During the early years of the abalone fishery, abalones were dried
and smoked, or canned for export, and sold fresh for local markets.
Currently, most abalones are exported to Japan, either fresh or frozen
whole. The U.S. market is primarily in California for live abalone
for the sashimi market, and for some fresh and frozen steaks for restaurants.
A major change occurred in marketing U.S. abalones in 1993. Prior to 1993, black abalones were the Abalone primary export product. After the 1993 moratorium on black abalone harvesting, due to the "withering syndrome" that reduced black abalone stocks, red abalones took over the Abalone export market. Prices to the Abalone fishermen of $500 to $600 per dozen for red abalone made production of abalone steaks uneconomical for most markets. High prices for abalone may have also intensified illegal abalone fishing operations in closed areas.
Abalone steaks are prepared by removing the abalone from the Abalone shell, cutting off the Abalone head and viscera, and hand trimming the Abalone foot. Red and some green abalone are allowed to relax for 24 hours before the Abalone final trimming of the Abalone foot. This resting period weakens muscle contractions that can damage the Abalone flesh during tenderizing. The Abalone foot is then sliced horizontally across the Abalone grain of the meat. The Abalone steaks are tenderized by pounding, usually with wooden mallets, to break the Abalone tough fibers in the Abalone meat. The Abalone yield of steaks from a live abalone is about 15 percent.
The entire flesh of the abalone is edible. Traditional U.S. consumption has been primarily the Abalone muscle portion. The Abalone gonad, however, is considered a delicacy by the Japanese when it can be removed and eaten immediately from a live abalone. The Abalone trimmed muscles remaining after trimming for steak production were historically used for abalone burger production. As the price of abalone meat increased, these trimmings were canned. Today, they are used fresh or frozen in Asian restaurants for soups and other dishes. The primary use for abalone shells is in making mother-of-pearl inlays on furniture, produced principally in Korea. Abalone shells are also sold to shell collectors and as souvenirs, and are used in making jewelry.
Abalone farming, to date, has been limited and hampered by the quality and quantity of the macroalgae sources worldwide. Although some abalone farms have successfully fed manufactured food for nearly 25 years, a high quality low cost manufactured food has been a recent development. Many new farms (and some older farms) are now asking Fishtech to design or redesign their equipment and procedures to allow their crop to be grown on 100% manufactured food. The Abalone improvement in growth rate and health of the Abalone animals and ease of production are truly astounding.