Abalone aren’t recovering

  • Feb. 11, 2009 3:00 p.m.

Submitted by Haida Gwaii Abalone Stewards–Abalone are not recovering around Haida Gwaii despite a coast-wide closure to all fishing in December 1990.In 2007 a crew of three Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and three Haida Fisheries Program divers onboard the MV Vector surveyed 82 regularly monitored (every 5 years) abalone index sites on the east coast of Moresby Island. A most troubling finding was the significant decrease in mature abalone over the last 17 years – in 1990, 0.27 abalone per square metre were observed, declining to almost half that density in 2007 at 0.15 abalone per square metre. The 2007 abalone densities are about one-third of the levels present in the late 1970s when the commercial abalone dive fishery was active. In addition, there were more samples without any large abalone in 2007 compared to 1990. Both these observations suggest that the spawning population of abalone has decreased since 1990. Poaching is suspected to be the major cause of abalone decline. DFO proposes that abalone densities need to reach an average of 0.5 mature abalone per square metre for recovery to be considered successful, and their recent analysis concludes that this could take 50 to 70 years. The Haida Gwaii Abalone Stewards have been monitoring abalone and educating the public about the problems facing abalone recovery since 2000. Their efforts are supported by the Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program. Ron Williams, Chair of the Haida Fisheries Committee of the Council of the Haida Nation states that, “All of us, islanders and visitors alike, need to be vigilant if abalone are to recover. Even small levels of fishing are affecting abalone recovery.” The abalone stewards are implementing a Community Action Plan with a goal of rebuilding abalone to a level that will support a food fishery. They also coordinate a volunteer Coast Watch Program with the support of DFO enforcement staff.The key to increasing the abalone population is to reduce mortality (either natural or from fishing), and increase reproductive success. The Haida Fisheries Program has been monitoring trends in juvenile abalone abundance and size around the Islands using monitoring units called ‘abalone condos,’ built from crab pots filled with split concrete cinder blocks, and placed on the seafloor in abalone habitat. Annual surveys record the number and size of all abalone sheltering within each condo. Although abalone of all sizes can be found in the condos, 79 percent of the inhabitants are juveniles less than 50mm long, making the condos an effective way of assessing juvenile abundance. Years with good abalone recruitment, when many new abalone survive, are reflected by more small abalone in the condos.The Haida Fisheries Program has surveyed condo sites for 6 years, and measured over 4,300 abalone in that time. While much data analysis remains to be completed, it seems that juvenile abalone abundance is different around the Islands and different between years. With the help of our partners in the community and volunteer Coast Watch Program, we hope to see many more years of high juvenile abundance and good survival to maturity, so that the abalone population will one day recover.