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Recovery Strategy for Northern Abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) in Canada (Final Version)

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
PriorityThreats addressedBroad strategy to address threatRecommended approaches to meet recovery objectives
Recovery Objectives 1, 2, 3 and 4
(in place)
HarvestProtectionMaintain fisheries closures
High (ongoing)
Illegal harvestProtectionImplement a proactive protection plan
High (ongoing)
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
High (initiated)
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
High (ongoing)
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 and 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.


2.5  Performance Measures

The success of the recovery actions will be reviewed annually, while the goals, objectives and broad strategies outlined herein will be reviewed within five years of the recovery strategy’s acceptance by the Minister.  The following performance measures will be used to assess the effectiveness of the objectives and strategies, and to determine whether recovery remains feasible.

Objective-based performance measures:

  • Did the mean densities of large adult (> 100 mm SL) northern abalone decline below 0.1/m2 at surveyed index sites in Haida Gwaii and North and Central Coast?  Or did it increase?
  • Did the percentage of surveyed index sites with large adult (> 100 mm SL) northern abalone decrease (< 40%)?  Or did it improve (> 40%)?
  • Did the annual estimated mortality rate for mature (≥ 70 mm SL) abalone drop to < 0.20, and the mean densities of mature (≥ 70 mm SL) abalone increase to greater than 0.32/m2
  • Were more than 40% of the quadrats (m2) occupied by abalone?

Approach-based performance measures:

  • Was the coast-wide closure to northern abalone harvesting maintained and enforced? Was the coast-wide closure an effective measure contributing in halting the population decline? 
  • Was a proactive protective enforcement plan implemented?  How many reports relating to abalone harvesting were provided to enforcement officers and the toll free enforcement line (Observe-Record-Report)?  To what degree were these reports investigated and resulted in charges and convictions?  How many hours were spent on enforcing abalone closures?  What were the trends in enforcement hours and resulting charges and convictions over the period before and during implementation of the recovery strategy? 
  • Was a long-term communications strategy implemented?  How many and what kind of communication materials and/or actions were produced and/or undertaken?  How many people, and where, did the communications activities reach?  What indications for increased awareness (e.g., did visits to the abalone web site increase, what level of participation at workshops?) and/or reductions in illegal harvest were a result of communications efforts?
  • What significant new knowledge was gained through research that would directly contribute to the rebuilding of the northern abalone population?  How many population rebuilding initiatives were undertaken?  Was there an observed increase in juvenile abundance and/or recruitment as a result of rebuilding experiments?  Does rebuilding appear to be a viable, or promising strategy to recover the wild abalone population?  What reports (technical or primary publications) were prepared that provide results of surveys and biological studies?
  • Was baseline abundance data established in each of the biogeographic zones? 

2.6  Critical Habitat

2.6.1 Identification of the species’ critical habitat

SARA defines critical habitat as “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species”.  While the general habitat requirements for northern abalone can be described (Section 1.4.1), the identification of critical habitat as defined under SARA requires further research.

Critical habitat to northern abalone 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.

2.6.2 Schedule of studies to identify critical habitat

Further research is needed before critical habitat for northern abalone can be identified.  The following schedule for the next five years (2007-2012) outlines the studies that will yield information towards identifying critical habitat for northern abalone.  The activities outlined in this schedule are recommendations that are subject to priorities and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.  Some studies will take longer than five years to complete. 

Recovery Activities


Survey juvenile abalone to improve the ‘cryptic model’ (estimate of the portion of the population that remains cryptic and unavailable to survey).


Compare field observations from known abalone habitat to a predicted abalone habitat suitability model (Jamieson et al. 2004).


Determine the habitat characteristics that improve growth rates.


Examine growth, survival and distribution of early benthic stages in relation to local habitat, algal, predator and competitor species.  Determine the parameters that contribute to higher juvenile densities (recruitment).


As part of the protocol (Lessard et al. 2006), monitor the extent to which works and developments on, in and under the water may impact on abalone habitat and recovery.


Refine the predicted abalone habitat suitability model based on field observations.


Examine abalone distribution in relation to local seawater current patterns and computer simulations to determine potential larval dispersal mechanisms.



The identification of critical habitat is expected to take many years.  Juvenile northern abalone are cryptic, making them difficult to find and to study, and dive surveys are intensive.  Factors that contribute to localized recruitment (e.g., currents) are complex and may vary annually.  A time series of data will be required on which to base assumptions to determine the ‘critical’ components of the habitat, rather than the habitat that is merely suitable. 

2.7  Existing and Recommended Approaches to Habitat Protection

The Fisheries Act has provisions to protect northern abalone habitat.  A list of existing marine protected areas is summarized in Jamieson and Lessard (2000).  Marine Protected Areas may also be established under the Oceans Act.  Under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act, Parks Canada is responsible for the creation of National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs) which will be managed for sustainable use, and protected from industrial activities such as marine dumping, mining, and oil and gas exploration and development.  A proposed NMCA in the southern Queen Charlotte Islands will extend 10 km offshore from Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.  As such, it will encompass all the abalone habitat within this area.  Consultations on the proposed NMCA are on hold pending negotiations with the Council of the Haida Nation.   

Protocols (Lessard et al. 2006) are in place for authorizations under the Fisheries Act of works or developments on, in and under the water that may impact on abalone or its habitat.  The protocols include decision rules to protect important habitat and, as such, adopts a precautionary approach to also protect critical habitat although it has not yet been identified. 

Works or developments on, in and under the water that may affect abalone habitat may also be subject to review under the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Movements of abalone to hatchery facilities and to the wild, including enhancement by out-planting to the wild, are subject to review and permitting (Fisheries Act) by the federal-provincial Introductions and Transfers Committee.  Considerations made by the Committee in permitting transfers include disease transmission, genetic implications, and proper management and control to protect the threatened wild population.  Currently, out-planting experiments are restricted to the immediate vicinity of Bamfield, B.C.. 

2.8  Permitting (SARA)

Refer to the ‘Recovery Potential Analysis for Northern Abalone’ (Lessard et al. 2006) for a review and recommendations on activities that may be permitted under SARA and the impact assessment protocol for proposed works and developments on, in or under the water.

A future amendment to this recovery strategy will be required in the event densities within an established and protected rebuilding area(s) recovers to minimum levels at which a limited First Nation harvest for food, social and ceremonial purposes, as protected under Section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, may be considered without jeopardizing survival or recovery of northern abalone.

2.9  Effects on Other Species

Table 3.  Effects on other species
StrategyPotential ImpactProbability of Impact
1. Fisheries closuresFisheries closures were anticipated to halt declines in the abalone population to allow for natural stock recovery and were not anticipated to affect other species.Low
2. CommunicationCommunication may benefit other species associated with abalone communities and other species at risk by raising awareness and increasing reports of illegal harvesting.Medium
3. Proactive Protection PlanIncreased enforcement activities for abalone will benefit other species by increased vigilance for all illegal fishing, possessing, and marketing activities, and can be expected to increase community reporting of illegal activities.High
4. Research and Rebuilding ExperimentsRebuilding experiments may impact other species on a localized scale. Medium
Research may provide a better understanding of species and ecological interactions.High
5. Population MonitoringTime series data may help to better understand species population changes of other species and ecosystem processes.Medium

2.10 Recommended Approach for Recovery Implementation

The northern abalone has been considered for the single species recovery approach because it is a distinct species with respect to the issues that threaten its survival.  Illegal harvest and low recruitment are the main reasons for a continued decline in the wild population, even though there have been complete fisheries closures for northern abalone since 1990.  The northern abalone is the only marine invertebrate listed as threatened or endangered in Pacific Canada.  Although being recommended for a single species approach, there are several actions outlined in the approach for recovery that may directly benefit other species within the geographical area that is included within northern abalone habitat.  Sea otters (threatened) also exist within this ecosystem within an expanding portion of northern abalone’s range, and do interact with northern abalone. Therefore, a shift to an ecosystem approach may be required in the future.  This will require an adaptive approach as knowledge of the species and related species interactions improve.

2.11 Statement on Action 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.