Okay undersea explorers, quick show of hands on how many of you have ever seen an abalone on a dive in California? One more time and raise the hand if you even know what an abalone looks like in the wild? I’m seeing very few hands going up. Anyone? Anyone?
I’m not surprised. In fact, anyone certified in California over the past 20 years has probably never seen an abalone. It’s hard to believe that at one point the California fishery for this mollusk harvesteded almost 5 millions pounds of animals on an annual basis during the 1950’s and 60’s, putting fresh seafood on the plates of people across the country. It was a great time. The fishery was humming along and red, green, and pink abalone carpeted the sub-tidal zone of our local waters. It didn’t last however. Serial depletion and over-exploration started to take a toll and finally a combination of over-fishing and introduced disease reduced the populations in southern California to a point of biological extinction. Eventually white and black abalone were endangered species listed and a lot of folks just moved on, adding abalone to the long list of animals that just weren’t there anymore.
Not everyone was willing to forget and let it go however. Various efforts are currently underway to help restore or replenish wild stocks. Here are three programs you should know about and support that are trying to bring back wild abalone:
White Abalone Restoration Consortium – This program running out of the UC Davis Bodega Bay Marine laboratory is a network of partners working with white abalone, the first mollusk ever ESA listed. The stated program goals are:
- Locate white abalone in the wild
- Collect broodstock and breed new juvenile white abalone
- Stock sustainable populations of white abalone into the wild
- Educate the public about the significance of this species
Santa Monica Bay Abalone Restoration program – a regional effort to restore abalone population to the Santa Monica Bay, this effort is also part of the UC Davis White Abalone consortium, sharing data and information in a collaborative effort to successfully bring abalone back.
Get Inspired Green Abalone Restoration Project – an example of a community-based program looking to restore local green abalone populations in the Orange county-area. They are among a growing trend of local non-profits led by scientists and community members looking to make a difference in how their ocean waters look. They are making a difference
The road back for abalone is going to be a long one for scientist and managers. First off, there is no real proven methodology for out planting abs. Finding the right size and age to put them out is a big question that needs to be answered. Put them out too soon and too small and they are more susceptible to predation by larger animals. Wait too long and they become conditioned to human feeding and lose some of their natural instincts needed to help them survive. Also, in southern California, there is no guarantee that withering foot syndrome, the disease that arrived with an El Nino to deliver the final blow to the ab population is not going to affect new planted populations. Abalone may be one of the first species to be a victim of climate change and if conditions persist supporting withering foot, then that will remain a major obstacle for scientist to either overcome or somehow deal with.
One of the real changes in approach is the embracing of community to support these projects. Conservation science is no longer conducted in the vacuum of universities and labs. It’s also conducted on the beaches, in the classrooms, and in homes all across this state. People are taking back their oceans on abalone at a time.