NOAA 2000-115
Contact: Mike Fergus


Citing a 99 percent decline in the white abalone population in California, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service today proposed that white abalone be listed throughout its range as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. White abalone is a marine shell fish that ranges from Point Conception, Calif., to Punta Tortugas, Baja California Mexico. The agency will file a separate proposal for listing of critical habitat for white abalone at a later time.

White abalone have experienced declines in abundance as a result of commercial overharvesting in the early 1970's. Due to their life history characteristics as slow-moving bottom dwellers with external fertilization, abalone are particularly susceptible to local, sustained depletion, as when fishermen remove too many abalone from an area. If female abalone are not within a few meters of males when they both spawn, their eggs will not be fertilized. When local abalone density declines, the probability of successful fertilization, and subsequent replenishment, decreases. After only 3 years of commercial harvesting, white abalone landings in California began to decline in 1973. Landings were so small by 1978 that the California Department of Fish and Game no longer required white abalone to be reported separately on commercial landings receipts.

Federal fishery managers believe the proposed listing will have relatively little effect on marine operations off California. The State of California has already closed its white abalone fishery. Also, since white abalone occurs relatively deep (20-60 meters), few federal, state, or local agency coastal actions would be expected to affect white abalone. Collection of white abalone for artificial propagation or aggregation in the wild would require a research or enhancement permit under section 10 of the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA Fisheries had previously designated the white abalone as a candidate species under the ESA in 1997, and contracted with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to conduct a review of the biological status of white abalone a year later. The final status review, including current and historical impacts to the species, was received by the agency in March of this year.

The status review determined that over the last 30 years white abalone abundance has declined from approximately 2.22 to 4.24 million to less than 2,540 animals, a decline of more than 99 percent since the 1960's.

A review of commercial landings between 1969 and1977 also indicates a significant decline from a peak of 144,000 pounds in 1972 to less than 1,000 pounds in 1979. Between 1987-1992, only eleven white abalone were reported in commercial landings–since 1992, none have been reported.

On April 29, 1999, NOAA Fisheries received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity to list white abalone as an endangered species on an emergency basis and designate critical habitat under the ESA. On September 24, 1999, NOAA Fisheries published its 90-day finding, concluding that the petition presented substantial scientific and commercial information indicating that a listing may be warranted.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment through July 5th, 60 days from publication date, May 5, and will conduct public hearings on this proposal if requested. The public can send its comments to: NOAA Fisheries Service Southwest Region, Protected Resources, 501 W. Ocean Blvd., Ste. 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802-4213.