Please select your home edition
Raymarine AUS Element HV LEADERBOARD

Divers release endangered abalone into the wild for first time, boosting odds of recovery

by NOAA Fisheries 23 Nov 2019 15:23 UTC
Researchers number the shells of juvenile white abalone in preparation for outplanting. © Michael Ready

At 7 a.m. on November 18, a dedicated group of scientific divers gathered on a southern California dock, loading their gear in preparation for a day of diving. In addition to their tanks, wetsuits, and years of underwater research experience, they carried precious cargo - hundreds of juvenile white abalone grown in captivity and ready to be released into the ocean.

This marked the first release of endangered white abalone into the wild off southern California, a key recovery strategy for the native species. The release is a major step towards bringing white abalone back from the brink of extinction, and it happened thanks to the help of many highly skilled and supportive partners.

This marine snail that lives on rocky reefs as deep as 60 meters was once common along the coasts of southern California and Baja California. Their numbers declined dramatically, however, during a brief but intense commercial fishery during the 1970s. Now, the white abalone that remain in the ocean are too few and far apart to reproduce and recover the populations.

"This milestone marks great excitement and optimism for the white abalone recovery program," said Melissa Neuman, a fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries' West Coast Region who has been leading federal recovery efforts since 2002. "Our team efforts have refined methods in captive breeding to the point where we now have thousands of young abalone to outplant to the wild. Our past experimentation with release methods for other abalone species gives us confidence that we will be successful."

Since listing white abalone under the Endangered Species Act in 2001, NOAA Fisheries has worked with partners across the West Coast to recover the species. The white abalone captive breeding program led by the University of California Davis' Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) has produced and reared thousands of healthy white abalone in labs and aquaria throughout California. Now, some of those white abalone are ready to enter the ocean, where they will live, grow, and hopefully reestablish self-sustaining populations.

"Early on we knew that this species was really in danger of going extinct and that the only viable alternative to save it was starting a captive breeding program," said Ian Taniguchi, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) who has been involved in white abalone restoration since 1992. "The task at hand appeared to be a monumental challenge at the time and I am not sure if any of us fully believed that it was possible, but we had to try," he said.

"Looking back at the progress we have made over the past 27 years that has led to this milestone moment, I truly think that it is possible to save this species from extinction," Taniguchi said.

In August, thousands of juvenile white abalone from one to 3.5 inches in size made their way down the coast from BML, packed in coolers in the back of a vehicle. They arrived at holding facilities in southern California, where researchers prepared them for life in the ocean. Biologists measured and marked each one with a unique numbered tag glued to their shell to distinguish them from wild white abalone.

In November, scientific divers from NOAA Fisheries, CDFW, Paua Marine Research Group, The Bay Foundation, and the Aquarium of the Pacific transported coolers full of juvenile white abalone to two field sites. The divers placed about 800 white abalone into temporary homes that had been prepared for them, called outplant modules. The modules are made of PVC and mesh designed to protect the animals as they acclimate to ocean conditions.

Over the next few years, divers will regularly visit the sites to monitor the survival and growth of the abalone. Additional releases are planned at six-month intervals, with a goal of outplanting tens of thousands of juvenile white abalone over the next five years.

Outplanting white abalone to the wild is the only way to increase the wild population quickly and reduce the risk of extinction, biologists say. The lessons learned from these experimental outplantings will guide future, large-scale efforts to restore white abalone, a species that helped to support a multi-million dollar commercial and recreational fishery in California and plays an important role in maintaining healthy kelp forests.

Learn more about white abalone on NOAA Fisheries' White Abalone Species Profile and Species in the Spotlight webpages.

Related Articles

Progress of habitat restoration projects
Check in on the progress of projects in North Carolina, South Carolina & Alaska The projects were funded through the National Fish Habitat Partnership. They demonstrate our commitment to engage anglers in habitat restoration efforts, and support access to sustainable saltwater recreational fishing opportunities. Posted on 21 Jun
Large whale entanglements report confirmed in US
More than 100 large whale entanglements were confirmed nationally in 2018 Many large whale populations are increasing in the United States, but entanglements in fishing gear or marine debris are a growing threat to the continued welfare and recovery of these species. Posted on 20 Jun
Economic effects of oyster reef restoration
Restored oyster reefs could boost the blue crab population - and the economy Oysters play critical roles in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem—by filtering water as they feed and by providing habitat and forage for other Bay species. Posted on 16 Jun
Atlantic highly migratory species by the numbers
Facts about recreational Atlantic highly migratory species fishing that may surprise you Anglers fish for highly migratory species from the rocky shores of New England to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. HMS fishing is important to the cultural, social, and economic life of Atlantic coastal communities. Posted on 15 Jun
National Fishing and Boating Week 2020
We celebrate one of nation's most cherished pastimes: saltwater recreational fishing National Fishing and Boating Week took place June 6-13, 2020 and highlights the importance of recreational boating and fishing in our nation. National Fishing and Boating Week occurs each year during the first full week of June. Posted on 14 Jun
Autonomous vehicles help scientists estimate fish
An innovative scientific approach to survey Alaska pollock this year Scientists are capitalizing on existing technological capabilities and partnerships to collect fisheries data. This will help fill the information gap resulting from the cancellation of FY20 ship-based surveys due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Posted on 5 Jun
Leading the Fight Against IUU Fishing
June 5 marks International Day for the fight against IUU Fishing Every day, the United States and our partners across the world work together to crack down on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud. Posted on 5 Jun
President signs order promoting American seafood
Calls for the expansion of sustainable U.S. seafood production The President signed a new Executive Order promoting American seafood competitiveness and economic growth to propel the United States forward. It calls for the expansion of sustainable U.S. seafood production. Posted on 9 May
New state of the ecosystem reports
Human uses affect ecosystem productivity but also fishing communities and regional economies Two newly issued reports provide a snapshot of the Northeast U.S. Shelf Ecosystem. They look at everything from phytoplankton production at the bottom of the food web to the fishery harvests at the top. Posted on 13 Apr
West Coast salmon fishing and southern residents
Chinook salmon fishing is a mainstay of the West Coast economy Southern Resident killer whales have long pursued the biggest and most nourishing Chinook salmon from coastal Pacific waters. Chinook salmon fishing is also a mainstay of the West Coast economy, generating nearly $72 million in income last year. Posted on 12 Apr
Marina Exchange FOOTER 1Raymarine AUS Element HV FOOTER