White abalone are on the brink of extinction. These animals, once prized for their delicate meat and beautiful shells, now exist at 1% of their historical estimated populations in the United States.
1. Population decline due to overfishing
After abalone fishing became popular in the mid 1900s, fishers discovered white abalone (Haliotis sorenseni) had the most tender meat. A sudden influx of white abalone fishing in the 1970s decimated the white abalone and isolated populations have since been dying out. Legal white abalone fishing ended in 1996 with the closure of the state fishery. All 7 species of abalone in California were once fished commercially and recreationally, but today only one recreational fishery for red abalone exists north of San Francisco.
2. Population continues to decline because of low population density
NOAA ROV population surveys show a 14% decline per year, which is likely their natural death rate (Data: Stierhoff et al. 2012). White abalone only live to be an estimated 30-40 years old and no one has seen evidence of white abalone reproduction in the wild since 2001.
3. No reproduction because of extremely sparse individuals
Reproductive failure: Abalone require that a male and female be within a few meters of each other for successful reproduction. Now the majority of wild white abalone are too far from one another and the chances of their eggs and sperm meeting are tiny.
1. Listed as endangered in the United States (2001)
2. Work together
- Wild populations: Where and how many animals continue to survive?
- Recruitment of new juveniles – Have any adults been able to successfully reproduce?
- Habitat: How is their habitat changing?
- Animal health: Keeping our captive animals alive and reproductive.
- Genetic diversity: Increasing the diversity of our captive population to give them a better chance of survival in the wild.
- Disease: Understanding how to keep our animals healthy in the wild)
- Reproductive conditioning: What conditions will encourage white abalone to build their gonad and reproduce?
- Improving survival: What do white abalone need to survive? What food, rock structures, etc.?
- Genetics: Understanding the influence of genetic variation on growth and survival.
- Cryopreservation: Improving our ability to preserve sperm for future fertilization.
6. Population Restoration
- Red abalone trials: testing our stocking methods with a surrogate species of abalone.
- Habitat mapping
The Importance of White Abalone
- Kelp forest health: Protecting the biodiversity of our kelp forests helps these communities withstand detrimental changes due to many issues caused by humans like pollution, invasive species, or the effects of climate change.
- Grazers promote diversity: Herbivores like white abalone in these ecosystems encourage biodiversity through competition and other roles.
- Competition with urchins: Without predators or the presence of other competitors, urchins can take over an area and reduce biodiversity.
- Cultural traditions: Native Americans have fished abalone for thousands of years and immigrated Americans developed a culture around abalone fishing over the past hundred years.
- Economic value: In the 1900s, abalone made up one of the largest fisheries in California. White abalone were valued as the most expensive for their tender meat.
- Cultural traditions: Many coastal Californians feel connected to the local abalone and their kelp forest ecosystems.
- Limit human impacts: As environmental degradation harms our economies and ecosystems, we realize how connected our societal health is with the environment and animals like white abalone.
What you can do!
1. Visit your local aquarium
2. Eat sustainably fished and farmed seafood
3. Report poaching: 1-888-334-CalTIP (2258)
4. Be heard and educate others
Contact your representatives Be an environmental steward!