South African Abalone Poaching Kingpin Sentenced


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A South African court sentenced a regional abalone poaching kingpin to two years in prison on Friday, after he pleaded guilty to smuggling 3,243 of the gastropod mollusks, which are a pricey delicacy in parts of Asia.

Peter Jansen of Cape Town appeared alongside 20 other defendants, who faced a collective 530 charges, including racketeering, corruption and illegal possession of abalone, comprising the largest abalone poaching takedown in South African history. Chinese national Ran Wei, the alleged mastermind behind the whole operation, fled from South Africa, but was still charged in absentia.

Abalone, also called venus's-ears in South Africa, is a common name for any of a group of small to huge edible sea snails of the family Haliotidae. Other common names are perlemoen, ear shells, sea ears, muttonfish, muttonshells, ormer and pāua, depending on what part of the world one might be poaching them from.

Abalones have been identified as being threatened with extinction, due to overfishing and acidification of oceans from anthropogenic carbon dioxide. Some predict that abalone will become extinct in the wild within 200 years at present rates of carbon dioxide production, as the reduced seawater pH erodes their shells.

World Wide Fund's marine program manager Eleanor Yeld Hutchings called the abalone industry an extreme instance of a fishery with high levels of illegal, unregulated and unreported catch. The illegal harvest in South Africa in 2008 was roughly 860 tons, more than 10 times the legal TAC (total allowable catch) of 85 tons. It's believed that comparable totals have been caught since.

Yeld Hutchings commented, "If poaching continues at its current level, and the TAC remains stable for the legal commercial catch, abalone could reach commercial extinction by 2030."

Jansen admitted to hiring the car that moved the 3,243 shucked abalone, worth roughly $30,200, to Johannesburg for transport. His guilty plea statement explained, "The seized abalone was clearly not for own consumption but for commercial purposes of exporting and selling."

Biodiverse South Africa, home to most of the rhinoceri on that continent, is also having a poaching problem on that front. Some say that the present rate of horn harvesting could render the species extinct in the wild within a decade. Rhino horns, which are highly valued in Chinese traditional medicine, can go for up to $30,000 a kilo on the black market.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.