Pinto Abalone Restoration

Project Year:  2014 - Present

Background:  Pinto 'Northern' abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) is the only known indigenous abalone species in Washington State. Since 1992, pinto abalone populations have continued to significantly decline, despite closing the recreational fishery in 1994.  There has never been a commercial fishery for abalone in Washington State.  Pinto abalone are considered functionally extinct in Washington State waters and have been federally listed as a "Species of Concern" since 2004.  Abalone are broadcast spawners, meaning they release sperm and eggs into the water column, so there must be other abalone in close proximity for successful fertilization.  It is believed that the remaining pinto abalone densities in the Salish Sea are too far below the threshold to facilitate the reproduction necessary for the population to recover on its own. Recovery without human intervention appears unlikely. 

Project Description: Restoration efforts for pinto abalone in Washington State are underway including outplanting of captive-bred juveniles.  Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) leads a strong collaborative team of organizations, government agencies, universities and tribes pursuing recovery strategies for pinto abalone. Since 2003, the restoration group has been investigating tools including conservation aquaculture and captive breeding, juvenile and larval outplanting, agreggation and other strategies.

Skagit MRC has been partnering with PSRF since 2014 to continue to build upon ongoing research and restoration efforts for pinto abalone.  To date, approximately 15,000 juvenile pinto abalone have been introduced to eight sites within the San Juan Archipeolago.  Six of those sites are located in the marine waters of Skagit County near Fidalgo Island.  Additional genetically diverse juvenile abalone seed are outplanted each year to continue to build a sustainable population here by increasing both the density and genetic diversity of abalone on the site.

Diver surveys are conducted each year to measure growth, signs of natural recruitment, density, and survivorship of the pinto abalone outplants. Preliminary monitoring results indicate the abalone are growing larger in size and density with their numbers doubling and spreading beyond the four original plots near Fidalgo Island.

In 2013, 50 sub-adult abalone were tagged with Passive Integrated Transponders and introduced to an experimental area near Fidalgo Island. Skagit MRC collaborated with PSRF to collect data on the 50 tagged abalone to research long-term tag recovery and survival along with continued testing of several different underwater tag readers. These data will be provided to WDFW and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to build upon ongoing research and restoration efforts.

 View the PSRF Recovery Plan for Pinto Abalone in Washington StateLearn more at www.pintabalone.com.

Skagit MRC's pinto abalone restoration work has been federally funded in part by the US Environmental Protection Agency via the Puget Sound Partnership through a grant awarded to the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative and the Skagit MRC.

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