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Suit Filed To Protect Habitat For California's Endangered Black Abalone; 'On The Cusp Of Extinction'

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SAN FRANCISCO, California -- Today the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Obama administration for failing to designate critical habitat for the endangered black abalone, an edible shellfish once common in Southern California tide pools that has declined by 99 percent since the 1970s. On January 14, 2009, in response to a Center petition, black abalone was listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. With that listing, federal agencies by law must protect the abalone’s critical habitat.

“Critical habitat protections have a proven track record helping endangered species to survive,” said Catherine Kilduff, a staff attorney at the Center. “Black abalone is on the cusp of extinction, and further delay of habitat protection may seal the species’ fate.”

Recent studies have shown that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as species without. Experts predict that without effective conservation measures, black abalone will be extinct within three decades due to the combined effects of overfishing, disease intensified by global warming, and ocean acidification.

“The loss of black abalone along the California coast is a warning: Our oceans are in trouble,” said Kilduff. “Habitat protections are needed to improve the black abalone’s chances for surviving the triple threat of fishing, disease, and ocean acidification.”

Once among the most visible invertebrates in Southern California tide pools, black abalone populations have declined as much as 99 percent since the early 1970s. While fishing for them is banned in the state, overfishing initially depleted the population, and poaching continues to hinder recovery.

Now the outbreak and spread of a disease called withering syndrome has caused black abalone virtually to disappear from the Southern California mainland and many areas of the Channel Islands. Ocean warming is causing the disease to spread northward and become more virulent. Meanwhile, ocean acidification threatens to dissolve the abalone’s protective shell and impair its growth and reproduction.

Congress has emphasized the importance of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act by stating that “the ultimate effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act will depend on the designation of critical habitat.” The National Marine Fisheries Service, by law, had one year to identify critical habitat after listing the black abalone.

More information on the black abalone is available at

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