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Status of the ormer (Haliotis tuberculata L.) industry in Europe.

ABSTRACT The ormer (Haliotis tuberculata) occurs from the Senegal coast in the south to the Cotentin peninsula of France in the north. Commercial fisheries currently operate in France and Spain. The French abalone fishery was opened in 1994. Abalone catches are regulated by a permit and quota system. Total Allowable Catch (TAC) was determined by two initial stock assessments carried out locally in the vicinity of St Malo, Central-North Brittany, and Morlaix, North-West Brittany, in the 1980s. Quotas have since been revised, according to decisions of local fishing committees, without information on the stock situation or independent assessments since the opening of the fishery. In 1996 to 1997, a severe bacterial disease devastated the stock of the main fishing grounds in St Malo and many other places around Brittany. Mass mortalities were correlated with high sea surface temperatures. The stocks have only partially recovered since then, and the total catch has been significantly reduced from about 80 tons to 60 tons per year, resulting in catches significantly lower than the TAC currently implemented. There are no reliable catch per unit effort data available. The absence of a strong enforcement policy, evidence of poaching, and strong activity of the local black market constitute a situation where there is a significant threat to the stocks and sustainability of the fishery. In Spain, the fishery was reopened in 2002, after 10 y of inactivity related to PSP toxins found during imports into the Japanese market. It was closed again, soon after reopening in 2002, because of a major oil spill on the Northern coasts. An abalone aquaculture industry is developing around Europe, mainly in Ireland where H. discus hannai and H. tuberculata have been imported and acclimatized. There are prospective aquaculture developments in France, England, Spain, and Scotland.

KEY WORDS: ormer fishery, France, Haliotis tuberculata, management, Vibrio carchariae.


Considering the status of the abalone industry worldwide, with the high commercial value of the product and the collapse of many fisheries, it is likely that the remaining abalone stocks will be put under greater pressure (Gordon & Cook 2001). The reasons for stock collapses are varied, but they may be linked to over exploitation of the resources, unwise management, inadequate enforcement policies, or disease.

The ormer, Haliotis tuberculata, is the only European species that reaches a large enough size to be harvested. It occurs from the Senegal coast, in the south, to the Channel Islands in the north (Galliard 1958, Mgaya 1995). It is traditionally fished in western France where it is considered a delicacy.

It was considered as a potential candidate for aquaculture development in the 1970s in France, where technical feasibility studies were conducted (Koike 1978, Flassch & Aveline 1984). At that time, however, these studies concluded that ormer culture was not economically viable due to its low market value (3-10 [euro]/kg) and slow growth. Commercial fishing and mariculture interest of the ormer significantly increased all through Europe in the early 1990s following easier international commerce (rapid transport and globalization of markets) and an increase in its export values to Asia.

In this study, fisheries information was collected by direct investigation in the field, by interviewing professional fishermen and scientists, and from a review of the existing literature. We describe recent changes in the European industry and its current status, analyze management strategies, and discuss potential future developments.


Recreational Fishing (France)

The ormer has been fished in France for many years. Fishing restrictions have been established by regional fishing committees, and are enforced by the Directorate of Maritime Affairs. Restrictions include a minimum shell length of 8 cm (until 1996 then 9 cm), a bag limit of 20, and a seasonal closure from June 15 to August 31. Recreational fishing can only be carried out on loot and the use of a fishing hook is allowed. No breathing apparatus, and no swimming is permitted, and the fisher's head must remain above water at all times. Fishing is carried out only during extreme low tides and is only allowed between sunrise and sunset. Fishing licenses are not required.

The major problem, however, is that few people are aware of these rules because they are not widely advertised on the assumption that "no one is supposed to ignore the law." Recreational fishing is not estimated, however there were 4,000 shore gatherers in the Rade of Brest in 1963 during the equinox tide, 2,000 in 1984 and 1,000-2,000 in 1996 (IFREMER statistics). Clavier (1992) estimated the total catch of these shore gatherers at about 20 tons each year.

Commercial Fishing (France)

Commercial fishing started in 1994 for a preliminary experimental period of 1 y. License holders are SCUBA divers, restricted to only 2 SCUBA tanks per day. Health and safety regulations for professional diving require three qualified divers (commercial diving certificates are required) on board the boat. Abalone, minimum shell length of 9 cm, can be collected with an abalone iron or hook. All abalone fished must be marked before landing with individual plastic seals (colored according to the fishing zone and marked with a personal seal). Five thousand individual plastic seals are given to the fishermen at the start of the season for each ton of quota. Management is funded by the cost of the annual commercial fishing licenses (152.45 [euro]/boat per year). A seasonal closure from June 15 to August 31 applies. The control and enforcement of these regulations are carried out upon arrival in the port. If, during a control operation:

--more than 20% of the fish caught are under the minimum legal size, the fishing license is cancelled for 1 y.

--there are no seals on ormers during transport, the license is permanently removed.

Poaching seems wide-spread. It is likely that well-organized parallel networks supply local markets, Parisian restaurants, and illegal exportations. Prosecution of poachers is slow and less dissuasive than overseas: for example, 2 poachers were sentenced in 1999 to 6 mo in jail and fined C8000 for poaching 28 tons between 93 and 95 (Ouest-France, daily newspaper, September 1999).

There are 5 fishing zones in Northern Brittany and Normandy (Fig. 1 & Table 1). The French management system for abalone fisheries is presented in Figure 2 and is mainly carried out at the local level by Local Fishing Committees (LFC). Each local fishing committee has its own management strategy, with the Normandy one being more distinct than those in the four Brittany zones, because Normandy belongs to a different administrative region. In Normandy, the SMEL (Syndicat Mixte Pour l'Exploitation du Littoral, Blainville, Cotentin), a local research and development center funded by the French Departement of La Manche, works closely with the fishermen and IFREMER and provides management advice. In Brittany, IFREMER (Institut Francais pour la Recherche et l'Exploitation de la Mer), is in charge of advising LFCs, but it takes a limited part in the decision process. There are no regular stock assessments carried out. As a result, the fishery is in an awkward situation where the quantities of abalone officially fished are well below the Total Allowable Catch in all regions except Normandy (Fig. 3). More recently, following demands by commercial sea-urchin divers, a stock assessment has been carried out by IFREMER in 2002 for the Southern Brittany area and a potential fishing biomass of 18 T has been estimated, and a small fishery may be opened in 2003 (Billy & P6ronnet 2003).


A mass mortality in 1996 to 1997 have devastated the stocks in the Bay of Morbihan (Southern Brittany) and in central Northern Brittany (Zone of St Malo). No pathogenic agent have been identified with certainty in the wild, however, Nicolas et al. (2002) isolated and described a bacterial species, Vibrio carchariae, as the main pathogenic agent involved in mass mortalities that occurred at the same time in land based operations. It is genetically and phenotypically close to Vibrio fluvialis II (Li et al. 1998) found in China on H. discus hanai. Recreational fishing was closed in 1998 and the opening of the commercial fishing season was delayed. Fishing started again in 1999, but catches have remained low in these zones. Divers report that outbreaks of the disease in these areas are still occurring each year late in the summer: severe mortality through all size classes was observed at the opening of the fishing season in September (Jehanno, pers. comm.). Although there is no scientific evidence to support this, the disease possibly becomes dormant during winter and is activated by high summer temperature. Figure 4 presents an interesting correlation between the areas of severe mortality observed by divers and local communities and sea surface temperature at the end of August. The disease is currently being studied more extensively.


Guernsey and Jersey (Channel Islands)

After 8 y of fishing with SCUBA, the commercial abalone fishery was closed in Guernsey in 1973 and has never been reopened since. Only shore gathering during spring tide, outside the reproductive season, is permitted nowadays (Mgaya & Mercer 1994). Commercial fishing using SCUBA, however, may be permitted again because the stocks seem to be recovering (Bossy, pets. comm.).

In Jersey, there is no commercial fishery. Only a recreational fishery is allowed and is conducted by fishing at low tide or "peche a pied" as it is known locally. Ormer fishing is a very emotive subject in Jersey and is considered part of their heritage by the local community. Abalone aquaculture was attempted recently, but the summer mass mortalities wiped out the entire stock, and thus, there is no large scale aquaculture. After the disease outbreak in 1997, there was a total ban on ormer fishing until 2002. Recreational fishing regulations are complex and include a closed season between the May 1 and August 31, a minimum shell length of 8-cm, and the activity may only be carried out on the first day of each new moon or full moon and the three following days. Breathing apparatus, face visors, goggles, or masks are forbidden while fishing any shellfish other than crab. An abalone population survey carried out in 2002 provided evidence that the population was approaching pre-mortality levels and the ban on fishing is to be lifted (Morel, pers. comm.).


A commercial abalone fishery operated in Galicia from 1989 to 1993. In 1993, the fishery was closed following the discovery of PSP toxins by the Japanese in imported Spanish abalone. (Bravo et al. 1999, Bravo et al. 2001, Nagashima et al. 1995). There was no local demand to maintain the fishery. Following the study by Bravo et al. (2001) suggesting that toxins were contained only in the epithelium of the side of the foot, the fishery was reopened in April to May 2002. Almost all catches are exported, mostly to Asia. Abalone were sold in their shell at a minimum price of 24 C/kg in 2002. The demand has been variable possibly because of the small quantities offered on the market by the fishermen.

Fishing is carried out over the entire Galician coast, but most of the catches are in sheltered areas, which are more accessible (Juan Freire, pers. comm.). Catches are more important in the south, where large coastal embayments dominate the coast. The more exposed northern coast receives less attention. For example, in Cangas, where a large proportion of the fishery is carried out, abalone divers operate from May to September (4 mo). A minimum shell length of 8 cm and daily maximum catch quota of 5 kg/diver with a maximum of 15 kg/boat, are applied. In 2002, Cangas had seven boats with three divers each. Divers often combine abalone and sea urchin fishing. There is no regular stock assessment of the fishery and no information on the extent of poaching. Since late 2002 all coastal fisheries were stopped, following the major oil spill caused by the ship "Le Prestige" in Northern Spain.

North Africa

Although ormers are found on the north-west African coast, very little is known about the fishery. Exploitation of the resources by local fishermen has been encouraged by foreign traders, mostly from Asia. The extent of exploitation of wild populations and any management is not known.


The first technical studies of ormer culture in France were carried out in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Flassch and Aveline (1984), Koike (1978), Koike et al. (1979), and Cochard (1980). They developed techniques for rearing, conditioning, and spawning (reviewed by Mgaya & Mercer, 1994). These studies concluded, however, that ormer culture was not economically viable, mainly because of the low market value of abalone at the time. Ormer culture has, therefore, not developed much in Europe. Ireland and the Channel Islands (2-3 tons/year) are the only established producing countries today. Ireland has introduced and acclimatized both H. tuberculata and H. discus hannai. Few studies have been carried out so far to compare the performance of the two species. Cultivation attempts have also been carried out in Scotland (Kelly & Owen 2002).

In France, culture techniques have been perfected more recently by the SMEL. The duty of the SMEL is to provide technical support to any company willing to establish a farm in the Departement of La Manche. They contributed to the first study of the bacterial epidemic because they lost a great part of their stock during the first outbreak (Nicolas et al. 2002). Their recent work also included preparation of broodstock for reproduction (inversion of photoperiod cycle for spawning during daytime and reduction of the conditioning cycle to 1-2 mo), techniques for live transport, settlement induction using GABA, stocking density, and ammonia management in recirculation systems (Richard, pers. comm., Basuyaux & Mathieu 1999). So far, only one commercial hatchery has been established in the department of La Manche in 2002, and it aims to produce small cocktail-size abalone to supply Parisian restaurants. One attempt at grow-out farming in sea cages was also started near Paimpol in Brittany in 2002, but the farm was stopped in its early development phase in 2003 for private reasons (Arin, pers. comm.).


The ormer is a traditional delicacy in France and the channel Islands (Clavier 1992, Mgaya & Mercer 1994). Ormers were fished and consumed some thousands of years ago and are even found in archeological sites around Brittany (Chauvaud, pets. comm.). In spite of this local market and recreational fishing pressure, ormer populations have persisted until now. The European abalone industry has, however, faced major problems in the last decade from the V. carchariae disease outbreak, oil spills, and paralytic shellfish poisoning. In addition to these problems, the high commercial value of abalone is constantly increasing pressure on resources. Although difficult to assess, poaching is likely to considerably affect wild stocks because they are located in populated areas of Europe. Commercial divers often report that rocks have been turned over by poachers leaving devastated reefs behind them (Billy & Peronnet 2003). Possibly however, the cryptic behavior of ormers (Mgaya & Mercer 1994, Clavier & Richard 1984) may prevent the species from being fished out from the grounds where poaching is high, because larger rocks and deep crevices cannot be harvested.

In France abalone is considered as a minor fishing resource mainly because of its small TAC, low economic significance, and because it can sustain only a small population of fishermen. Management of the fishery is not, therefore, a priority and may seem inadequate. Although quotas were initially decided conservatively, allowing to small and very localized initial stock assessment, there are no fishery-dependent or independent stock assessments regularly carried out. Fishing pressure is, thus, not adjusted according to the biomass present. For example, in the area most affected by the mass mortality in 1996 to 1997, quotas were never reduced and the ban on fishing lasted for only 6 mo.

It is well known that overfished abalone stocks are slow to recover when fishing is stopped, and may collapse if fishing continues (Davis et al. 1996). The ormer stocks of Guernsey took at least 30 y to recover from a few years of intensive fishing. Sustainable management of an abalone fishery requires much attention and must be tailored to protect the most vulnerable reefs (Shepherd 2000). Although management carried out by local fishing committees in France, they sometimes fail to decide on the closure of threatened fishery grounds (e.g., in the St Malo district where annual catch have become very low after the mass mortalities of 1996 to 1997). Local fishing committees often lack knowledge and expertise about the biology, ecology, and dynamics of abalone populations to take informed and preventive management decisions. Little information is collected about the wild populations, mainly because of a lack of financial support. The quota distribution often means that each fisherman receives too little quota to ensure a living and have to fish crustaceans or echinoderms to complement revenues. Higher revenue from a single activity could possibly increase the concern of fishermen to protect the stocks. In the department of La Manche, where there are less divers and more quota per person, the stocks appear to sustain a healthy industry (Richard, pets. comm.).

Commercial and recreational fishermen and seafood traders usually support the argument that poaching remains common in France, probably because of a lack of significant enforcement of the regulations by local authorities. It is common that occasional fishermen are not informed of the fishing regulations. Enforcement and broader public communication about the regulations and the biology and vulnerability of abalone populations, could be the first steps to prevent decline. Enforcement should be carried out within an international framework to prevent the development of an organized poaching network (Campbell 2000, Daniels & Floren 1998). Fines and jail sentences should be similar to those imposed overseas (Masland & Barbee 2003).

The sustainability of European ormer fisheries cannot be assessed reliably, because there are too many unknown parameters remaining. The situation is alarming, however, considering the reasons for the collapse of many other abalone fisheries worldwide (Tegner 2000, Hobday et al. 2001, Shepherd et al. 1998, Campbell 2000, Shepherd & Rodda 2001), little has been done to protect European abalone populations. More research is required to understand stock dynamics, the effects of V. carchariae on the populations, and the risk of collapse of the population under the current management regimen. European research collaboration might en hance the development of the ormer industry and help to prevent the collapse of its stocks.

Change in quota tonnage and numbers of divers (in brackets) over time
in each fishing zone since the opening of the fishery in 1994.

Year of Activity Nord-Finistere Paimpol [S.sup.t] Brieuc

 End 94 9.6 (16) 3 (12) --
 Early 95 9.6 (16) 4 (12) --
 95-96 10.8 (9) 6 (12) --
 97-2000 15 (10) 18 (11) 8 (8)
 2001-02 10 (10) 18 (11) 8 (8)

Year of Activity [S.sup.t] Malo Cherbourg TAC (tons)

 End 94 12 (12) 21 (6) 45.6
 Early 95 18 (12) 21 (6) 52.6
 95-96 36 (12) 21 (6) 73.8
 97-2000 36 (12) 21 (6) 96
 2001-02 36 (12) 21 (6) 91


The authors acknowledge the help of Gerard Veron (IFREMER Brest), Olivier Richard & Olivier Basuyaux (SMEL, Blainville), Juan Freire (Universidade de Coruna, Spain), Simon Bossy (Fisheries officer, Guernsey), Greg Morel (Fisheries officer, Jersey), Stephanie Billy (Tethys environment, Lorient), Andre Arin (oyster farmer, Paimpol), Jehanno (fisherman, St Malo), Laurent Chauvaud (CNRS, Brest), and many others for providing the information used to compile this article. Special thanks to Dr. Rob Day (University of Melbourne, Australia) for his useful suggestions to improve the manuscript.


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(1) LEMAR Laboratory, European Institute for Marine Studies, University of Western Brittany, France; (2) Zoology Department, University of Melbourne, Victoria, 3052, Australia

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Author:Clavier, J.
Publication:Journal of Shellfish Research
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Dec 15, 2004
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