MONTEREY, Calif. - There's a local farm many people don't even know about under one of Monterey's most popular attractions.
Trevor Fay's abalone company is a lucrative business, built in between the sturdy wooden planks of Fisherman's Wharf on the Monterey Bay. It's helping to feed a hungry market for the much sought after seafood, but it's also fighting one of California's most damaging environmental crimes-- poaching.
Fay has a growing operation for the delicacy that people can't just go out and catch. He runs the largest sustainable abalone farm of its kind in the U.S. He's growing red abalone in its natural environment: the ocean. He's using renewable resources, like giant kelp.
"We are producing 100,000 to 120,000 juveniles every year to replenish inventory. At full build out, we can grow to 500,000 abalone at one time," said Fay in his underground office.
A live red abalone in the shell can weigh about a pound at 8 or 9 years old and sells for about $26. They take years to grow.
In California, and around the world, the demand for this shellfish is high and so is the crime.
In the wild, abalone is an endangered species and catching it yourself is illegal.
"All three counties have had significant problems over the past years," said Capt. Don Kelly with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Kelly said he sees at least a couple dozen abalone poaching cases a year in San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.
"It's been bad, we've seen some pretty serious violations," said Kelly.
Two months ago at Garrapata State Park, a man was arrested with 20 black abalone. He faced a hefty fine in the thousands and even jail time. The department spends a good majority of time during the year looking for poachers because in California wildlife poaching is a crime - second only in dollar volume to selling drugs.
Fay's abalone farm, which is completely legal, provides an alternative to the black market.
"We are convinced we are taking a bite out of poaching," said Fay, who said his prices are comparable.
Fay's abalone business also provides sea life for educational labs, aquariums, and research purposes.
The manager for conservation and science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium said farms like Fay's, are rated as a "best choice" in their seafood watch program.
Abalone raised in China and Japan are not on that list.