Visit to an Abalone Farm

Abalone shell
Science Photo Library / Getty Images
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    The Abalone Farm in Cayucos, California

    The Abalone Farm in Cayucos, California
    The Abalone Farm in Cayucos, California. Molly Watson

    This abalone farm in Cayucos on the Central Coast of California was established in 1968 when commercial fishing of wild abalone was still allowed. Overfishing brought red abalone (Haliotis rufescent) to the brink of extinction in the 1970s. Management of recreational catch and a shift to aquaculture, like The Abalone Farm, for commercial supply are allowing the wild abalone population along the California coast to re-establish itself.

    Seawater is pumped into the farm and minimally filtered. Abalone is a bit of a "canary in the coal mine" for the ocean, and they like the clean water along the Central Coast. That water circulates among the tanks and gets passed back into the ocean. Nothing is added to the water along the way except abalone and the kelp (taken from the same ocean) they eat.

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  • 02 of 10

    Breeding Abalone

    The Abalone Farm breeds their fastest growing abalone with wild abalone they catch with a special license. The main challenge when growing abalone for commercial sale is how very slowly they grow, so choosing the fastest growers to breed is a no-brainer. Crossing them with wild abalone keeps the genetic stock at the farm strong and ensures that the red abalone the farm sells tastes like the real thing.

    Think this creature looks like a snail? Abalone is, in fact, sea snails, or, to put it more scientific terms, they are marine gastropod mollusks.

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  • 03 of 10

    Abalone Spawn

    Indoor Tanks at The Abalone Farm
    Indoor Tanks at The Abalone Farm. Molly Watson

    The microscopic abalone spawn is kept in large protected tanks for about 3 months and fed a steady diet of algae grown just for them.

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  • 04 of 10

    Very Young Abalone

    Very Young Abalone
    Very Young Abalone in Tanks. Molly Watson

    At about 3 months old the abalone get moved to a different set of indoor tanks. They are still fed a diet of algae, grown in houses and delivered directly to the tanks for their enjoyment. These abalones are big enough to cling to and crawl on the sides of the tank—but they don't yet know not to climb up and out of the tank. After some trial and error, the farm figured out that the abalone wouldn't cross the prickly texture of fake turf, so a strip of plastic grass rings all the tanks to keep the abalone safe and sound in their tanks.

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  • 05 of 10

    Young Abalone

    Year-Old Abalone
    Year-Old Abalone. Molly Watson

    At around 10 months old, the young abalone is moved to the outdoor tanks, which are built to resemble the tidal pools they would live in along the coast. Since they are still so small, they are given round white baskets to crawl around on so those who tend the tanks can better inspect and monitor them.

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  • 06 of 10

    Tiny Abalone In Hand

    Young Abalone in Hand
    Young Abalone in Hand. Molly Watson

    The young abalone is kept on those baskets until they're about 2 years old. For a sense of perspective, here is an abalone that is about 2 years old in an adult hand.

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  • 07 of 10

    Kelp: Abalone Food

    Kelp. Molly Watson

    Red abalone eats kelp, as shown here. The Abalone Farm harvests kelp from the kelp forests that grow just off-shore from the farm. Kelp is amazingly fast-growing, making the abalone's food source wonderfully sustainable. Note: This kelp has a great crunch and slightly earthy, salty flavor. Delicious.

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  • 08 of 10

    Outdoor Abalone Tanks

    Abalone Tanks
    Abalone Tanks. Molly Watson

    At about 2 years old the abalone are moved off the baskets and just into the outdoor tanks to crawl around and eat kelp. These tanks are designed to mimic the natural tide pools where the abalone would live in the wild, so water to circulated in and out of them with great regularity.

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  • 09 of 10

    Abalone, Ready for Market

    Full-Grown Red Abalone
    Full-Grown Red Abalone. Molly Watson

    This abalone is between 4 and 6 years old, which is the age when The Abalone Farm harvests and sells their abalone.

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  • 10 of 10

    Cooking Abalone

    A Whole Cleaned Abalone
    A Whole Cleaned Abalone. Molly Watson

    After all those years, the abalone is ready to be cooked up in its full deliciousness. If you have a live abalone at hand, you'll first need to clean it

    Once cleaned, you may well want to slice and tenderize the abalone. It's a key step to making our favorite way to cook abalone: pan fried abalone.