The Black Tide

Every red abalone shell bears a wave-like image painted in thick layers of mother-of-pearl nacre, and is a prize among jewelers.

This weekend a unique phenomenon overwhelms the coasts of Quirkutopia  – the “black tide”. Unlike the rip tides or the red tide, this tide comes from inland. From many nearby towns and farther-flung cities, a flood of wet-suited men and women throng to the crashing and frigid waters of the rocky coasts in search of red treasure, the Haliotis rufescens,  a marine gastropod mollusk – the largest edible sea snail – hell, any snail.

The trademark grin of the happy abalone diver floating in rare glass-like conditions.

April 1st the  abalone season opens and divers climb down treacherous cliffs bearing several pounds of weights, legally required measuring and prying tools, wetsuits, masks, booties and gloves. Hours later after laboriously donning all that, braving the under-50 degree waves and free-diving (no breathing aids allowed) for the three-a-day limit of the heavy delicacies, they clamber onto the rocks. First tagging the shells – no smaller than 7” allowed, they climb up the cliffs and haul all the soaking gear and stone-heavy abs up the cliffs again. And they do this every chance they can until November, with a break to let them breed in July. (The abalone, not so much the divers).

After all the diving and hauling, then comes the prep - some version of pounding and slicing and very quick cooking; recipes are as varied as divers.

Why do these truly quirky hunters go through all this glorious agony? Many answers – the rapturous (but acquired for some) taste of the tenderized meat after a short sizzle, the hunt for the biggest nacre-laden shell, and the biggest secret of all, the secret hidden under the grey churning waves : the unexpected blaze of color and life in the jungle that is under the Quirkutopian waves; waving grasses and lacy cascades of sea plants, brilliant sea stars, vivid fish, octopi and urchins .

We advise a hunt for The Hunt For Red Treasure, for an under-the-waves view of the search for giant sea snails

See some of it in this in the locally made and impressive DVD “The Hunt For Red Treasure”… if you can find it. Try emailing as it offers in our DVD. The film features underwater footage and interviews with some veteran hunters like Rod Orr – twice-bitten by great white sharks.  Crazy, brilliant, quirky or all three? You decide.


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