Project number: 1999-164
Project Status:
Budget expenditure: $353,888.00
Principal Investigator: Malcolm Haddon
Organisation: University of Tasmania (UTAS)
Project start/end date: 19 Sep 1999 - 13 Aug 2002


The state of molecular genetic technology in abalone is underdeveloped and in need of some basic research to develop molecular protocols that can be applied to various management and compliance issues; microsatellite markers are likely to have the most utility, and other abalone fisheries will benefit from Australian research (Sweijd 1997 - External review FRDC 98/126).

Abalone populations elsewhere in the world have crashed catastrophically. Australian abalone resources are in a relatively good condition, but are under heavy pressure from many external factors, including poaching, that could cause irreversible damage. In addition, some sections of the industry are excited by the potential of translocation or reseeding for stock enhancement, but without fully understanding the genetic variability in a population this represents a high conservation risk. Understanding genetic variation in abalone at both the species and stock level is vital to the long-term sustainability of these valuable fisheries, as well as for genetic conservation.

Compliance is not only a major issue in the draft 1998 review of wild abalone R&D needs in Australia, but is also an international issue. There are currently no forensic tools available in Australia to assist authorities identify abalone products and force compliance.

The application of molecular genetics in this study will provide managers with:
• forensic tests for species identification
• estimation of rates of gene flow between selected locations (i.e. stock identification).

Stock identification is needed not only for managing the commercial and recreational catch, but also for assessing the risks of translocation and reseeding projects, and land-based or sea-based aquaculture industries.

This study will build on a pilot project that developed the basis for an abalone forensic protocol, and will also provide a comprehensive assessment of the use of microsatellite markers for abalone stock identification. These goals are of both national and international interest.


1. To refine, and where necessary establish, abalone species identification protocols to forensic standards suitable for required fisheries compliance.
2. To define the stock structure of blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra) around Tasmania, using polymorphic nuclear DNA microsatellite markers.
3. To determine a suitable sampling and analysis regime for other temperate Australian abalone fisheries.
4. To determine the possible effects of harvesting on the genetic conservation of the blacklip abalone (H. rubra), by comparing the allozyme variation of two areas of the Tasmanian fishery with results obtained from the same areas in the late 1980s.

Final report

ISBN: 1-876-996-12-9
Author: Malcolm Haddon
Final Report • 2002-08-08 • 2.65 MB


Of the nineteen abalone (Haliotidae) species recognised in Australian waters (Geiger 1999), ten are endemic and two dominate the commercial, recreational and illegal harvests in southern States: the blacklip abalone Haliotis rubra Leach and the greenlip abalone H. laevigata Donovan. A third species, Roe’s abalone H. roei Gray, is a significant component of the Western Australian harvest. All three species, as well as the tropical H. asinina Linnaeus are also important as aquaculture species. The largest Australian (and world) fishery is in Tasmanian waters (half of Australia’s harvest) and is focused predominantly on the blacklip abalone. Other species such as H. scalaris (Leach) and H. conicopora Péron have potential commercial value in temperate waters.
Internationally, overfishing, illegal fishing, pollution and recruitment failures have been implicated in the decline of many abalone fisheries (e.g. Hobday et al. 2001). However, the Australian fishery has had a relatively constant harvest over the past decade (1990-91 5.2 kt, 1997-98 5.2 kt, 1999/00 5.5 kt), with a total value over $230m in 1999/00 (ABARE 2001). The full extent of the illegal harvest in Australia is unknown, yet whatever the value, it is a large illegal business that may eventually impact on the commercial resource.

Related research


Western Abalone Divers Association 2020 Quota Setting Workshop: Opportunity for shared understanding of potential TACC setting processes by Western Australian Abalone stakeholders

1. Establish an industry engagement strategy for the WA Area 3 Abalone Fishery based on the approach used, and knowledge gained, by the Victorian Western Zone Fishery and the Western Abalone Divers Association.
Western Australian Fishing Industry Council Inc (WAFIC)