Australian abalone under threat

The poor old Abalone (pronounced abbaloney here) hasn’t had many lucky breaks – first over-fishing, now a deadly virus.

The shellfish is delicacy here in Australia and in many other parts of the world. It became so sought after that the government Australian government bought back licenses and to buy an abalone license these days costs mega bucks – around half a million dollars when I checked many years ago. Recreational fishers are very limited to how many of the shellfish can be taken.

Illegal abalone harvesting is big business and a continuing challenge for our fisheries authorities. If caught, poachers face hefty fines and even jail time.

Abalone shell. The abalone is not only prized for its meat
but also its mother of pearl inner shell

The tough measures did provide some breathing space for this shellfish, but now the abalone is facing a bigger threat – the Ganglioneuritis Virus. It was first detected in late 2005 when unexplained mortalities of farmed abalone occurred in Victoria aquaculture farms.

The Ganglioneuritis Virus has since escaped out into the wild and is particularly nasty – it attacks the abalone’s nervous system and can cause death in under 6 days. If an abalone gets the virus, there is no chance of survival. When the virus has infected natural reefs, there have been mortalities of up to 95% in the abalone population.

Diseased abalone have now been found along hundreds of kilometers of Victoria’s coastline. Reefs and farms are currently being closed, but there is no sign of the epidemic easing up – this is a very serious situation that could see abalone totally disappear from some areas for decades and the great unknown is how far it will spread.

Government and industry authorities advise divers and recreational fishers that:

a) Wetsuits and other dive equipment should be thoroughly washed between dives
b) People should wash their hands in soapy water after diving for abalone
c) Abalone shells and offal should not be dumped back into the sea.
d) Abalone gut should not be used as fishing bait.

To learn more about the Ganglioneuritis Virus visit the Victorian Abalone Divers Association