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Rare Abalone One Step Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— In response to scientific petitions filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Center for Biological Diversity in summer 2013, the federal government announced Friday that pinto abalone may need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The 6-inch-long marine snails have declined by between 80 percent and 99 percent throughout much of their range, primarily as a result of rampant overfishing. Even with fishing now largely prohibited, the animal’s continued survival is threatened by poaching, ocean acidification and climate change.
“Pinto abalone may have a face only a mother could love, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t important,” said Kiersten Lippmann, an Alaska-based biologist with the Center. “The ocean is a complicated place. You take out one species and the entire ecosystem suffers. Endangered Species Act protection would ensure the survival of this important animal.”
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 unsustainable fishing during the 1980s to 1990s, severely depleting most populations. These abalone have suffered such a population decline in the wild that many individuals are simply too far apart from one another to reproduce.
“Pinto abalone’s future could literally dissolve away. As the government indicated in its preliminary finding, while fishing has largely driven the species to the brink of extinction, ocean acidification and climate change could push it over. Indeed, there are signs that this might already be happening,” said Brad Sewell, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
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.
The finding that protection of the pinto abalone under the Endangered Species Act may be warranted triggers a requirement for the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct a full scientific review of the species status before deciding whether to formally propose a listing by July 1, 2014.
“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 Lippmann. “The only way to prevent extinction is to take dramatic steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and put a stop to poaching.”
Pinto abalone are a high value target for poachers, who operate in remote coastal areas with little risk of being caught. Poachers remove the largest, most reproductively valuable pinto abalone. 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.
“The plight of pinto abalone is why the Endangered Species Act is so important. This species will likely be lost forever unless it is listed and protected under the law,” said Sewell.
For the notice online, go here: http://bit.ly/1fHqdua
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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.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at http://www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
Pinto abalone photo courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game.