Organized Crime Driving Collapse of South African Abalone

Over the past 18 years, poachers have stripped South African coastal waters of at least 96 million abalone. the population of abalone Haliotis midae is now declining at unprecedented levels. On average 2,000 tons of abalone are bagged – 20 times the legal take – worth at least USD60 million a year.

Driven by sophisticated transnational criminal networks and local gangs, the illegal abalone trade has been fuelled by deeply entrenched socio-economic disparities in the Western Cape, bitterly contested fishing quotas, drugs and gang violence. They can easily be laundered without fear of law enforcement action once abalone shipments have been smuggled out of South Africa to neighbouring countries.

Up to 43% of illegally harvested abalone was traded through sub-Saharan African countries to Hong Kong between 2000 and 2016 – mostly occurred by air, about 2% by sea. Trade route analysis suggests that most trade occurred in the Western Cape region and involved the major land and sea ports in South Africa, including Durban, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.