State proposes listing marine snail as endangered
The state Department of Fish & Wildlife has proposed listing the pinto abalone, which is found in area marine waters, as endangered.
The state agency is taking public input on the proposal and will hold a public meeting in December in Anacortes.
The pinto abalone, which is a type of marine snail, is the only abalone species in the state and is prized for its meat and its shiny shells.
While there has never been a commercial fishery in the state for pinto abalone and the recreational fishery was closed in 1994, the species has continued to decline, nearly disappearing from the San Juan Island region, according to a news release.
Based on ongoing research, Fish & Wildlife estimates the population declined 97 percent in the 25 years from 1992 to 2017.
Pinto abalone and other abalone species are also declining throughout the world, Fish & Wildlife research scientist Hank Carson said in the release.
As the population has declined, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2004 listed the pinto abalone as a species of concern, meaning it may be at risk of becoming threatened or endangered.
Along with Fish & Wildlife’s research effort to document changes in the remaining pinto abalone population in the state, restoration efforts have been underway for several years.
Those efforts have involved releasing several thousand hatchery-raised pinto abalone into waters in Skagit and San Juan counties since 2009.
Fish & Wildlife shellfish biologist Michael Ulrich said listing the species as endangered would help protect it by raising awareness of its plight and increasing the penalties for illegal harvesting.
Fish & Wildlife staff will submit a briefing to the Fish & Wildlife Commission on Dec. 15 and release a draft species status report later in December for additional public comment, Ulrich said.
The Fish & Wildlife Commission is expected to make a decision on whether to list the pinto abalone as endangered at its April 2019 meeting.