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FEATURE


Sea FRUIT OF THE

Christo du Plessis, managing director of Abagold, tells South Africa Magazine that South African abalone, known to South Africans as perlemoen, is one of the most desirable seafood dishes in the world. By Ian Armitage

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bagold Limited’s story is remarkable. The South African firm has grown from humble beginnings as an experimental hatchery some 20 years ago, to become one of the largest land-based marine aquaculture operations in the world, incorporating several large abalone farms and a world-class processing plant. And the company keeps growing. “Perlemoen is a seafood delicacy unique to the South African coastline,” says Abagold’s Christo du Plessis, a perlemoen lover. “Demand continues to rise.” 2

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It is popular the world over, but especially so in the Far East where it has almost mythical status among chinese people, he says. However, aggressive poaching saw abalone added to the endangered species list, and, although it has since been removed, it is by no means safe. It is steadily being wiped out, experts say. It is a serious problem but one du Plessis believes farms such as Abagold’s can help solve through providing ‘an alternative’ to wild caught abalone.


Abagold FEATURE

TURNING THE TIDE Headquartered in the New Harbour, Hermanus, Abagold specialises in farming Abalone shellfish and is helping to preserve the culinary treat, while meeting ever-increasing demand. “It was clear that the only possible solution to future availability of abalone was aquaculture,” du Plessis says. “Abagold was born.” Established in the early 1990s with minimal seed capital, Abagold has now grown into a position where it is the leading producer of South African abalone, exporting some 220 tons yearly, representing a monetary value of more than R55 million. “We just recently received a capital injection of R53 million to grow production over the coming years,” du Plessis says. “The money was invested via BEE shareholders, which brings the empowerment shareholding component in Abagold to 25 percent.” The capital injection will be used to grow Abagold’s production to an estimated 475 tons annually over a period of five years. “The financial injection from Inspired Evolution’s R700 million equity fund, Evolution One, will put us in a commanding position as a leading player in the hatching, rearing, processing and exporting

It was clear that the only possible solution to future availability of abalone was aquaculture. Abagold was born.

of local abalone,” du Plessis says. “It will enable us to expand abalone production capacity for export, meeting increased demand from the Far East, and will help us set the global standard for cultivated abalone production – that’s the objective,” he continues. Abagold currently comprises three farms: Sea View, Bergsig and Amaza. In 2010 the company purchased a further seven hectares of land adjacent to Bergsig, with a view to establishing a fourth farm – something that is now a reality. Construction work on this project, called Sulamanzi, has already started and the first tanks will be operational by the fourth quarter, du Plessis says. Once completed, this new farm will raise Abagold’s total production capacity to 475 tonnes per annum and the staff complement, which currently stands at 270, will increase. “Farming abalone is a labour intensive effort. We will have to considerably increase the number of people we currently employ; it’ll have to be grown to around 470.” Du Plessis says most of the production will be exported and that “to increase” Abagold’s green footprint the new farm will have dedicated seaweed www.southafricamag.com

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tanks. “We will strip nutrients in the abalone effluent water by growing seaweeds, which will then be fed back to the abalone. In this way water is returned to the sea cleaner than when it left.” Plans are also in place to install a turbine in the effluent line to recover electricity. Abagold is also well placed to supply the local municipality with desalinated drinking water du Plessis says. “Why is this important to us? Well we are committed to responsible growth through innovation, science and mariculture best practice,” he says, before talking more about the production process: “In the larval rearing area, fertilised eggs are hatched and nursed for the first week before they are transferred to the hatchery, where settled animals spend the first few months feeding on diatoms. Animals are weaned onto macroalgae in the nursery and grown to spat size. “The hatchery produces excess spat every month – this way only the best animals are picked out to ensure the superior final product. Grow-out tanks are situated on our three farms and prime selected animals from the hatchery are placed on Sea View where expert staff provide them with the best possible care.” 4

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Abagold FEATURE

Once the abalone are of a suitable age and size, they are moved out to Amaza where the intermediate sized animals are housed. Finally, they are taken to Bergsig to complete their growth phase. Combined, the current farms house 2,000 landbased tanks that require more than 7,000 tons of pumped seawater every hour. “It is a big operation and carries big costs,” du Plessis says. “The Abagold story is a remarkable one, having grown from humble

beginning into one of the largest land-based marine aquaculture operations in the world and one of the principal employers in the Overstrand,” he adds. “It is our aim to achieve sustainability. Responsible growth is vital. We see many growth opportunities, but then we aren’t the only farm that is expanding and we are seeing more and more players come into the industry.” Abalone is considered a delicacy in all parts of the East, where it is commonly known as Bao Yu, and almost always forms part of

a Chinese banquet. The availability of commercially farmed abalone has allowed more common consumption of this once rare delicacy, and it is locally available as a canned product. “South Africa produces something like 1,000 tons of farmed abalone a year and I believe globally the market is something like 50,000 tons,” du Plessis concludes. To learn more visit www.abagold.co.za. END

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ABAGOLD FEATURE