Species at Risk
What is the status of the Northern Abalone?
The Northern Abalone was the first marine invertebrate
to be designated at risk by COSEWIC.
It was declared threatened
in April 1999.
Why is the Northern Abalone in danger?
Northern Abalone. ©
Parks Canada / Tomas Tomascik
For thousands of years, Northern Abalone populations
lived in ecological balance with their natural predators
and with other herbivores.
First Nations people, like the Haida, hand picked or speared the abalone for
food, ceremonial uses, and trade purposes.
But in the 1960s, harvesters began to use scuba diving equipment to commercially
harvest abalone, as it is considered a gourmet delicacy. This meant abalones
could be collected in great numbers, and from considerable depths, throughout
the full range of their habitat.
Adult abalones, which group together to spawn,
are easy targets. The numbers of breeding abalones declined considerably as
a result and not as many offspring were produced. Overall populations began
Northern Abalones are slow to grow and reproduce. In fact, less than one
percent of abalone offspring survive the many perils they face as they grow
into breeding adults. This makes the abalone particularly vulnerable to over-harvesting.
Despite a total harvesting ban in 1990, Northern Abalone populations are
still not recovering. One of the reasons behind this lack of success is poaching,
motivated by high demand and elevated prices owing to abalone scarcity, as
well as the difficulty of patrolling a vast coastline.
Other factors contributing to the Northern Abalone’s inability to
recover may include pollution, predation, environmental changes, and their
slow pace of reproduction.