South Africa: The Abalone Connection - the Ties That Bind Poaching and Smuggling With the SA Crystal Meth Industry

Abalone (file photo).
analysis

The market in poached South African abalone (perlemoen) has been closely connected to the trafficking of synthetic drugs since the 1990s, when South African gangs began to barter abalone with Chinese organised crime groups for the precursors to methaqualone and methamphetamine. This connection evolved over the subsequent decades, contributing to widespread meth (tik) production and consumption in South Africa. Although poaching has decimated abalone populations and domestic meth production is declining, the two illicit markets still remain joined today.

It is one of the stranger quirks of crime history that a marine snail became one of the key drivers in the development of the South African synthetic drugs market from the 1990s onwards, as well as forming a lucrative illicit market in its own right. Over two decades, the illegal market for South African abalone (Haliotis midae, also known as perlemoen) has grown to the point where more than 2,000 tonnes are being poached from South African waters annually, according to 2018 estimates from wildlife monitoring group TRAFFIC.

The growth of this poached abalone market helped fuel the rise in the trafficking of synthetic drugs and their precursors to South Africa. Although much has changed since the 1990s, according to...

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