Rebuilding Washington Abalone

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recently received $560,000 from NOAA Fisheries Service to restore pinto abalone, an edible marine mollusk that lives in the shallow, nearshore waters of the Pacific Northwest.

The grant, awarded through NOAA’s Species of Concern Program, will be used to help restore Puget Sound abalone populations that have fallen to critically low levels.

“This funding is a big step forward for abalone restoration efforts that have been under way for the past decade,” said WDFW Director Phil Anderson. “Our goal is to restore this species to healthy levels.”

Historically, pinto abalone ranged from California to Alaska, but aggressive harvesting in the 1970s and 1980s substantially reduced their numbers. While Washington has never had a commercial fishery for abalone, recreational divers harvested them in large numbers until the fishery was closed in 1994.

NOAA declared pinto abalone a “species of concern” in 2004 because their numbers had fallen to critically low levels.

Bob Sizemore, a WDFW research scientist, said the NOAA grant will support hatchery and nursery programs to foster a self-sustaining population and preserve species diversity in Puget Sound. The grant will also pay to congregate abalone to foster reproduction.

“Abalone are broadcast spawners, which means they need to be close together for successful breeding,” Sizemore said. “The remaining abalone in this population are widely dispersed and are not able to reproduce in the wild.”

The NOAA grant is part of a collaborative effort with WDFW, Puget Sound Restoration Fund, University of Washington, Western Washington University and others to help prevent the species from declining to the point where it needs legal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“This effort is a great example of regional partners working together to help preempt a species’ listing,” said Will Stelle, head of the federal fisheries agency’s Northwest regional office in Seattle. “We’re pleased the NOAA grant will help facilitate this necessary work. Ecosystem restoration is about more than just managing flippers and fins. Invertebrates, like abalone, play a key role in maintaining rocky marine habitats.”

Washington Abalone