Reminder: Abalone Season Opens May 1 After Commission Approves Emergency Regulations for 2017

Healthy red abalone on the move over crustose coralline algae-encrusted rock at Van Damme State Marine Conservation Area, August 27, 2015. CDFW photo by A. Maguire

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds divers and rock-pickers gearing up for the start of the red abalone season that the bag limit and season have changed for this popular fishery under emergency regulations for 2017.

The season has been shortened by two months, with an opening date of May 1 instead of April 1, and a closing date of October 31 instead of November 30.  In addition, the annual limit has been lowered to 12 abalone (from 18 abalone). The California Fish and Game Commission approved a shortened season and reduced take limit at their Dec 7, 2016 meeting due to concerns about the declining health and number of red abalone on the northern California coast.

The emergency regulations reducing the red abalone bag limit and season were proposed after scientific divers observed significantly reduced populations of abalone during deep water surveys. An article published on CDFW’s Marine Management News blogsite last spring, “Perfect Storm Decimates Northern California Kelp Forests,” describes the complex reasons for the decline, including sea temperature change and competition for food. Purple sea urchins and abalone both consume kelp, but after a die-off of one of the urchin’s main predators, sea stars, urchin populations exploded and, in many areas, consumed much of the kelp that abalone depend on for survival.

urchins and diver
CDFW diver points out bare rock in a sea urchin barren at Van Damme State Marine Conservation Area on July 28, 2016. Bare rock, previously an uncommon sight, is becoming more and more prevalent due to over-grazing by sea urchins.  photo by K. Joe

“There are still more than enough sea urchins to have a negative impact on abalone populations,” said Jerry Kashiwada, a CDFW Environmental Scientist who recently surveyed conditions at Van Damme State Marine Conservation Area. “I haven’t seen much of a reduction in sea urchin abundance in the Van Damme area after the large waves of recent storms.”

Other red abalone regulations remain unchanged: abalone may be taken from 8 a.m. to one-half hour after sunset in waters north of San Francisco Bay. Divers and shore-pickers may travel to fishing locations before 8 a.m. but may not actively search for or take any abalone before that time. The daily bag and possession limit is still three abalone. No more than nine abalone may be taken south of the boundary between Sonoma and Mendocino counties, and parts of Fort Ross State Historical Park remain closed to the take of abalone (a map of the closed area can be found online). Some marine protected areas north of the Golden Gate also prohibit the take of abalone; marine protected area maps and regulations can be found on CDFW’s California MPAs website.

Read the January 2017 press release announcing the emergency regulations here. For more information, please contact CDFW Environmental Scientist Jerry Kashiwada at (707) 964-5791.

post by Leslie Kashiwada, CDFW Scientific Aid, and Mary Patyten, CDFW Research Writer