#SciFund Returns: Can an abalone in a bag save two on the reef?

#SciFund, a month long initiative to raise funds for a variety of scientific research projects, is once again upon us. Project leaders post a project description and an appeal for funds, and members of the public are invited to make small donations to projects that they deem worthy. Donations come with rewards such as access to project logs, images from fieldwork, your name in the acknowledgements of publications, among other possibilities. Many of these projects are marine or conservation themed. Once again, we’re highlighting some of our favorite marine science proposals. Please take a look at these projects and, should you so desire, send some financial support their way. If you do make a donation, let them know how you found out about their project and leave a comment (anonymous if you’d like) on this post letting us know.

Can an abalone in a bag save two on the reef?

The headlines paint a grim picture. The good news is that we have seen well-designed fishing practices begin to reverse the trend of fishery collapse. But what happens when these fish are also vulnerable to catastrophic disease?

Abundant abalone populations supported the iconic California abalone fishery throughout much of the 20th century. Unfortunately, this fishery began a period of sharp decline in the 1970s as abalone populations became increasingly depleted due to overfishing. Making matters even worse, a fatal bacterial disease known as withering syndrome (WS) emerged in the mid-1980s, devastating the remaining abalone populations that managed to escape heavy fishing pressure. After decades of declining catches due to overfishing, it was the disease that finally led to the closure of the southern California abalone fishery in 1996. The fishery closure was a tragedy, not only for the divers who lost their livelihood and lifestyle, but for California’s coastal communities whose natural heritage was lost and resource managers whose fishery management efforts had failed.


Here’s a fascinating question: Since fishing reduces population density, and lower population density reduces disease transmission, can targetted fishing of abalone be used to control the spread of abalone withering syndrome? That is exactly what graduate student Tal Ben-Horin wants to answer with this #SciFund proposal. Head on over to Tal’s project page and send some rocket fuel his way!