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.