Back in the day, abalone was as good as gold. Literally–the Chumash in this area used this funny sea creature’s shell for money and decorative jewelery, as well as one of their primary sources of protein.
Abalone’s main predator is the sea otter (due to it’s paws, which allow it to scoop abalone off the rocks and eat them). When the Spanish colonized the region, they immediately began hunting the sea otters for their fur, soon decimating the population. Logically, the abalone population boomed. It then quickly busted due to over-fishing, and resultantly became highly regulated by the government. Classic. Today, abalone cannot be caught in large commercial quantities from the ocean. So some creative folks have figured out a way to farm them.
old postcard from the ’20’s…post-sea otter decimation
jesse and owen (owen’s our new chef, by the way) look offshore the abalone farm
One of those folks was Dick Craig, who founded the Cultured Abalone Farm in Goleta in 1984. Here, they raise red abalone from the hatchery to finished product, feeding the animals local seaweed and allowing them to live in clean ocean water all along the way. We got the chance to visit with Cultured Abalone and to learn all that goes into bringing these creatures to our plates. Turns out, there is quite a lot of science and precision involved in accurately mimicking all that goes on deep in the ocean waters. Kendal, an employee of the company, brought us around, showing us what the abalone looked like from the spawning stage (under a microscope) to little tiny ladybug-sized stage, to the full formed stage when the abalone reach about 1/4 pound. The whole cycle takes about three years. And because the industry is in its infancy in California (there are just four abalone farms in the state), these guys are figuring a lot out as they go. But their product is something really special. Can’t wait to get these in the kitchen!
Doug explains the farming process
the little red stripes come from the abalone’s diet of red dulse seaweed