The Pinto abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana), whose distribution ranges from Point Conception, California to Sitka, Alaska, is the only known abalone species living in Washington waters. These large marine snails (a gastropod mollusc) are important ecosystem engineers that inhabit sub tidal rocky habitat. Through their grazing behaviors, they condition and clean rocky habitat for colonization by other benthic species. Pinto abalone were present in large numbers in the inland marine waters of Washington State, until overfishing depressed this stock in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Pinto abalone have been listed as a federal “Species of Concern” since 2004, in addition to being listed as a “State Candidate Species” and a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” in Washington State. In 2009, pinto abalones were listed as "Endangered" under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, providing the equivalent of a listing under the United Sates ESA. In Washington, a commercial abalone fishery never existed and the recreational fishery was closed in 1994, but abundance has continued to decline. Pinto abalone remain in peril and may disappear from Washington waters unless they are actively supplemented through human intervention.
The Washington State abalone recovery team is a diverse collaboration between university, non-profit, state and federal government agencies and tribal partners. The strategic long term goal of the partnership is to reverse the decline of abalone stocks in the Pacific Northwest via supplementation restoration efforts that will return the abalone population to a self-sustainable level. The project aims to meet this goal by optimizing restoration methods that will be applicable throughout the species range. The regional restoration effort has been scientifically methodical and has followed a primary principle to “do no harm” to surviving populations. Primary restoration methods include larval seeding, juvenile outplanting and adult aggregations. Culturing pinto abalone in a conservation aquaculture setting means producing genetically diverse and disease-free juvenile abalone that are used for supplementation outplants. These cultured abalone are reared in a hatchery setting for 18 months to a target size of 20 mm in shell length, at which point they are tagged and outplanted to rocky reef habitats in several areas within the San Juan Archipelago. Numbered tags help researchers track survival, growth and movement of these outplanted abalone over time. Visit the project website at www.pintoabalone.org for more detailed information, pictures, videos and additional links.