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: The Remarkable History and Uncertain Future of California’s Iconic Shellfish (Oregon State University Press, 2020) 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.
About the author: Ann Vileisis is an award-winning independent scholar. Her books explore our human relationship with nature, food, and the environment through history, providing deeper perspective and insight into pressing modern-day issues. She is author of Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back and Discovering the Unknown Landscape: A History of America’s Wetlands. Vileisis has spoken about her books to audiences across America.
Kathryn B. Carpenter is a doctoral candidate in the history of science at Princeton University. She is currently researching the history of tornado science and storm chasing in the twentieth-century United States. You can reach her on twitter, @katebcarp.