Poaching still threatens abalone

  • Mar. 22, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Abalone poaching ramps up around the Lunar New Year, putting the imperiled species further at risk, Heather Ramsay writes. According to the Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Tatiana Lee, even though harvesting of northern abalone has been illegal since 1990, the population coast-wide has dropped 40 percent. In some parts of the world, other species of abalone are legally harvested, but the international demand for the iconic seafood means the demand is always there for blackmarket abalone from BC. “It’s considered a delicacy in Asia and there is high demand for the product,” she says. The Lunar New Year celebrations can extend into March and April, she says, so it’s important to keep people’s awareness about poaching high at this time of year. Abalone is a marine snail, and its habitat runs from Mexico’s Baja peninsula to Alaska. Individual animals can live up to 20 years. Poachers focus on mature individuals, usually in their reproductive prime, which has an impact on the population recovery. The population is in such peril that a team of scientists has reassessed the abalone’s listing under the Species at Risk Act and will move the it from threatened to endangered. “Poaching remains the most serious threat,” she said. Breaking up illegal harvest rings is the top priority for DFO enforcement officers. Ms Lee says an international bust last year involved a trading ring that extended to Mexico. In 2006, a DFO investigation led to the seizure of 11,000 pieces of Northern abalone from three poachers from Haida Gwaii. DFO hopes the public will help in the recovery of the population. “We encourage people to phone the Observe, Record, Report Hotline,” she said. The hotline, 1-800-465-4336 is open 24 hours and will take anonymous tips.