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Hunt for Sea Delicacy Taking a Toll in California

Divers scouring the sea-bed for abalone are paying with their lives. Four people perished in the past week in California while pursuing abalone, which is used in sushi// and a variety of other Asian dishes and can sell for 100 dollars apiece on the black market.

Abalone are a special type of shellfish or mollusk. The meat of this mollusk is considered a delicacy in certain parts of Latin America (especially Chile), South East Asia, and East Asia (especially in China, Japan, and Korea).

The quest for the mighty mollusk is indeed deadly. Abalone hunters rappel down cliffs, clamber over treacherously slick rocks and disappear into dark, choppy waters to pry mollusks from the ocean floor.

"That's part of the fun, right? You get a little adrenaline going," said one enthusiast, Ken Norton. "People get hurt, of course. People fall off rocks." But he added: "There's a little bit of danger in anything -- driving around in your car."

All four deaths in California this year happened over a five-day span in Mendocino County, which usually records three or four abalone-related deaths during the entire April-through-November season.

A change in the tide, along with high winds that brought rough conditions, may have contributed to the latest deaths. The victims are believed to have drowned or died of heart attacks.

Some black out as they rush to the surface for air. Others get tangled in kelp, a kind of seaweed. Some get exhausted in the churning surf or overexert themselves prying the stubborn, snail-like creatures from rocks.

Veteran divers and even the rock-pickers who ply chest-deep waters tell of being surprised by powerful surf that has washed them over the rocks or swept them out to sea.

Anthony Kan said in 20 years of abalone picking he has seen two people die. One died from hypothermia and another drowned in the weeds. He nearly died himself when he tripped at the edge of a cliff, catching a
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