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Recovery strategy for the Northern Abalone

Executive Summary

The northern or pinto abalone has been declining in numbers and distribution in surveyed areas of coastal British Columbia (B.C.), Canada, as documented by regular surveys since the late 1970s.  The northern abalone fisheries in B.C. were closed to all harvest in 1990 to protect the remaining population.  Despite the complete ban on harvest, the population continued to decline and showed no sign of recovery.  As a result, northern abalone were assigned a threatened status by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in April 1999.  In June 2003, northern abalone were legally listed and protected as threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). 

Illegal harvest is considered to be the most significant threat to northern abalone.  The northern abalone is especially vulnerable to harvest because this species has a patchy distribution, short larval period, is slow growing, relatively long-lived, has low or sporadic recruitment, and mature individuals, which tend to accumulate in shallow water, are easily accessible to harvesters.  Low recruitment in an area, over a protracted period of several years, further threatens the northern abalone population by not replenishing the reproductive adults that have died from natural causes or illegal harvest. While low recruitment caused by unfavourable environmental and biotic factors usually can not be predicted nor controlled, ensuring that there are sufficient adult northern abalone to reproduce each year will allow recruitment to occur when environmental conditions are favourable.  Future threats may include habitat loss in localized areas to works or developments on, in and under the water in the event they are unregulated and predation by sea otters in areas where northern abalone are already severely depleted. 

The immediate recovery goal is to halt the decline of the existing wild northern abalone population in order to reduce the risk of northern abalone becoming endangered. 

The long-term recovery goal is to increase the number and densities of wild northern abalone to levels where the population becomes self-sustainable within five biogeographic zones, Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), Queen Charlotte and Johnstone Straits, North and Central Coast, Georgia Basin, and West Coast of Vancouver Island, in order to remove northern abalone from threatened status.  The goal of increasing northern abalone to sustainable levels can be expected to take several decades.


The recovery objectives on which northern abalone’s recovery will be monitored over the next five years are:

  1. To observe that mean densities of large adult (> 100 mm shell length (SL)) northern abalone do not decline below 0.1 per m2 at surveyed index sites in Haida Gwaii and North and Central Coast, and that the percentage of surveyed index sites with large adult (> 100 mm SL) northern abalone does not decrease below 40%.
  2. To observe that the mean total density estimates at newly established index sites in the Queen Charlotte and Johnstone Straits do not decline below the level observed in 2004 (0.06 northern abalone per m2 and 0.02 northern abalone per m2, respectively), and the mean total density estimates for the West Coast of Vancouver Island do not decline below the level observed in 2003 (0.09 northern abalone per m2). 
  3. To observe at the index sites (in areas without sea otters) that the annual estimated mortality rate for mature (≥ 70 mm SL) northern abalone is reduced to <0.20 and the mean densities of mature (≥ 70 mm SL) northern abalone are increased to ≥ 0.32 per m2.
  4. To observe at the index sites (in areas without sea otters) that the proportion of quadrats (m2) with northern abalone is increased to > 40%.

The approaches recommended for the long-term to meet the recovery objectives are:

  1. maintaining the fisheries closures;
  2. implementing a proactive protection plan;
  3. implementing a communication campaign to stop illegal harvest and raise public awareness;
  4. undertaking research and rebuilding experiments;
  5. monitoring the population status.

Critical habitat for northern abalone has not been identified.  Critical habitat may exist in certain habitats where juvenile survival is better, or where the reproducing adults contribute to a larger portion of the total recruitment.  Identification of these key habitats is an important component to the abalone research and rebuilding plans. 

One or more action plans, which provide the specific details for recovery implementation, will be completed within three years of completion of the recovery strategy.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has facilitated the completion of this recovery strategy with the assistance of the Abalone Recovery Team.  Through workshops, public consultations andexternal reviews, other government agencies, stewardship groups, First Nations communities, universities, external experts, businesses, private citizens, international organizations and non-government organizations (NGOs) have also contributed to the recovery strategy.  Many of these groups are actively working to help stop the decline and remove this species from the threatened status list.

To report suspicious or illegal harvesting activities call 1-800-465-4336 and help protect northern abalone.