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Concern for abalone on U.S. West Coast

Concern for abalone on U.S. West Coast
An abalone at a display tank at Ty Warner Sea Center in Santa Barbara, California via Sharktopus on Wikimedia Commons.

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Abalones along the U.S. West Coast are clinging to life as plans are under way for recovery efforts, researchers say.

Abalones, once a staple of coastal commerce gathered by fisheries by the millions of pounds, have been all but wiped out by disease, overharvest, predatory otters, poaching and habitat destruction, wildlife experts said.

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Wild black abalone populations have declined by more than 99 percent in Southern California compared with estimates of historic numbers, Melissa Neuman at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Long Beach said.

The black abalone was listed as federally endangered in 2009, and the National Marine Fisheries Service has formed a task force to create a recovery plan, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Sunday.

Successful reproduction in a few black abalone colonies near California's Channel Islands has conservationists encouraged but cautious.

"Ideally, we'd like to see healthy populations in like 75 percent of the historical range and right now, we are seeing limited recovery in possibly two islands," said John Butler, a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries biologist who is on the recovery team. "Those small populations are not anywhere close to what the historical abundance was."

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Scientists say they hope to help abalone recolonize areas where they've been wiped out.

"Everyone recognizes that this is going to be a long-term process to restore this particular species," said Ian Taniguchi, an environmental scientist for the state Department of Fish and Game, who is also on the federal recovery team.

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