Genetics to play key role in managing virus affected blacklip abalone populations

Abalone is a valuable export commodity in Australia supporting a commercial fishery worth approximately $250 million per annum.

The blacklip abalone, Haliotis rubra, is the primary target species of the fishery with a distribution extending along the southern coastline of Australia from Western Australia to New South Wales, including Tasmania.

In recent years abalone stocks in the Victorian western zone fishery have been severely affected by a herpes-like virus that has decimated stocks in many areas.

The Genetic Insights team at cesar are currently leading a genetic investigation of the western zone fishery that will provide fisheries managers with valuable information concerning patterns of connectivity, recruitment and genetic diversity across a complex of affected reef areas.

This investigation will provide a spatial framework for implementing effective post-virus recovery plans and valuable baseline data for monitoring the recovery of the fishery. Spatial and temporal patterns of genetic variation will also help guide possible intervention activities such as reseeding and translocations that will hopefully act as a catalyst in the abalone stock recovery process.

This study is part of a broader project funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) involving partnerships with Deakin University, The University of Melbourne, Western Abalone Divers Association, Department of Primary Industries, and the University of Tasmania.

The project will use a combination of high-resolution seafloor imagery, genetics and precisely positioned fishery catch information to enhance the reef scale management of the Western Victorian abalone fishery. 

Cover image: Photo by Julian Finn, Museum Victoria’s Catching the Eye, CC BY-NC 2.0

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