- No Status NS
- Special Concern SC
- Threatened TH
- Endangered EN
- Extirpated EX
|Not at Risk
- Not at Risk NR
- Special Concern SC
- Threatened TH
- Endangered EN
- Extirpated EX
The Northern Abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) is a marine snail. The ear-shaped shell of Northern Abalone is small, thin, and oval-shaped, and its exterior is bumpy and ridged. The Northern Abalone shell is mottled reddish or greenish in colour, with areas of white or blue. The interior is pearly white with a faint iridescence of pink and green. To breathe, the abalone takes in water through the 3 to 6 holes on the surface of its shell and filters dissolved oxygen with its gills. The Northern Abalone’s muscular foot is fringed with tentacles that are used to sense food, predators, and their environment.
The Northern Abalone is found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, occurring from the Gulf of Alaska to central Baja California in Mexico. It is the only species of abalone found in Canada and has a patchy distribution. In the early 1970s, abalone were thought to be abundant, given that the Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris) - a major predator species - was extirpated, and there were no significant Northern Abalone fisheries. The commercial abalone fishery for export began in British Columbia in 1975 and abalone was harvested in great numbers between 1975 and 1990. Since 1978, Northern Abalone densities have declined by over 80 percent. The Northern Abalone fishery was closed in 1990 to conserve the declining stock. The species exists as a single designatable unit (i.e., population), along the coast of British Columbia.
In British Columbia, adult Northern Abalone are usually found on rocks in areas of moderate water exchange, such as nearshore, exposed or semi-exposed coastal waters. Adults are found in less than 10 metres of water, but can be found as far down as 100 metres. After fertilization, Northern Abalone offspring (i.e. larvae) are found floating in the water column for 12 days until they settle onto a rocky surface. Following settlement, juvenile Northern Abalone are often found under rocks, or in crevices which provide shelter from predators.
The biggest threat to Northern Abalone in Canada is illegal harvest. The species is vulnerable to over-harvest because it has a short dispersal period, slow growth, long lifespan, late maturity, and sporadic or low recruitment. The species is also vulnerable because mature individuals are sedentary and tend to gather in shallow waters that are easily accessible to illegal harvesters. The abundance of Northern Abalone has been significantly reduced due to illegal harvest, which also reduces the species’ reproductive potential by removing large mature abalone and leaving remaining mates too far apart to successfully spawn.
Other threats to Northern Abalone include low recruitment, predation by Sea Otters where the two species co-exist, and habitat loss and degradation in localized areas resulting from development.
The Northern Abalone is the only invertebrate species in British Columbia for which all harvesting is prohibited. Conservation efforts focus on: research, rebuilding efforts, and stewardship. Collaborative programs such as the Indigenous-led Abalone Coast Watch, educational activities, population assessments, and population rebuilding projects, have provided long term stewardship opportunities with local communities. For example, two major rebuilding areas have been established in Haida Gwaii and Kitasoo/Xaixais traditional territory. In these areas, mature Northern Abalone have been relocated together into these sites to improve reproductive success. Indigenous and coastal community stewardship groups continue to work to stop illegal harvesting of Northern Abalone.
Additionally, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in partnership with indigenous groups, continues to conduct genetic research, population surveys, and monitoring to investigate recruitment and recovery of the species.
The Recovery Strategy for the Northern Abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) in Canada and the Action Plan for the Northern Abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) in Canada were published in 2007 and 2012 respectively. These two documents summarize key steps to implementing the recovery for the species and identify its critical habitat.
This species is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) since 2003. As such, it is prohibited to kill, harm, harass, capture, take, possess, buy, sell, or trade any individual abalone or its derivative (e.g. shells).
Since 2017, critical habitat for Northern Abalone has been protected against destruction under a SARA Critical Habitat Order. More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available on the Species at Risk Public Registry. Additionally, fisheries protection and pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act provide protection for this species.
To find out if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' website.
What can you do?
- Report any suspected illegal harvest of Northern Abalone to DFO’s Observe, Report, and Record line at 1-800-465-4336
- Do your part to increase awareness and educate your friends and family on the status of Northern Abalone and the threats to its recovery
For more information, visit the Species at Risk (SARA) Public Registry Profile.
Scientific name: Haliotis kamtschatkana
SARA Status: Endangered, Schedule 1
COSEWIC Status: Endangered (April 2009)
Region: Pacific Ocean
Regions: Pacific Region
Northern Abalone was an important food source for Indigenous people throughout coastal British Columbia, who also valued them for their beautiful iridescent inner shells. Abalone shells have been found at numerous Indigenous inland sites, indicating their value for ceremonial and trade purposes.
- More on Abalone from the Pacific Region
- Deterring Abalone Poachers with Stiff Penalties
- COSEWIC. 2009. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Northern Abalone Haliotis kamtschatkana in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vii + 48 pp.
- DFO. 2015. Report on the Progress of Recovery Strategy Implementation for Northern Abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) in Pacific Canadian Waters for the Period 2007-2012. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Report Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. v + 28 pp.
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2007. Recovery Strategy for the Northern Abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Vancouver. vi + 31 pp.
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2012. Action Plan for the Northern Abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) in Canada Species at Risk Act Action Plan Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. vii + 65 pp.
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