Monitoring Pinto Abalone Populations and Recruitment in Sitka Sound, Alaska

Monitoring Pinto Abalone Populations and Recruitment in Sitka Sound, Alaska

Lauren Bell, Taylor White, Michael Donnellan, Kyle Hebert, and Peter Raimondi

Monitoring Pinto Abalone Populations and Recruitment in Sitka Sound, AlaskaThis is part of Impacts of a Changing Environment on the Dynamics of High-latitude Fish and Fisheries
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The absence of basic population data for pinto abalone in Alaska poses an ongoing challenge to monitoring of environmental impacts on this important subsistence species at the northernmost end of its range. In 2014, the National Marine Fisheries Service determined that listing pinto abalone as “Endangered” or “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act was not warranted. However, the review prompted interest in filling data gaps in Alaska, where harvest of pinto abalone remains legal in personal use and subsistence fisheries and regional populations of sea otters, a known predator of abalone, have rebounded in recent decades. To understand current demographics of pinto abalone in this region, researchers at the Sitka Sound Science Center, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and University of California Santa Cruz collaboratively initiated a long-term monitoring program of abalone populations in Sitka Sound, Alaska. Findings from the first two years of aggregation-targeted surveys at eight subtidal index sites provide an initial view of potential population vulnerabilities as well as indicators of resiliency. Although abalone abundances varied by site, depth, and survey, divers observed absolute densities of adult size classes above the threshold considered necessary for fertilization success within each site. Furthermore, there was evidence of recent successful recruitment of young-of-the-year abalone at all sites. Methodology and results from this project have already informed survey extensions across other areas of Southeast Alaska, with an ongoing goal of utilizing these data to evaluate impacts of environmental change on pinto abalone populations in Alaska waters.

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