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. More....