Northern, or Pinto (Haliotis Kamtschatkana) abalone are sub-tidal marine snails that were once very abundant throughout the west coast, from Alaska to California. Their shell is ear-like in shape and they like to graze algae by scraping it off rocks with their spiny-toothed tongue, or radula. These gastropods take about four years to reach reproductive age and reproduce by broadcasting their gametes (eggs and sperm) out into the water column, making it vital that they be near each other during breeding season.
WHY IS THE ABALONE THREATENED?
Abalone have long been a traditional food and decorative source of the First Nations people of the west coast. The meat was highly prized, and the lustrous shells were used in jewelry and adornment. The abalone's population remained stable until the advent of SCUBA in the 1970's, which allowed abalone to be harvested commercially at very high rates. They soon became over-harvested and their populations were no longer able to sustain themselves. The decline in abalone stocks prompted the government to place a ban on the harvesting of Pinto abalone in 1990, making it illegal to do so. Since then, poaching has become a problem. The black market demand for abalone has kept the population from coming back, with illegal harvests matching the legal quotas of 1989.