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Everybody Loves Abalone

Human, fishes, otters: Everybody loves abalone. But Today’s Endangered All-Star, the Black Abalone, has experienced a horrific decline, due to overharvesting and Withering Syndrome, caused by a bacteria that obstructs the animal’s digestion, leading to wasting away and eventual death. The Syndrome has wiped out some 90% of Black Abalone populations along the Pacific Coast, with all of California’s remaining healthy populations—including some that seem resistant to Withering Syndrome—lying within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Other threats include global warming (higher ocean temperatures cause mortality in abalone), coastal development, and poaching. In response, the IUCN has listed the species as Critically Endangered, the National Marine Fisheries Service has declared it a “Species of Special Concern,” and the California Department of Fish and Game has developed an Abalone Recovery and Management Plan. The Plan calls for research on resistance to the disease and, eventually, the culturing abalone for “out-planting.” Meanwhile, SCAN, the Sonoma County Abalone Network, keeps an eagle eye out for abalone poachers, encouraging their arrest on felony charges, the confiscation of their fishing gear, and the levying of heavy fines for even one abalone over the limit.
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