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For Immediate Release, August 1, 2013

Contact: Kiersten Lippmann, (907) 793-8691 or klippmann@biologicaldiversity.org

Petition Filed to Protect Rare Abalone Under Endangered Species Act

Species Ranging From Alaska to Baja Calif. Threatened by Poaching, Ocean Acidification, Climate Change

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition today to protect pinto abalone under the Endangered Species Act. The pinto abalone, a 6-inch-long marine snail ranging from Sitka Island, Alaska to Turtle Bay, Baja California, has declined by more than 80 percent in most of its range. The animal’s survival is threatened by poaching and climate change.

Pinto abalone
Pinto abalone photo courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game. This photo is available for media use.

Once highly valued for its edible muscular foot and mother-of-pearl shell, the pinto abalone was long a traditional food of native people along the West Coast of North America. High market demand for the abalone’s delicate meat resulted in rampant commercial overfishing during the 1980s and ’90s, severely depleting most populations. These abalone have suffered such a population decline in the wild that individuals are simply too far apart from one another to reproduce.

While commercial fishing of pinto abalone is now banned, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly, posing a dire threat to the continued existence of the species. Shellfish species in Washington are already showing poor shell development and decreased reproductive success due to warming and acidifying waters.

“As with so many ocean species, overfishing nearly wiped out pinto abalone, and a warming and acidifying ocean now threatens to finish them off,” said Kiersten Lippmann, an Alaska-based biologist with the Center. “The only way to prevent extinction is to take dramatic steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Pinto abalone are also targeted by poachers. Poachers remove the largest, most reproductively valuable pinto abalone with little risk of being caught because of the remoteness of the habitat. Despite an increase in farmed abalone to fulfill the world’s hunger for abalone meat, the higher price value of wild abalone continues to spur poachers’ efforts.

“Pinto abalone may have a face only a mother could love, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t important,” said Lippmann. “The ocean is a complicated place. You take out one species and the entire ecosystem suffers.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must respond to the Center’s petition in 90 days and determine whether listing is warranted within one year.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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