English name: Ormer or Earshell; Japanese: Awabi; American: Abalone (from Spain.); New Zealand: Paua; Australian: Mutton fish. Species occurring in Victoria: Blacklipped Abalone (Haliotis ruber).
Around the turn of the century a Chinaman, who lived on Gabo Island, is reputed to have first fished here for Abalone from a boat. He used a long pole to hook the plentiful shellfish from the bottom, then he sun-dried and shipped the meat to China.
Abalone are located on the seabed on rocks. They can reach 30 years of age and are harvestable from approximately 6 years on. They are seaweed feeders, hence their Australian name: Mutton Fish. Abalone graze the seabed as sheep graze paddocks. They have a heavy muscular foot on the bottom of the shell, which is the edible part. The life of the abalone begins in a free drifting planktonic state. When they get too heavy they sink to the bottom, and if they are lucky, strike a suitable reef. In the juvenile stage they are light fearing and hide under boulders, rocks and in caves. As they grow larger, abalone become light loving and settle in more open and accessible areas, thus making room for the next group of youngsters.
They are not in danger of being fished out because there are strict conservation rules applying to size, licence limitations and daily quotas.
The first fleet of abalone divers with compressors came to Mallacoota around 1963. At the height of the fishing there were over 100 divers working from the port. The catches were shelled at sea and the meat brought home in 10 gallon rubbish bins.
Fortunes were made and lost, a mini-Klondike! As other areas opened up for diving the numbers dwindled until today there are 26 divers fishing from Mallacoota. With staff at the Co-op, and dependants, the industry supports around 250 people.
Our area extends from Lakes Entrance to the NSW border. The reefs are nearly all inshore. Divers go down to depths ranging from 10 feet to 90 feet, and prise the abalone off with a crowbar-like tool. They are checked for size and the little ones carefully put back.
- The dreaded bends, where nitrogen bubbles circulate in the bloodstream and lodge in the joints, causing much pain, deformities, and sometimes death.
- Bone necrosis (also called Silent Bends), which eats the bones away like leprosy.
- Dehydration with the ensuing loss of concentration. (As the water is very cold the divers urinate excessively).
It is an interesting spectacle to see the abalone fleet cross the treacherous bar; either early in the morning between 7 and 9, or on their return between 2 and 5. Watch from the lookout area over the Mallacoota entrance.
Abalone are processed at the Co-op in three ways: canned, snap-frozen in the shell, or snap-frozen as meat only. They are now brought in, in the shell. The Co-op over the years has eliminated most middle-men and we ship directly. The markets are all Asian countries with the main export to Japan. They are considered a great delicacy and are supposed to have aphrodisiac properties. (Watch out how many you eat).
Fresh Abalone – Mallacoota Style
Sure fire method for preparing and cooking fresh abalone (Mallacoota Style!). Requirements: bread board, sharp knife, bowls for abalone meat, meat tenderiser, several sheets of newspaper and an apron.
- Wash thoroughly to remove any grit and sea sand.
- Cut off the head, which is a dark lump at the end of the ab. See drawing! The head makes good fishing bait. Cut head off, taking as little meat as possible. All else is edible.
- With a sharp knife, cut the abalone in half through the frills, producing two schnitzels of white meat.
- Using several sheets of newspaper as a base pound the sliced abs thoroughly. Find a level place outside i.e., a log or an even concrete area. Apart from the fact that the pounding takes some space, small portions of the flesh will fly up from the operation and they stick like glue wherever they land. Hence outside the house, please! Pound until they go ‘splat’ instead of ‘thump’. The surface should be slightly pulpy and the abalone very malleable. Do not do to the ‘see through’ stage.
- Using a heavy frypan, heat to a very high temperature with a little oil, or oil and butter. Garlic or onions may be added for flavour. Cook one (1) minute only on either side. Serve with vegetables as available.
Eat at once. Bon appetite!
If they are not tender!!?? You didn’t tenderise them enough or you cooked them too long.
Abalone may also be dipped in breadcrumbs if you wish.