OLYMPIA – The status of pinto abalone will be the subject of a public meeting scheduled Monday, April 28, in Anacortes by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
WDFW staff will discuss a proposal to list the pinto abalone as a state “species of greatest conservation need,” which could provide additional funding for efforts to recover the native mollusk.
Public comments on that proposal will also be heard at the meeting, scheduled from 7-9 p.m. at the Anacortes Public Library.
No fishing has been allowed for pinto abalone in Washington state since 1994 due to conservation concerns, said Don Rothaus, a WDFW shellfish biologist. The species is designated as a federal “species of concern” and is a candidate for the state list of threatened and endangered species.
“Pinto abalone have declined dramatically over the past 20 years from Puget Sound to the coastal waters of British Columbia,” Rothaus said. “It’s especially troubling because populations have continued to decline long after fisheries were closed in the early 1990s.”
Abalone are large marine snails, historically prized as a delicacy. The shell has been used for jewelry and inlay because of its luster.
In Washington, pinto abalone range from Admiralty Inlet to the San Juan Islands, throughout the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula. They are generally found between the low intertidal zone down to 60 feet.
If the current pattern of decline continues, research indicates pinto abalone could disappear from local waters as early as 2011, Rothaus said.
WDFW is currently working with the University of Washington, the NOAA Marine Research Station at Mukilteo, Taylor Shellfish, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund and the SeaDoc Society to find ways to stabilize and restore pinto abalone populations in Washington waters.
If the pinto abalone is classified as a “species of greatest conservation need,” those efforts could qualify for additional federal funding under the WDFW Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. (See http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/cwcs/ for more information.)
“This process is about setting priorities, and recent research suggests that the pinto abalone needs to be an even higher priority than we had originally thought,” Rothaus said. “We’d like to invite the public to join in that discussion.”