given as a gift during Chinese New Year or during the Dragon Boat Festival, and given as a symbol of wealth.

“It’s a famous gift to give to your potential mother-in-law, as a Mother’s Day gift, to show respect. So it’s definitely not an aphrodisiac, nobody wants to give that kind of gift to their stepmom. -mother,” says Werner Piek, Marketing Manager of Abagold.

Hatcheries have become a crucial alternative for the preservation of this fascinating mollusc that was once so abundant in the kelp forests of South Africa.

(Left) Paolo Bray, Founder and Director of Friend of the Sea and (Right) Tim Hedges, Director of Abagold. Photo by Jay Caboz.

For the Abagold team, this last Saturday was more special than most. The company has been recognized for its sustainable farming practices that use organic farming methods as well as solar energy, even harvesting and growing its own seaweed.

Donated by an NGO called Friend of the Sea, a World Organization for Sustainable Development project that independently certifies environmentally sustainable production for businesses, from restaurants to fishing, aquaculture, fishmeal, sustainable navigation, whale and dolphin watching, aquariums, ornamental fish, UV creams, food, etc.

Abagold’s relationship with certification dates back to 2015, when it was one of the first abalone companies to receive the independently verified Friend of the Sea sustainability certification. It received the Friend of the Sea’s 2022 Sustainability Award, given annually to a single company for its commitment to sustainable production.

Over the past 30 years, growing demand from East Asia has fueled a massive poaching demand for South African abalone. And, as a result of said poaching, abalone farming has become a crucial alternative for its preservation, explains Paolo Bray, founder and director of Friend of the Sea, who was in Hermanus to present the award.

“Farming abalone can reduce fishing pressure and aid in recovery. Abalone has been identified as one of many classes of organisms at risk of extinction due to overfishing and acidification of oceans.”

It meets a series of certification standards that minimize the adverse effects of aquaculture operations, including: reducing its impact on surrounding habitats; using organic farming methods; reduce its carbon footprint and comply with social responsibility, among others.

Navigation has not always been easy for Abagold. In 2017, a devastating red tide led to the loss of 36% of their agricultural livestock. It took two whole years to resume production.

“To get out of this difficult time and be able to get to a point where I can continue to develop sustainability so that I can continue to do things for the long term. We are constantly looking for new technologies. What we have realized is that the sustainability defines how we’re going to survive, how to make sure we’re as efficient as possible,” says Hedges.

This is what the farm looks like:

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

When Hermanus was founded 150 years ago, abalone was abundant on the shore. Fishing was the first economic base of the town. Over the years, this aggressively harvested species died out and people turned to the shellfish, the abalone.

It all starts with the ocean.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

The cool, pristine waters of the Atlantic Ocean provide the necessary nutrients and environment for abalone production. Before the seawater even reaches the thousands of reservoirs on their farms, it must be filtered. Large chunks of kelp and other trash-like fishing nets are first filtered using these large cages.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

The kelp is harvested for use on the farm, while the waste is recycled.

Water is then pumped through these massive pipes. Abagold pumps an average of 12 million liters of seawater to fill its tanks every hour.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

This is equivalent to transporting sea water with 13,000 fully loaded one-tonne bakkies every hour.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

The seawater is further filtered before being sent to a pressure tower and then to a secondary sump. He is now clean and ready to enter the farm.

The hatchery produces 1 million spat (baby abalone).

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

In the larval rearing area, the fertilized eggs are hatched and nurtured for the first week before being transferred to the hatchery. Here, sedentary animals spend the first few months feeding on diatoms and are fed macroalgae. They are so small that you cannot see them with the naked eye.

It can take six months to go from microscopic eggs to 10 millimeter spats.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Abagold both produces for its own farms and sells to others.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Abagold has four farms in Hermanus: Sea View, Amaza (waves), Bergsig (mountain view) and Sulamanzi (clean water).

SourceGoogle Maps.

Abagold Farms. SourceGoogle Maps.

The first hatchery animals are placed on Sea View where they are reared. Once the animals have reached the appropriate age and size, they are transferred to Amaza where the intermediate-sized animals are housed. Finally, the animals are moved to Bergsig to complete their growth phase. The whole process takes years.

Together, the three farms house 4,000 land tanks.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Abba Gold has its own canning and food processing facility.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

It exports live, dried and canned abalone.

South Africa’s highly sought-after species of abalone, Haliotis Midae, is revered and fetches a high price in Hong Kong and China.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

South Africa has been in the abalone business for 50 years, but we’ve only been farming abalone for 15-20 years. South Africa is one of the three largest abalone producers in the world. With over 100 species, 15 of which are commercial, abalone has different characteristics.

With so many abalones, the company needs a lot of food.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Ulva with seaweed. Photo by Jay Caboz.

In addition to harvesting algae from their filtration systems, they also grow their own. Abagold grows 12 tons of ulva per month in six giant ponds. They also use kelp and small amounts of gracilaria.

Gracilaria with seaweed.  Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Abagold has also developed its own feed manufacturing plant where it produces 100 tonnes of artificial feed per month for its farms and other aquaculture species.

Value to the South African economy.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

According to a Western Cape report, in 2016 the global abalone production was 150,000 tonnes. That same year, South Africa produced 1,660 tonnes, or 2.8% of world supply. By contrast, illegally harvested abalone in South Africa is estimated to average 2,174 tonnes per year between 2000 and 2016 (with an average annual value of R628 million).

How is abalone eaten?

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Abalone makes a delicious ceviche or can even be eaten straight from the can.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

Photo by Jay Caboz.

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