After decades of decline and several years of a pilot restoration effort that includes sites in Skagit County, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has drafted a recovery plan for the pinto abalone.
The pinto abalone is a type of marine snail once prized for its meat and shiny shells. A recreational dive fishery for pinto abalone was closed in 1994 due to concerns they were being overharvested, but still the population around the San Juan Islands declined 97% over the next two decades.
The state listed pinto abalone as endangered in 2019.
“The drastic declines in population density of these abalone have put the species at risk of statewide extinction, and this plan offers a roadmap to recovery,” Fish and Wildlife abalone biologist Katie Sowul said in a news release.
According to the plan, the remaining pinto abalone are too few and too far apart that it’s unlikely they will recover without help.
Since 2002, Fish and Wildlife, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund and other partners have developed a pinto abalone hatchery and released those snails, including into waters in Skagit and San Juan counties.
Since 2009, about 40,000 of the abalone have been released at 21 sites, according to the recovery plan. A major element of the plan is to expand the hatchery and release efforts.
Fish and Wildlife developed the plan in collaboration with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
The pinto abalone is valuable as a potential fishery, for its historical and cultural significance to tribes in the region, and as a species that helps support kelp in the marine ecosystem. It is the only type of abalone found in the state.
Those working toward recovery, as well as national organizations with an interest in wildlife conservation, have said poaching is a concern for the pinto abalone remaining in the wild.