From rocky coves at Mendocino and Monterey to San Diego’s reefs, abalone have held a cherished place in California culture for millennia. Prized for iridescent shells and delectable meat, these unique shellfish inspired indigenous artisans, bohemian writers, California cuisine, and the popular sport of skin diving, but also became a highly coveted commercial commodity. Mistakenly regarded as an inexhaustible seafood, abalone ultimately became vulnerable to overfishing and early impacts of climate change.
As the first and only comprehensive history of these once abundant but now tragically imperiled shellfish, Abalone guides the reader through eras of discovery, exploitation, scientific inquiry, fierce disputes between sport and commercial divers, near-extinction, and determined recovery efforts. Combining rich cultural and culinary history with hard-minded marine science, grassroots activism, and gritty politics, Ann Vileisis chronicles the plight of California’s abalone species and the growing biological awareness that has become crucial to conserve these rare animals into the future.
Abalone reveals the challenges of reckoning with past misunderstandings, emerging science, and political intransigence, while underscoring the vulnerability of wild animals to human appetites and environmental change. An important contribution to the emerging field of marine environmental history, this is a must-read for scientists, conservationists, environmental historians, and all who remember abalone fondly.
Like the magical inside of an abalone shell, Ann Vileisis’s writing shimmers, and her book reflects a kaleidoscope of profound historical, biological, and cultural insights.
—Christine Keiner, author of The Oyster Question: Scientists, Watermen, and the Maryland Chesapeake Bay since 1880