No sign of abalone rebuilding

  • Apr. 11, 2005 6:00 a.m.

Submitted by Russ Jones, Haida Gwaii Abalone Stewards–DFO surveys of abalone index sites in Haida Gwaii in 2002 showed no sign of abalone rebuilding, according to a recent DFO technical report. Index sites have been historically surveyed every three to five years since 1979. A total of 68 sites were surveyed in 2002 and abalone were found at 45 of them. The overall density was 0.34 abalone per square metre (all sizes) which was statistically lower than all other survey years except 1994. As well densities of large abalone (100 mm and 70 mm, the historic legal size and size of maturity) were statistically lower in 2002 than all other years. The results are disappointing because it means that the closure of all BC abalone fisheries since 1990 has not resulted in recovery of abalone populations.
Abalone is classified as threatened under the Species at Risk Act and DFO has put an Abalone Recovery Strategy in place focused on stopping the decline of abalone. The main challenges to abalone rebuilding are low population levels, low recruitment (numbers of young abalone) and illegal fishing. Since 2001 HGAbS has been implementing a Community Action Plan that has the long term goal of rebuilding abalone and restoring food fisheries. The Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk contributed $60,000 towards HGAbS activities in the 2004/05 fiscal year. Our activities include a working group that meets regularly, public awareness and education about abalone, development of an Abalone Watch network and monitoring of abalone populations.
We sponsored public presentations on wildlife trade in both Queen Charlotte and Masset in early March focusing on abalone and black bear. Ernie Cooper (World Wildlife Fund/ Canada’s representative to Traffic North America) described international efforts to curb wildlife trafficking under CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species. No abalone species are currently listed under CITES but trade in bear parts is prohibited in many jurisdictions. Overall, North American black bear populations are healthy but trade is restricted as it is impossible to distinguish between bear parts such as gall bladders from black bear and other endangered bear species.
Bryan Jubinville (DFO) described recent successes in prosecuting abalone poachers in BC. Fines under the SARA (Species at Risk Act) can be quite hefty. In November an individual from Vancouver Island was fined $25,000, his gear forfeited and he was prohibited from diving for possessing and selling abalone. It has not been well publicized but since SARA came in force in June 2003 it is illegal to possess abalone shells, even those that were picked up on the beach after that date.
We are actively developing an Abalone Watch network on-Island. In 2004, thirty-two charter and business operators participated in the program as well as seven Gwaii Haanas Watchmen and Council of the Haida Nation camps. Give us a call if you are interested in participating in the program and displaying the Abalone Watch logo on your boat.
The Haida Fisheries Program conducts dive surveys to monitor abalone throughout the islands. One successful tool developed locally by Haida Fisheries biologist Bart DeFreitas is a juvenile abalone collector made up of a rubble pile of pieces of concrete blocks inside a modified crab trap. After the blocks sit in the ocean for a few months they attract juvenile abalone. We survey the collectors once or twice a year and count all the abalone we find. Only a few abalone are detected at a time but collectors are more efficient than trying to locate those little guys in the wild.