A status review of Pinto abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) along the west coast of North America: interpreting trends, addressing uncertainty, and assessing risk for a wide-ranging marine invertebrate

Pinto abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana), the widest ranging abalone species in North America, occurs from Alaska, United States to Central Baja California, Mexico. The species has been observed in intertidal and subtidal habitats from 0 to 40mdepth. The best available data indicate that pinto abalone abundance has declined in many areas throughout the species’ range due to fisheries harvest. Subsistence and personal use fisheries in Alaska and a commercial fishery in Mexico persist. Preliminary data from 2008 to 2016 indicate signs of recovery for some pinto abalone populations along the British Columbia coast due to multiple contributing factors including a reduction in illegal harvest, natural recovery following fishery closure, and low predation pressure. By contrast, pinto abalone populations at the San Juan Islands in Washington are experiencing recruitment failure and continuing to decline, despite closure of the fisheries and no evidence of poaching. Throughout the remainder of the species’ range, trends are less clear, due to the lack of regular, long-term monitoring surveys for pinto abalone. The limited data from surveys and/or opportunistic sightings indicate that pinto abalone populations are small, patchily distributed, and/or fluctuate episodically in Alaska, California, and Mexico, with evidence of recent recruitment in a number of locations within these three areas. Baseline abundance and trend data for the species before the advent of commercial fisheries and, in some areas, the local extirpation of sea otters is lacking. Without a clear baseline with which to compare the current abundance levels and trend information, it is difficult to interpret what these levels mean for the status and viability of the species. Threats to pinto abalone were evaluated and characterized using a qualitative rating (i.e., low, moderate, high, very high) based on the threats’ scope, severity, and persistence and the sufficiency of the data to support the rating. Several threats that posed a moderate level of risk to pinto abalone were identified including the following: low densities as a result of historical overfishing; the potential threat posed by ocean acidification; and illegal take because of poaching and inadequate law enforcement. The overall risk that pinto abalone face throughout their range was evaluated, and it was determined that they have a low to moderate level of extinction risk now and in the foreseeable future (over both the 30-y and 100-y time horizons). There is a high level of uncertainty regarding demographic factors, in particular regarding whether abundance and productivity levels are sufficient to support the persistence and recovery of the species in the face of continuing and potential future threats. Although recruitment failure may be occurring in some areas (e.g., San Juan Islands Archipelago), in other areas throughout the range recurring and/or recent recruitment events have been observed, despite low densities, and have even resulted in increased densities (across all size classes) at several index sites in British Columbia. Limitations in using demographic data to guide conservation actions and help ensure species persistence could be overcome by conducting consistent monitoring of pinto abalone populations throughout their range.

Neuman M. J., Wang S., Busch S., Friedman C., Gruenthal K., Gustafson R., Kushner D., Stierhoff K., Vanblaricom G. & Wright S., 2018. A status review of Pinto abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) along the west coast of North America: interpreting trends, addressing uncertainty, and assessing risk for a wide-ranging marine invertebrate. Journal of Shellfish Research 37 (4): 869-910. Article (subscription required).

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