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Blacklip Black Market

By Pascal Geraghty on December 17, 2015 in Other

Photo: Pascal Geraghty

Photo: Pascal Geraghty

Some people get seriously turned on by abalones. God knows why. Well, actually, I do know why, but I don’t buy into it. Seeing a particular part of the female anatomy in the underside of an abalone is wishful thinking, not to mention reliant on a vivid, if somewhat seedy, imagination. Those who subscribe to the aphrodisiacal qualities of abs are actually guilty of a foot fetish, for the part of the creature that is both eyed-up and eaten is in fact just that: its foot.

Others swear by the gastronomic qualities of abalones. Again, I’m not convinced. With regard to the few morsels I’ve eaten, I’d quite frankly have preferred to chew a slice off my BF Goodrich All Terrains. I’ve since been assured, however, that the person manning the barbecue was squarely to blame, having neglected to first tenderise the freshly shucked flesh for 48 hours with a sledgehammer.

My opinions aside, abalones are amongst the most highly prized and valuable marine animals on the planet, famous for supporting lucrative and dangerous commercial fisheries, and equally lucrative black markets. But to know nothing more of these titillating snails than their fiscal worth and edibility would be doing them a grave injustice indeed.

The abalones we find suction-cupped to our rocky reefs out the front are of the blacklip variety (Haliotis rubra). The species is found only in Australia and exists in southern waters from Angourie in New South Wales to Rottnest Island in Western Australia, including around Tasmania.

The blacklip abalone is a shy, cryptic creature, generally inhabiting underwater crevices and caves between five and ten metres deep. It exercises a strictly Bondi-esque vegan diet, grazing predominantly on seagrass leaves and encrusting red algae on rocks. It is also overtly modest, proving the old adage that appearances can be deceiving. Clad in a veritable ‘yowie suit’ of seaweed, sponges, tube worms and even barnacles, these ear-shaped shells, while expertly camouflaged, are no oil-painting from the outside, but if you’re willing to look past their shabby exterior, hidden behind their oversized, muscular foot, you’ll discover the most exquisite mother of pearl.

Blacklip abalones can live for over 20 years, reach shell lengths of 22 centimetres and weigh in excess of three kilograms. They mature at three to six years of age.

Sadly, a combination of fishing pressure and mortalities from widespread parasite infection saw blacklip stocks decline to historic lows in recent years. Consequently, the collection of abalones is currently banned from waters between Port Stephens and Wreck Bay, including Sydney. So if you fluke it and happen to see one while diving, think again before brandishing your ab-iron and prizing it from its rock. By leaving it alone you may sacrifice some mild stimulation, but you’ll save yourself a lot of hard work tenderising the meat, not to mention avoiding a possible dislocated jaw from chewing so hard.