Highly valued for its edible muscular foot and mother-of-pearl shell, the pinto abalone has declined significantly in recent decades and faces extinction unless it’ss protected — and soon — under the Endangered Species Act. The pinto abalone is a marine snail found in scattered patches in rocky areas of the intertidal zone off North America’s West Coast, from Alaska to California. Pinto abalone are part of the kelp forest ecosystem, a sensitive habitat that has been disrupted from its natural state by human activities for hundreds of years, beginning with the near-extirpation of sea otters for the fur trade, and continuing with overharvest of marine invertebrates — including the pinto abalone.

Living at relatively shallow depths, pinto abalone were easily harvested by people, and once supported commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries. The mollusk’s populations dropped precipitously over the past few decades, mainly due to rampant overharvest for the commercial market. Closure of all commercial fisheries has done little to halt population declines. The pinto abalone has now virtually disappeared from its historical range in California, is very rare in Washington, and is unknown in Oregon. Pinto abalones continue to decline in Canada, despite protections, and populations remain very low in Alaska.

Poaching is a major threat to pinto abalone, which fetch a high price on the Asian market, spurring continued illegal harvest. The few pinto abalone left in the wild are often too far apart to breed. Adding insult to injury, poachers target the largest and most fertile abalone — further hindering population recovery.

Greenhouse gas emissions and associated ocean acidification and sea-surface temperature rise pose a major emerging threat to pinto abalone. Ocean acidification may hinder the development of abalone shells, and reduce the availability of the abalone’s kelp and algal food sources.

Due to these serious threats to survival, scientists have predicted that the pinto abalone will not survive without immediate and active intervention. The Center took action August 2, 2013, filing a petition to protect the pinto abalone under the Endangered Species Act.