Puget Sound Innovation Stories

Restoration of the Pinto Abalone

Recovery of an iconic shellfish species to Puget Sound

Abalone are large marine snails important to the food web. The pinto abalone is the only abalone species found in Washington waters. This native species has cultural and ecological significance, grazing rock surfaces and maintaining the health of rocky reef habitat and kelp beds. In response to signs of population collapse, a collaborative effort was launched in 2003 to examine strategies to establish a conservation program to produce healthy, genetically diverse juveniles to recover the population. Since 2009, Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) and partners have produced and released over 22,000 juveniles to 18 sites on rocky reef habitat in the San Juan Islands. These genetically distinct abalone were released to better understand how well the methods would work to rebuild populations across a wide geographic range. Tagged individuals are still being found healthy each year, and continue to grow in their original habitats. In 2019, the species was added to Washington’s endangered species list. This was made possible by the collaborative efforts of PSRF and their partners. The listing will provide the conservation program with the support and tools to restore the pinto abalone.

What worked:

  • Abalone are finding food and staying on the habitat where they were released.
  • Tagged individuals are found healthy and growing each year for the past decade.
  • Releasing young abalone demonstrated that they can survive and grow in the wild.
  • Success of the project resulted in support to build new research facilities with NOAA.


  • Release of 96 genetically distinct groups preserves the genetic diversity and improves the chances of survival for the pinto abalone.
  • Collaborative partnerships across the region supported release to more sites throughout Puget Sound.
  • Healthy abalone is an indicator of a healthy habitat.


  • Congressional District: 2
  • Legislative District: 40
  • WRIA: 6
  • County: San Juan


  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • University of Washington
  • Western Washington University, Shannon Point Marine Center
  • NOAA
  • SeaDoc Society
  • Skagit County Marine Resource Committee
  • Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
  • Suquamish Tribe
  • Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe
  • Northwest Straits Commission
  • Port Townsend Marine Science Center
  • Seattle Aquarium
  • The Marine Life Center, Bellingham, WA
  • SEA Discovery Center, Western Washington University
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources
  • Washington Sea Grant

Project Funding:

  • EPA National Estuary Program
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • NOAA
  • University of Washington
  • Washington Sea Grant
  • Skagit County Marine Resources Committee
  • SeaDoc Society
  • Benjamin and Margaret Hall Foundation
  • The Russell Family Foundation
  • Vincent J Coates Foundation
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources

More Info

Publish Date: July 15, 2019
Congressional Districts: Congressional Dist. 2
Legislative Districts: Legislative Dist. 40
Counties: San Juan
Habitat Types: Marine | Nearshore
Restoration Focuses: Shellfish
Key Benefits: Community Engagement