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Current status of abalone fisheries and culture in Mexico.

ABSTRACT During the 2008 season, 318 mt (meat weight) of abalone (Haliotis spp.) were commercially fished in Mexico. The species composition of the catch was H. fulgens (70.8%), H. corrugata (28.9%), and H. cracherodii (0.3%). During the past 5 y, total catches increased 29% as a result of the recovery of natural populations of the 2 main species. In particular, H. corrugata catches increased from 50.4 t in 2004 to 91.7 t in 2008 (up by 82%). Currently, 3 private farms culture abalone (mostly H. rufescens) to market size (approximately >7 cm), and 29.6 t of this product were sold in 2008, mostly to markets in Asia and the United States. One of these companies is also producing abalone pearls and jewelry. A new private farm with restocking and growout objectives has just started operations. In addition, 6 hatcheries of fishermen cooperatives produce larvae and seed for restocking purposes and at least 2 of these have started grow-out trials. During the past 2 y, more than 130 million larvae and 350 thousand seeds (approximately >1.5 cm) of H. fulgens and H. corrugata have been released in the wild stocks by these cooperative hatcheries.

KEY WORDS: abalone, Haliotis, Mexico, fishery, aquaculture


Abalones (Haliotis spp.) have been fished in Mexico for more than a century, and a maximum catch of 6,000 mt was reached in 1950; however, the fishery collapsed in the mid 1970s (Guzman del Proo 1992). By law, the commercial harvest can only be performed by fishermen cooperatives (Ponce-Diaz et al. 1998) and no private or sport fishing is allowed.

This gastropod occurs in Mexico only in the west coast and islands of the Baja California peninsula from the U.S. border to Magdalena Bay, but the main stocks are located in the central part of the peninsula (Fig. 1). Although up to 7 species have been reported in Mexico (Searcy-Bernal & Salas-Garza 1989, Guzman del Proo 1992, Morales-Bojorquez et al. 2008), more than 99% of the fishery depends on two: H. fulgens Philippi (abulon azul) and H. corrugata Wood (abulon amarillo). In the northern part of the peninsula, H. rufescens Swainson (abulon rojo) is the main species commercially cultivated.

Research on development of abalone aquaculture started during the early 1970s, but the first hatcheries operated by the Mexican government and cooperatives for restocking purposes were established during the early 1980s (Salas-Garza & Searcy-Bernal 1992). The first commercial abalone farm started in 1989 with a cooperative that became Abulones Cultivados in 1992, when the Mexican laws changed to allow abalone aquaculture by private companies (Perez-Munoz 1995). This article presents information on the abalone fishery and aquaculture in Mexico, with special reference to the past five years (2004~2008).

Data on abalone fishery production were obtained directly from the Regional Centers of Fisheries Research (Centros Regionales de Investigacion Pesquera (CRIPs)) of Ensenada and La Paz, which are in charge of the fishery regulation in the states of Baja California (BC) and Baja California Sur (BCS), respectively; from official records published by the Secretaria de Agricultura, Ganaderia, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentacion (SAGARPA 2006); and from the Federation of Fishing Cooperatives (Federacion Regional de Sociedades Cooperativas Pesqueras "Baja California" (FEDECOOP)). Data on aquaculture were provided by the Fisheries Subdelegation of Ensenada (Subdelegacidn de Pesca, SAGARPA) and from interviews with the managers of commercial farms and cooperative hatcheries. Market information was provided by FEDECOOP and commercial farm managers.


Fifteen Mexican cooperatives were fishing abalone in 2008 (Table 1, Fig. 1), but those in the central part of the peninsula (from Cedros Island to Punta Abreojos (Fig. 1)) contributed 90% of the catches. Figure 2 shows the commercial catches of abalone (meat weight) for the past 5 y and the estimated total weight of the catches since 1996, showing a steady increase since 2001. In Mexico, catches are registered as meat weight and converted to total weight to obtain SAGARPA statistics. During the 2008 season, 318 mt of abalone (meat weight) were commercially fished in Mexico (approximately 794 mt total weight).

The species composition of the catch was H. fulgens (70.8 %), H. corrugata (28.9%), and H. cracherodii Leach (0.3%). During the past 5 y, total catches increased 29% as a result of an increase of the 2 main species (Fig. 3). In particular, H. corrugata catches increased from 50.4 t in 2004 to 91.7 t in 2008 (82%), and its contribution to the total production increased from 20.5% in 2004 to 28.9% in 2008 (Fig. 4). H. cracherodii (abulon negro) is only fished in Isla Guadalupe (240 km offshore), because stocks of the Baja California mainland have virtually disappeared.

The decline in abalone catches up to 2001 (Fig. 2) reflects a decrease in natural populations probably as a result of overfishing (Morales-Bojorquez et al. 2008) and climatic change (Ponce-Diaz et al. 2003a). For instance, the strong El Nino of 1997 to 1998 drastically reduced the abundance of juvenile abalone and algal beds. This lack of food also affected adults, which were observed in reduced numbers and poor physiological condition (Guzman del Proo et al. 2003). Therefore, it is suggested that this El Nino event contributed to the decline of the fishery of subsequent years.


Since 2001, commercial catches have been increasing (Fig. 2) as a result of the recovery of natural populations of both H. fulgens and H. corrugata. Current management strategies by the Mexican government, fully supported by the cooperatives, include the assignment of quotas based on stock assessment of the different fishing grounds. A surplus production model and risk analyses are then applied to establish quotas aiming at the gradual recovery of the total biomass. Estimates for the stocks of Baja California Sur (B.C.S., Fig. 1) indicate that from 2000 to 2007, the biomass of H.fulgens and H. corrugata increased 45% and 91%, respectively (Mucino-Diaz et al. 2007). This management approach, which reinforces the traditional season and size regulations, is probably the main cause of the recent recovery of the abalone fishery.

Illegal catches have been always a problem in this fishery and, although a reliable evaluation is extremely difficult to obtain (Ponce-Diaz et al. 2003b), fishermen consider that these account for at least 20% of the legal catches.


Four private commercial farms were culturing abalone in 2008 (Table 2, Fig. 1), but only 3 are currently selling abalone (mostly H. rufescens) and one of these (GEMAS) sold their first product in 2008. The fourth one (REGASA) started operations in 2007.

Abalone production of commercial farms is shown in Figure 5. In 2008, 29.6 mt (total weight) were produced. The peak of production in 2004 (59.2 mr) was the result of the closure of the largest farm (then, B.C. Abalone, Erendira, B.C.), which sold its entire inventory. One of the farms (Productores Marinos Baja) is also producing abalone pearls and fine jewelry, which is sold in Mexico and the United States. In 2008, production increased to 1,300 pearls (Fig. 6).

All commercial farms have seed production facilities, and abalone are grown to market size (approximately >7 cm) in land-based systems with natural seaweeds as the main feed. Wild or farmed broodstock is induced to spawn with hydrogen peroxide, and the larval and postlarval stages are cultivated in plastic tanks with continuous flow of filtered seawater and aeration systems. Larval metamorphosis is induced with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in all farms, and benthic diatoms (e.g., Navicula incerta) are also grown and added to the tanks as a food source until the abalone are large enough to eat seaweed (Searcy-Bernal et al. 2007). Some farms use fish flakes as a supplement during the late postlarval and weaning stages.


Grow-out systems include tanks of different sizes made of concrete or other materials, with plastic plates inside net cages. Continuous aeration and water pumps operating almost 24 h/ day maintain the optimal water conditions for growth. Abalones are fed fresh seaweed collected daily from the kelp beds nearby (mostly Macrocystis pyrifera). Some experimental artificial diets have been tested, but they have not been upscaled.


Abalone commercial aquaculture in Mexico is developing rather slowly, despite the excellent natural conditions and low labor costs. In 1998, there were 2 commercial farms (one of which closed in 2004) (McBride 1998); currently there are 4, which represents a net increase of only 2 farms in a decade.

This slow development of commercial abalone aquaculture might be the result of a combination of factors, including the risks involved in this type of industry (in which sales can start only after at least 4~5 y of initial investment), the extensive and time-consuming paperwork required by the Mexican government, the lack of optimal infrastructure in some coastal areas (roads, electricity, etc.) and the high operational costs (energy, imported equipment and supplies, etc.).

The current global crisis and reduced abalone prices would further discourage the establishment of new farms and poses new challenges to the existing industry, which will have to find creative ways to become more efficient and sell their products in the local and international markets.



Six hatcheries of fishermen cooperatives produce larvae and seeds for restocking purposes, and at least 2 of these have started grow-out trials (Table 1, Fig. 1). During 2007 and 2008, more than 130 million larvae and 350,000 seed (approximately >1.5 cm) of H. fulgens and H. corrugata were released in the wild stocks of central Baja California by these cooperative hatcheries.

In these hatcheries, wild broodstock is induced to spawn mostly by exposure to ultraviolet-irradiated seawater, and larvae are cultured in static or flow-through systems. Larval metamorphosis is induced with GABA in most hatcheries, and postlarvae are cultured in tanks with or without racks of plastic plates, relying mostly on natural diatoms as a food source until the abalone can eat seaweed. Competent larvae are released in shallow seafloor areas covered with crustose coralline algae. Abalone seeds are released in areas with natural refuges from predation (e.g., boulders or rock crevices) and abundant seaweed, using different methods to transport them from the hatchery, such as plastic pipes covered with nylon mesh, which is removed in the seeding sites to allow the dispersal of abalone.

Despite the restocking efforts by the cooperative hatcheries, it is not known whether they are impacting wild abalone populations and their local recovery. Unfortunately, no formal evaluation procedures are followed, although marked abalone previously released as juveniles have been found in the commercial catches.




The total value of the commercial catches of abalone in Mexico in 2008 was about US$27 million. The product was sold canned (87%) or frozen (13%) to different markets mostly in Asia under different labels, including Calmex (71%), Cedmex (8%), Centramar (8%), and Rey del Mar (6%). Abalone shells were also sold for the production of arts and crafts, and the value of this subproduct in 2008 was around US$1 million.

Traditionally, most of the Mexican wild abalone have been commercialized by Ocean Garden Products and their Calmex brand (Ponce-Diaz et al. 2003b, De la O-Burrola 2008), owned by the Mexican government until 2006, when it was sold to a private company, but this situation is now changing dramatically. As a result of the global economic crisis, which severely impacted international abalone prices (see Cook & Gordon 2010) and other market conditions, most Mexican abalone is now being sold through other Mexican labels and new distribution channels.

Abulones Cultivados, which produced 91% of the Mexican cultured abalone in 2008, sold it to markets in Mexico (60%), the United States, and Asia (40%) either as canned (73%) or live product (27%), for an estimated value of US$0.5 million. Abalone pearl jewelry is also sold locally or exported to the United States.


The authors are grateful to the following persons who provided valuable information to write this article: Pedro Sierra, Jose Luis Gutierrez, Margarita Mucino (CRIP, La Paz); Julio Palleiro, Julian Castro, Fidelia Caballero (CRIP, Ensenada); Enrique Garayzar (Subdelegacion de Pesca, SAGARPA, La Paz); Jose de Jesus Gallo, Claudia Cabrera (Subdelegacion de Pesca, SAGARPA, Ensenada); Daniel Aguilar, Jose Guadalupe Gonzalez, Antonio Espinoza, Miguel Gonzalez, Juan Carlos Bonilla, Antonio Leree, Alberto Castro, Eduardo Enriquez (cooperative hatcheries); Enrique Vazquez, Leticia Badillo (Productores Marinos Baia); Arturo Gomez (GEMAS); and Santiago Resek and Miguel Angel del Rio (REGASA). The suggestions of two anonymous reviewers were helpful in improving the manuscript.


De la O-Burrola, V. G. 2008. Organizacion industrial e institucional de la comercializacion internacional del abulon en Baja California. Mexicali: Universidad Autonoma de Baja California. 223 pp.

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Guzman del Prod, S. A. 1992. A review of the biology of abalone and its fishery in Mexico. In: S. A. Shepherd, M. J. Tegner & S. A. Guzman del Proo, editors. Abalone of the world: biology, fisheries and culture. Oxford: Fishing News Books. pp. 341 360.

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(1) Instituto de Investigaeiones Oceanologicas, Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, PO Box 453, Ensenada, BC, Mexico; (2) Federacion Regional de Sociedades Cooperativas Pesqueras de BC, Calle Soto 283, Ensenada, BC, Mexico; (3) Abulones Cultivados, Blvd. Teniente Azueta 187-B, Ensenada, BC, Mexico

* Corresponding author. E-mail:
Abalone fishing cooperatives in Mexico in 2008, including
locations (see Fig. 1) and years when operations started.

Cooperative                            Location          Year

1      Abuloneros y Langosteros     Isla Guadalupe       1955
2      Pescadores Nacionales        Isla de Cedros       1942
         de Abulon
3      Buzos y Pescadores           Isla Natividad       1942
         de la Baja California
4      La Purisima                  Punta Eugenia        1944
5      Bahia Tortugas               Bahia Tortugas       1944
6      Emancipacion                 Puerto Nuevo         1939
7      California de San Ignacio    Bahia Asuncion       1936
8      Leyes de Reforma             Punta Prieta-San     1974
9      Progreso                     La Bocana            1944
10     Punta Abreojos               Punta Abreojos       1943
11     Puerto Chale                 San Juanico          1958
12     Pescadores de la Poza        La Poza              1957
13     Pescadores de Puerto         Puerto San Carlos    1969
         San Carlos
14     Bahia Magdalena              Bahia Magdalena      1953
15     General Meliton              Puerto Alcatraz      1959

Cooperatives 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, and 10 also operate hatcheries for
restocking purposes.


Private abalone culture farms in Mexico in 2008, including
locations (see Fig. 1) and years when operations started.

Farm                               Location          Year

a     Abulones Cultivados          Erendira          1992

b     Productores Marinos Baja     Erendira          2003

c     Grupo Empresarial            Colonia Vicente   1999
      Mexicano de Acuicultura      Guerrero
      Sustentable (GEMAS)

d     Asociacion Pesquera REGASA   El Rosario        2007
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Article Details
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Author:Searcy-Bernal, Ricardo; Ramade-Villanueva, Mario R.; Altamira, Benito
Publication:Journal of Shellfish Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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