Pinto abalone to be considered for endangered species listing

ab sticker Last week the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that it will conduct a status review for pinto abalone. Depending on what NMFS decides, pinto abalone could be listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. “Endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. “Threatened” means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. This review is in response to a petition filed by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).

Pinto abalone are considered in threat of extinction in Washington State, as individual animals are too far apart to successfully broadcast spawn and are currently considered a “species of concern”. Species of concern are those species about which NMFS has concerns but have insufficient information to list the species under the Endangered Species Act. In an effort to restore pinto abalone populations in Washington State, a hatchery was developed to release juvenile pinto abalone into the wild. The Pinto Abalone Recovery project has many partners including the University of Washington, Shannon Point Marine Center, Puget Sound Restoration Fund and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and others.

As I previously worked with pinto abalone, I was very interested to hear about this development. What does this possible listing mean for pinto abalone and the scientists who study them? I asked my past adviser Carolyn Friedman about her opinions on listing pinto abalone under the Endangered Species Act.

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Carolyn Friedman is a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. Carolyn has been working with abalone for almost 30 years. She was the first to describe the causative agent withering syndrome decimating black abalone in California in her publication in 2000 and has continued researching black, red, and pinto abalone since then. She has been involved with the listing of black and white abalone. She is a partner on the Pinto Abalone Recovery project.

Q: What are the benefits of listing animals as endangered, threatened etc.?

A: Listing provides federal protection for the species. Bigger fines for taking (poaching) animals are associated with species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Heightened awareness of the plight of the ESA listed species is often associated with listing. Additional avenues for research and culture of ESA listing are also potential benefits.

Q:  How would listing pintos as “endangered” be different from if they were listed as “threatened”?

A: Endangered species are at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range, while threatened species are at risk of becoming endangered and are, thus, considered to have a lower potential of extinction throughout much of their range. Endangered species have full ESA protection including the prohibition for anyone under U.S. jurisdiction of the U.S. to “take” (e.g., harm, injure, kill, capture, etc) the species. When a species is listed as threatened, those same protections are not automatically transferred to the species and some exceptions may apply. See http://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/t-vs-e.pdf or http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/endangered.html for more information.

Q: What are the possible negative aspects of listing pintos as endangered?

A: Although ESA listing provides heightened protection and awareness, some people may not value a particular species and wonder why the federal government is putting funds towards a species they may find frivolous. In addition, conducting research on endangered species requires a lengthy permitting process that may be out of sync with funding cycles. This is an added level of difficulty but at the same time it is essential to have in place to help ensure the best possible research and ensure immediate relaying of research findings to NOAA Protected Resources to enable species restoration.

Q: What is your opinion on pinto abalone listing? Should they be listed as endangered or threatened?

A: That is a good question. In California and Washington, stocks are dangerously low. In British Columbia, Canada the Species at Risk Act already protects the pinto abalone and stocks in Alaska, USA have declined in recent years. I’ll have to reserve judgment until I see all of the data.

Q: In your experience, is it worth it to list abalones as endangered?

A: Absolutely! These species are really at the brink of extinction largely due to human activities (such as fishing) and I strongly believe that it is our responsibility as stewards of our planet (as corny as it sounds) to try and repair any damage we have caused.

Feel free to post additional questions for me or Carolyn!

For additional information on abalone, please see my post here.

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