Like all of the native species, Blacklip Abalone (Haliotis rubra) was widely used as a food by the Indigenous Australian population, as evidences by debris found in middens going back thousands of years. Shell middens are places where the debris from eating shellfish and other food such as fish bones, bird bones, land and sea mammals remains used for food, charcoal from campfires and tools made from stone or shell are collected. Shell middens are found throughout Australia, usually close to the coast, but they can also be around inland lakes, swamps and riverbanks. Shell middens can be hundreds or thousands of years old and as such have an important scientific role telling us about indigenous activities in the past.
The Blacklip Abalone is endemic to Australia, found in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania. It is reddish brown to reddish green in colour with distinctive dark band along the edge. Its shell is large, flat, rough and oval. The species is often covered in algae and plant thus it is difficult to find.
There are a number of serious issues that have put the Abalone almost to the brink of extinction in the past decades: high commercial demand, which has led to overfishing, commercial harvesting and illegal fishing practices, disease and changes in water temperature due to climate change. Overfishing is a particular problem: there are enforced controls in place by the government, however with Australia’s vast coastline and popularity of (recreational) fishing, these controls are by far not effective enough. In addition, the Australian government does not allow Indigenous people to help control this industry and use traditional sustainable methods of harvesting. They are also denied to eat Abalone in the traditional indigenous way as it is not legal to eat them ‘in situ’ at capture site. As an example: Indigenous groups traditionally would put Abalone shells on the top of the middens pile so that the next families would leave them alone as a method of controlled identification to prevent overfishing. Also, rather than deciding which ones to take by size (which is the current fisheries system), Indigenous people would never take seafood that was in breeding cycles. Abalone can still be found along the coast, but in much less quantities.
Indigenous communities would traditionally cook the Abalone on camp fires, in the shell. It is more popular to steam, poach, pan-fry or stir. Abalone is a good source of Omega 3, protein, iodine, and iron.