Almost the entire San Luis Obispo County coastline is being proposed as critical habitat for black abalone, the state’s largest tide pool animal.
Black abalone was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in February 2009. Once common along the county’s rocky shorelines, black abalone populations were decimated in recent years by a bacterial disease known as withering syndrome.
The only part of the county’s coast not recommended as critical habitat is the area from Cayucos to Montaña de Oro State Park, a section of mostly sandy beaches. The habitat area would extend from the average high tide line to a depth of about 20 feet.
Most of the state’s coastline from Sonoma County to Santa Barbara County as well as the Channel Islands is also proposed as critical habitat.
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The public can comment on the proposal through Nov. 29. Specifics are available at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr.
Critical habitat designations require that any project that takes place within the habitat area requiring federal permits or funding must be done in a way that minimizes harm to the habitat. As a result, it usually does not affect projects on private property.
Although withering syndrome is listed as the main reason for the black abalone’s demise, federal officials say other factors are also contributing. These include historic overharvesting of the edible mussel and ongoing poaching.
The withering syndrome bacteria do better in warmer water. As a result, short- and long-term climate changes as well as discharges of warm water from coastal power plants are also considered contributing factors.
Historically, the black abalone lived throughout California down to the tip of Baja California. Now, the mussel is gone from most of the state with the last populations in Big Sur.
Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.