NOAA awards $3.2 million to DFW for white abalone project

WASHINGTON, D.C. — California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) will receive more than $3 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) during the next three fiscal years to help determine how to increase production of white abalone offspring, it was announced on Aug. 17.

About $847,811 would be allocated to the current fiscal year, with $1,204,372 to be released in fiscal year 2017. The final round of grant funding in fiscal year 2018 totals $1,210,437.

California would receive, in all, $3,262,620 over three fiscal years.

The grant funding is part of NOAA’s aim to support management, outreach and research efforts designed to help replenish habitats found on the Endangered Species Act and make such protection obsolete.

Funding could also support the monitoring of species being considered for endangered species protection or those recently removed from threatened or endangered lists.

“We looked for projects that would help our most vulnerable marine species when we considered proposals this year, and we intend to do the same for 2017,” said Donna Wieting, director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. “The Species Recovery Grants will help states and tribes implement critical conservation actions to recover the marine species that most need our help.”

White abalone is one of three new projects funded by NOAA this year; the other two are Atlantic salmon and Southern Resident Killer Whales. These species are considered to be at high risk of extinction in the near future, according to NOAA.

In all NOAA awarded $5.4 million for several coastal state and tribal projects across the country.

California’s DFW last received funding from NOAA in 2010 to develop and implement restoration tools for addressing the “critically endangered” white abalone species.

White abalone, according to NOAA Fisheries, is a species “close to biological extinction.”

The white abalone fishery was shut down but NOAA Fisheries stated the species’ high market price encourages poaching activity.

Scientists at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) recently mapped the ocean floor to quantify how much white abalone currently exists off the Southern California and Northern Mexico shore.

The survey included Cortes and Tanner banks and San Clemente Island and found while the population of white abalone was higher than expected the actual density of the species off the Southern California and Northern Mexico coast was not high enough to allow for reproduction.

NOAA Fisheries identifies white abalone as a “Species in the Spotlight” and published an action plan through 2020 to protect the species from extinction.

“Monitoring of wild white abalone has confirmed that populations continue to decline in some areas and that the wild population is at high risk of extinction,” NOAA Fisheries’ five-year plan stated. “Even if limited natural recruitment of white abalone is occurring, it is happening too slowly to give the species the foothold it needs to weather future threats and be viable over the long-term.”

DFW was awarded $3.2 million through 2018 because its plan to engage in captive breeding of white abalone is in sync with NOAA Fisheries’ five-year plan to help restore the species.

“The best way to safeguard white abalone against extinction is a captive breeding program aiming to produce young abalone. These captive-raised animals can enhance wild populations to the point that densities are boosted enough to sustain healthy and prolific [habitats],” the NOAA Fisheries five-year plan stated. “Continued monitoring of wild white abalone and their habitat must occur at the same time as captive breeding in order to identify habitats best-suited for future enhancement efforts and to track species’ status over time.”

Information about white abalone off the Southern California and Northern Mexico coast can be found at tinyurl.com/white-abalone-noaa.

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