Black abalone

Essential knowledge for black abalone recovery efforts: Long-term monitoring and research gives us the ability to forecast impending population crashes and species’ vulnerabilities to pressures.

Cluster of Black Abalone

Cluster of live black abalone Haliotis cracherodii in Big Sur. This is how healthy populations appear. Photo credit: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS

In 2009 black abalone were listed as an endangered species. Their current range is from about Point Arena in northern California to Southern Baja California. Black abalone are rare north of San Francisco and south of Punta Eugenia, Baja with unconfirmed sightings reported as far north as Coos Bay, Oregon.

The black abalone fishery (Haliotis cracherodii) was closed in 1993 because of massive population declines from a fatal disease called withering syndrome (WS) combined with fishing pressure.  WS is devastating.  Once die-offs begin, the local population often decreases by more than 95%, leaving only a scattering of individuals typically too distant from one another to successfully reproduce.  The die-offs began in Southern California and moved northward, exploding during El Nino years when the ocean water is warmer.   

With more than two decades of data and understanding of the abalone’s ecology, PISCO scientists and collaborators documented these historical population declines and projected bleak outlooks for recovery.  In 2009 based in part on these studies, black abalone were added to the federal list of endangered species.  This listing means that the black abalone faces a high risk of extinction.  Various projects are now in place to monitor the species status, understand and address withering disease, improve reproduction, and minimize illegal harvest. 

PISCO scientist Pete Raimondi leads these PISCO investigations on the long-term monitoring and suitable habitat assessments for the recovery effort. 

Funders for this work are: the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (for support of PISCO's rocky intertidal monitoring and research  program), U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (for the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network), National Marine Fisheries Service (for monitoring in critical habitat areas), U.S. National Park, and the US Navy (for San Clemente Island). 


  • 1985:  Black abalone population declines first documented in Channel Islands
  • 1992:  Disease spreads to mainland and moves northward
  • 1992:  Monitoring of black abalone by MARINe established on mainland California
  • 1997-1998: Intense ENSO event, spatial expansion of areas affected by disease
  • 1999:  Black abalone was added to NMFS Candidate Species list on June 23, 1999 (64 FR 33466).
  • 1999: PISCO established.  Monitoring of abalone expanded, in collaboration with MARINe.
  • 2002:  PISCO/MARINe Research by Raimondi et al. finds that disease spreads rapidly during El Nino warm water events
  • 2003: NMFS initiated an informal Endangered Species Act (ESA) status review of black abalone
  • 2005:  California adopts an Abalone Recovery Management Plan
  • 2006: The Center for Biological Diversity formally petitioned NMFS to list the black abalone as threatened or endangered under the ESA.
  • 2007: NMFS found that listing of black abalone under the ESA may be warranted.
  • 2009: Listed as a federally endangered species
  • 2011: NMFS designated critical habitat (76 FR 66806).  These habitats are essential to abalone conservation and may require special protections.  US Fish and Wildlife designated approximately 360 square kilometers of rocky intertidal and subtidal along the CA coast between the Del Mar Landing Ecological Reserve to the Palos Verdes Peninsula as well as on the Farallon and Channel Islands.  See map for more details.
  • 2007-present:  PISCO teams (Raimondi is lead) perform abalone critical habitat assessments.  For more information, contact us and see Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring: Trends and Synthesis.

Facts about The Black Abalone, Haliotis cracherodii

For more information, visit Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring: Trends and Synthesis

















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