The Pinto Abalone Deserves Protection Under the Endangered Species Act
- Rampant historical overfishing—combined with poaching and continued legal harvesting, climate change, and ocean acidification—has pushed pinto abalone to the brink of extinction.
- The species' plight is so dire that scientists have already declared pinto abalone to be "functionally extinct" in some areas, such as in the state of Washington's coastal waters.
- Listing the pinto abalone as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act will enable better enforcement of harvest bans, increased habitat protection, and other conservation measures that are essential to save this West Coast treasure from extinction.
Threats to the Pinto Abalone
Highly valued for both their edible muscular foot and mother-of-pearl shell, the pinto abalone population first declined due to overharvesting by both commercial and recreational fisheries. Even after commercial fisheries and most recreational fisheries were closed in the 1990s, pinto abalone populations continued to decline. Today, the one-two punch of rampant historical overfishing—combined with continued illegal and legal harvesting, climate change, and ocean acidification—has pushed this species to the brink of extinction.
Endangered Species Act Listing
A U.S. Endangered Species Act listing is our best hope for protecting this prized species while there is still time to save highly-depleted populations. Listing the pinto abalone as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act will enable better enforcement of harvest bans, increased habitat protection, and other conservation measures that are essential to save this West Coast treasure from extinction.
Commercial harvest of pinto abalone is already prohibited and listing the species under the Endangered Species Act will not affect recreational harvest of other abalone species (namely the red abalone in California). Therefore, potential negative economic effects of an endangered listing should be negligible. On the plus side, recovering the pinto abalone under the protective umbrella of the Endangered Species Act—and ultimately delisting the species—could result in the rebirth of a valuable Pacific coast fishery. Pinto abalone recovery would also improve the health of the Pacific kelp forest ecosystem, thus enhancing the value of this ecosystem for extractive and non-extractive (e.g., diving) uses.
Ultimately, a reduction in climate change pollution will be necessary to rescue the pinto abalone. The effects of climate change will have long-term effects on the species, including physiological (e.g., impaired shell-forming from ocean acidification), developmental, behavioral (e.g., impaired predator response), and larger-scale ecosystem effects (e.g., reduced food sources). Although this makes curbing climate change pollution critical, the pinto abalone still requires protection from more immediate threats such as habitat loss and overharvesting. Populations must also be rebuilt if they are going to be sufficiently robust to withstand the long-term threats from climate change.
In response to petitions filed by NRDC in June 2013 and the Center for Biological Diversity in August 2013, the National Marine Fisheries Service determined in November 2013 that listing the pinto abalone as endangered or threatened may be warranted and initiated a formal status review. By law, the agency is required to make a listing decision within 12 months of petition submission.
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last revised 7/30/2014