Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Wildlife managers hope lessening pressure on the imperiled mollusks will help the fishery rebound from a catastrophic mix of ocean conditions that have prompted extensive starvation in abalone stocks.
In a normal year, veteran diver Matt Mattison would likely have started this weekend clad in neoprene, plying the waves off the Sonoma Coast, eager to bag his first red abalone of the season.
Instead, the Monte Rio resident was among a group of volunteers who fanned out Saturday along the North Coast’s most popular abalone hunting grounds to head off any divers or rock pickers who mistakenly turned up and to inform them the traditional season start has been delayed.
A jubilant occasion that typically draws hundreds, perhaps thousands, of restless abalone hunters to coastal waters each year, the April 1 opener is a little like Christmas for those who pursue the succulent sea snails. It’s a rite of spring.
But after four decades of time-honored ritual — cause for reunions of family and friends on the Sonoma and Mendocino coast every year — the California Fish and Game Commission has taken emergency action curtailing this year’s season, axing both April and November from the calendar and sharply reducing the allowable annual catch, from 18 abalones to 12.
It will be the first April since 1921 — a time when the season began in mid-March — that red abalone cannot legally be harvested, according to Jerry Kashiwada, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.