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Recovery strategy for the Northern Abalone

2. Recovery

2.1 Recovery Goal

Immediate Goal (over the next five years):

Halt the decline of the existing wild northern abalone population in B.C. in order to reduce the risk of this species becoming endangered.

Long-term Goal (over the next 30 years):

Increase number and densities of wild northern abalone to self-sustainable levels in each biogeographic zone of B.C. (Haida Gwaii, Queen Charlotte and Johnstone Strait, North and Central Coast, Georgia Basin, 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.

2.2 Recovery Feasibility

Given time, favourable environmental conditions, and reduced mortalities, recovery of northern abalone is feasible, as there remains a reservoir of reproductive adults and high quality habitat is available.  Rebuilding techniques are available to improve recruitment.  Aggregating reproductive adults appears to improve localized recruitment (Parks Canada Agency, in preparation).  Out-planting has shown some success in population rebuilding in other jurisdictions (Seki and Taniguchi 2000; Shepherd et al. 2000; Tegner 2000; Roberts and Andrew 2003; Cook 2003; de Waal et al. 2003 in press).  Protocols have recently been developed for regulating works and developments on, in and under the water (Lessard et al. 2006) to provide for sufficient habitat and spawning aggregations that are important to recovery.  Further study is expected to provide guidance towards defining recovery objectives for northern abalone in the presence of sea otters (i.e., how northern abalone can co-exist with sea otters). 

However, the approaches for recovery will need to focus on the long-term, given the two main threats; illegal harvesting has continued in spite of the sixteen-year ban on harvesting and low recruitment is influenced by unfavorable environmental and biotic factors that can not be predicted nor controlled. Modeling of collapsed populations gave time periods to recovery of 50-100 years due to subtle ecosystem shifts or the Allee effect (Allee et al. 1949) (S. Shepherd, pers. comm.).

As more information is gathered, refinement to the recovery goal(s) and assessment of feasibility in some areas of B.C. may be required.  In particular, northern abalone densities in the southernmost end of Vancouver Island (see Section 1.3 Populations and Distribution, Georgia Basin) suggest poor potential for recruitment in this area.  Predation from the recovering sea otter population may increase mortality to unsustainable levels where the northern abalone population is already depleted from other factors (e.g., illegal harvest and poor recruitment).

2.3 Population and Distribution Objective(s)

The objectives for at least the next five years will be:

  1. To observe that mean densities of large adult (> 100 mm 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%.

Objectives #1 and #2 are measures to monitor the halt of the decline in the northern abalone population.  Objective #1 is based on 1990 levels when all fisheries were closed.  Objective #2 is based on the most recent surveys, as a longer time series is not yet available.  Objectives #3 and #4 are a measure of progress towards recovery (i.e., self-sustaining population) based on the northern abalone population model (Lessard et al. 2006).

Observing an increase (>40%) in the proportion of quadrats with a single northern abalone (Objective #4) may not be attainable as it requires the current occurrence to double.  However, this objective provides the only measure currently available to assess changes in the patchy distribution of northern abalone on a fine scale.  Recovery objectives may be refined with improved knowledge, particularly with improved knowledge of the northern abalone patch size required for recruitment and improved knowledge of the effects of sea otters.   

2.4 Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives

2.4.1 Recovery planning

Table 2. Recovery Planning Table



Threats addressedBroad strategy to address threatRecommended approaches to meet recovery objectives
Recovery Objectives 1, 2, 3 and 4


(in place)

HarvestProtectionMaintain fisheries closures



Illegal harvestProtectionImplement a proactive protection plan



Illegal harvestEducation and awarenessImplement a communication campaign


(in place)

Works or developments on, in and under waterProtectionUse protocols for authorizing works or development on, in and under water
Recovery Objectives 3 and 4



Low recruitmentManagementUndertake research and rebuilding


(to be initiated)

Sea otter predationResearchDetermine northern abalone population and distribution objectives in the presence of sea otters
Recovery Objectives 1, 2, 3, 4



MonitoringMonitoringMonitor the population (surveys)

2.4.2 Narrative to support Recovery Planning Table

  1. Maintain the fisheries closures for northern abalone.  A continued prohibition on harvest is necessary to limit human-induced mortalities on the population and allow for natural recruitment and recovery. 
  2. Implement a proactive protection plan for the recovery of northern abalone.  Protection is necessary to reduce mortalities of northern abalone from illegal harvest, and to increase community involvement, awareness and fishery officers’ support.  Protection through habitat management will prevent losses of important habitat and individuals.
    1. Use reactive, preventative and proactive enforcement to curtail illegal harvest and trafficking of northern abalone.
    2. Continue to identify illegal abalone in the marketplace using genetic markers.
    3. Promote communication, awareness, stewardship and policing (e.g., First Nations guardians).
    4. Promote coastal watch programs (“Abalone Coast Watch”) to involve communities in protecting the abalone population.
    5. Use ‘traceability’ protocols to distinguish legally obtained cultured northern abalone from illegally obtained wild northern abalone. 
    6. Foster public support of court imposed sentencing that is appropriate to the threatened status of northern abalone.  This may be achieved by educating the general public through publications and other communication media.
    7. Continue to apply precautionary protocols (Lessard et al. 2006) for authorizing works or developments on, in and under the water.
  3. Implement a communication campaign to stop illegal harvest and raise public awareness for northern abalone. A communication campaign will help to curb illegal harvest, increase support for enforcement efforts, and encourage community stewardship and public involvement.
    1. Promote northern abalone stewardship projects.
    2. Continue to update a northern abalone web site and newsletter(s) for interested parties and the general public.
    3. Work with First Nations, interested local parties, stakeholders and international agencies.
    4. Produce communication materials (e.g., posters, stickers, and brochures) aimed at stopping illegal harvest.
    5. Initiate a proactive media relations campaign, and identify and co-ordinate media opportunities.
  4. Undertake research and rebuilding experiments for northern abalone.  Research and rebuilding may lead to increased breeding success, recruitment and population densities.  Rebuilding sites should be established in conjunction with a stewardship program to protect from illegal harvesting. 
    1. Establish experimental pilot research areas and test rebuilding methods by aggregating reproductive adults.
    2. Establish experimental pilot research areas and test enhancement through out-planting hatchery-raised abalone to the wild.  Hatchery-raised abalone that are out-planted to the wild become part of the wild population.  Investigate the effects of:
      1. size
      2. habitat type
      3. season
      4. presence/absence of predators
      5. site exposure, on enhancement success by assessing the survival and growth of released juvenile and larval hatchery-raised abalone in small experimental plots of known habitat and species complex. 
    3. Test the application of recruitment modules to sample and/or protect early life-stages.
    4. Establish pilot research areas where sea otters have recovered to determine abalone population parameters under the effects of sea otters and to determine population and distribution objectives in the presence of sea otters.
    5. Research the effects of disease and/or parasites.
    6. Consult and work co-operatively with First Nations on proposals for projects that are in a First Nations’ local area. This includes sharing of information on the abalone population, project goals, rebuilding techniques, impacts, etc.
    7. Work co-operatively with coastal communities to share information on the local abalone population and develop rebuilding techniques.
    8. Incorporate information on abalone from other jurisdictions where appropriate.
    9. Consider a broad ecosystem approach in the research of northern abalone.
  5. Monitor the population status of northern abalone.  Monitoring is required to determine the progress towards meeting the population and distribution objectives and to determine when recovery has been achieved.
    1. Continue index site surveys (every five years).  Most recent surveys were conducted in North and Central Coast 2006, Queen Charlotte and Johnstone Straits 2004, West Coast of Vancouver Island 2003, Queen Charlotte Islands 2002.
    2. Establish index sites in Georgia Basin.
    3. Develop an improved measure for ‘patch’ size.