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Protections sought for Alaska's lone species of abalone

Yereth Rosen
Populations of Alaska's only species of abalone, the pinto abalone, declined sharply from 1982 to 1995.
ADFG photo

Federal regulators say Endangered Species Act protections may be justified for a much-depleted population of marine snail that is Alaska’s only native abalone.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, in a Federal Register notice published Monday, said that two petitions seeking endangered or threatened listing for the pinto abalone “present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.” The agency said it will conduct a 90-day status review of the population, a precursor to possible listing.

Also known as the northern abalone, the pinto is the sole abalone species found in Alaska, according to the state Department of Fish and Game. It has an historic range spanning from southeast Alaska to Baja California.

But populations in that range have declined 80 percent to 99 percent, NMFS said. The remaining population is concentrated in the northern portion of the historic range, mostly southeast Alaska, according to NMFS. The pinto abalone is already listed by NMFS as a “species of concern,” and as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Petitions to list the pinto abalone were submitted in July by the Natural Resources Defense Council and in August by the Center for Biological Diversity. Although commercial and recreational harvests of pinto abalones have been banned for years, poaching and predation may be still harming the population, the petitions said. The petitions also cite possible habitat problems, including ocean acidification.

Contact Yereth Rosen at yereth@alaskadispatch.com