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Restoring Abalone: The Time is Now
Abalone populations in Southern California are struggling. And if we want to help restore the fishery, the time to act is now.
Abalone was once a thriving commercial and recreational fishery. In California, five different abalone species were commercially and recreationally fished from the 1950s to 1970s. Even now, recreational fishermen bring an estimated $13 million in revenue to the North Coast of California fishing for red abalone. Abalone also supports healthy kelp forests, which provide habitat for a diversity of fish, invertebrates, and marine mammals.
But abalone has been overharvested. White and black abalone are currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Two other abalone species, green and pink, are listed by NOAA as Species of Concern. In 1997, the California Department of Fish and Game closed fishing for all abalone in Southern California, which has helped prevent further declines.
Luckily, we have a unique opportunity to boost abalone populations right now. A natural phenomenon called the “Pacific Decadal Oscillation,” which occurs every ten years, shifts the ocean between warmer and cooler temperatures. The cool water temperatures that we are currently experiencing are ideal for successfully planting abalone.
For the last several years, NOAA has been researching and developing the best methods and locations for planting abalone. These are the next steps NOAA is taking toward restoring abalone populations:
- Planting green abalone along six acres in the Palos Verdes Shelf by 2013
- Conducting the first ever genetic assessment of green abalone along the Southern California coast
- Developing a new technique to test for “Withering Syndrome” disease in green abalone
- Opening a new white abalone culturing facility at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab for future outplanting efforts
Through these efforts, we hope to rebuild a sustainable fishery for these species. Restoring abalone populations to past levels could yield more than $200 million in commercial fishing revenues, and more than $13 million in recreational fishing revenues in Southern California.
Posted May 14, 2012