Species in the Spotlight

The white abalone is one of NOAA Fisheries’ Species in the Spotlight. This initiative is a concerted, agency-wide effort to spotlight and save the most highly at-risk marine species.

Species in the Spotlight logo.

White abalone are plant-eating gastropods (similar to snails and slugs) that live on rocky parts of the sea floor. Of the seven species of abalone that occur off the West Coast of North America, white abalone are the closest to extinction.

White abalone were once common along the coasts of California and Baja California, Mexico, but the population has declined rapidly. This decline was largely due to the operation of a brief, but intense commercial fishery in southern California during the 1970s. All abalone fisheries have been closed since 1997, but unfortunately the white abalone populations have not recovered as expected.

NOAA Fisheries listed white abalone as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2001. The rapid decline and dire status of the white abalone population makes it a priority for focusing efforts within NOAA Fisheries and with our partners to stabilize and prevent the extinction of this unique species.

    Species Recovery

    To aid the recovery of white abalone, NOAA Fisheries formed a team of scientists and stakeholders to assist with developing a white abalone recovery plan (PDF, 948KB) which was finalized in October 2008. Development of the plan relied upon scientific studies and other sources of information to establish specific criteria that would indicate the recovery of these animals.

    In 2016, we completed a Species in the Spotlight 5-year Plan of Action for white abalone that builds on the recovery plan and details the focused efforts that are needed over the next five years. The plan lists key actions NOAA Fisheries and its partners can take from 2016 to 2020 to help recover the species. These actions include:

    • Improve and expand the captive breeding program.

    • Implement a program to successfully introduce captive-bred abalone to the wild.

    • Monitor and enhance white abalone populations in the wild.

    • Find, describe, and protect white abalone habitat.

    • Work with partners to develop a collaborative outreach plan.  

    These actions will help NOAA Fisheries, other federal and state resource agencies, environmental organizations, and other partners to stop the decline of white abalone and promote their recovery.