NOAA 2001-R110
Contact: Gordon Helm


The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service today listed the marine mollusk know as the white abalone as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The population of the marine invertebrate once found in the millions from Point Conception, California (USA) to Punta Tortugas, Baja California, Mexico, is now estimated to be less than 2,600 animals.

"Because white abalone is in danger of going extinct in the foreseeable future," said Bill Hogarth, acting director of NOAA fisheries, "we need to protect and intervene to spur recovery of the species. Listing under the ESA makes any kind of harvest a federal violation and calls for developing a plan to recover the species."

Since the late 1960s, white abalone abundance has dropped by more than 99 percent. Its population fell from 2.22 to 4.24 million animals to about 1,613 to 2,540 today. White abalone was once easily harvested by divers along the California coast and quickly became a delicacy in West Coast restaurants. By the mid-1970s, commercial harvesting had reduced the white abalone populations to very low levels, and the state of California began to prohibit harvest. Illegal harvest was identified in the status review as a significant threat to white abalone because it is highly prized and in demand as food.

While abalone population surveys vary in timing and spatial coverage, results indicate that the density of white abalone has declined by several orders of magnitude since 1970. Furthermore, the data on white abalone suggest that the animals are too far removed from each other to allow successful fertilization for natural recovery of the population. NOAA fisheries will develop a formal recovery plan that might include bringing wild white abalone population clusters together and developing other improvements in reproduction techniques. NOAA fisheries will appoint a recovery team that will draft a recovery pan for public comment.

While NOAA fisheries recognizes that many of the existing conservation measures help to protect the remaining white abalone population, they do not yet provide for white abalone conservation at a scale that is adequate to protect and recover the species.

The ESA requires NOAA fisheries to concurrently designate critical habitat to the maximum extent prudent and determinable. NOAA fisheries has determined that it would not be prudent to designate critical habitat at this time, due to the concern that poachers may use the information to illegally harvest white abalone and thereby reduce its already low numbers and compromise its ability to recover.