White abalone Haliotis sorenseni was listed as endangered in 2001 because of severe declines throughout southern California due to overfishing. Populations continue to decline despite the closure of the fishery in 1996. There has been little to no evidence of recruitment in southern California from population surveys and in artificial reefs targeting white abalone recruitment since the listing of the species. A 13-y time series of white abalone abundance in prime habitat, surveyed with a remote-operated vehicle, was used in a population viability analysis to quantify: (1) the population decline and (2) the time to reach a quasi-extinction threshold. The annual decline in the population is 12%, which is comparable to adult natural mortality rates for abalone species. The quasi-extinction threshold of 1,000 individuals is met within 15 y. These results confirm that the white abalone populations in southern California are at high risk of extinction, and highlight the importance of active stocking and restoration for the species. To inform restoration, a deterministic density-dependent size-based matrix model was developed to investigate different stocking scenarios, incorporating an innovative method for modeling low populations by setting the reproductive term as a function of adult density to mimic a reproductive Allee effect. A minimum density of 0.14 abalone/m2 of stocked juveniles led to a maximum population growth rate (λ) of more than or equal to 1 for the model population within 10 y but that recovery was poor (mean λ15–20 ≤ 1.0) over time if the level of juvenile stocking was less than 0.23 abalone/m2 in the model population. The innovative approach of incorporating adult density into the reproductive term in the model quantitatively shows how low population densities can impact threatened and endangered species, and may be widely used for other species. These results can not only help guide stocking strategies but also allow for the quantitative evaluation of white abalone under the guidance of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, suggesting that white abalone should be considered Critically Endangered.
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Vol. 35 • No. 3