Pacific Northwest Marine Life Encyclopedia – Northern Abalone
The Northern Abalone or Pinto Abalone, Haliotis kamtschatkana, is a species of large edible sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Haliotidae. The Pinto Abalone has an adult shell size of approximately 4 inches, and it can sometimes grow as large as 6 inches. The shell is flattened and ear-shaped, and has 3 to 6 respiratory holes, with the interior of the shell appearing iridescent. The shell is generally green-brown but can have white or blue coloration, and has a somewhat scalloped edge. The foot or epipodium is lacy and green-brown in color, and there are tentacles that surround the foot and extend out of the shell in order to sense food and predators. This species lives on rocky shores and are found in intertidal or sub tidal zones near kelp, with a depth range from 30 ft. (9 m) to 330 ft. (100 m). Like all abalones, the Northern Abalone are herbivores.
Northern Abalone is considered a gourmet delicacy, used predominately in Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Market demand for abalone is believed to exceed the global market supply, making abalone a highly valuable commodity (CAD$30-40/kilogram). Traditional capture fisheries around the world are in serious decline and many countries have imposed severe harvest restrictions or, including Canada, an outright ban on wild fisheries. There are significant efforts underway to establish abalone aquaculture industries in a number of countries. Globally, aquaculture now surpasses wild production.
Abalone commercial fisheries in British Columbia were closed in 1990 to protect the remaining population. Despite the complete ban on harvest, the population continues to decline and is showing few signs of recovery and poor spawning success. Poaching continues to be a major problem, motivated by high demand and elevated value owing to the abalone’s scarcity.
Northern Abalone were assigned a threatened status by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in April 1999. In June 2003, it was legally listed and protected as threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).