Samantha Kimmey, POINT REYES LIGHT
Regulations for recreational red abalone diving have been mostly uniform along the Northern California coast for a decade, but the state is now considering changes to allow more locally specific rules.
Through an online survey, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking divers for input about how the red abalone fishery should be managed. The department says tightening rules about when and where divers can fish could increase the likelihood of catching more abalone, while expanding diving opportunities could make it more difficult to find the mollusk. Changes could include stricter rules at some sites and more lax rules at others, based on local populations. But finely tuned regulations would also be more expensive to enforce, likely costing divers more in fees.
The survey responses and comments from public meetings held last fall will inform a forthcoming fishery management plan for red abalone, a brick red to pink-shelled mollusk that is the largest of all abalone species. (The world record is around 12.3 inches long.)
Rules for red abalone diving —such as a ban on scuba gear, annual and daily catch limits and seasonal closures—have been dictated by the state’s Abalone Recovery and Management Plan. The decade-old document outlines management and recovery efforts for all species; two kinds, white and black abalone, are endangered. But the department is developing a specific plan for red abalone, which is the only one with a robust enough population for a recreational fishery.
In California, red abalone can only be fished north of the San Francisco Bay. Divers are subject to a number of regulations; for instance, they must carry a measuring device on them while diving, so they don’t take abalone under seven inches.
Of the roughly 256,000 taken legally every year along the Northern California coast, most—about 95 percent—comes from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. There isn’t as much easy public access in Marin, and one avid diver from Point Reyes Station, Billy Wessner, said sedimentation in the county’s waters also makes the mollusk even more difficult to find. Still, over 3,000 are taken from Marin every year, according to state figures.
“There’s still plenty here. It’s alive and well,” Mr. Wessner said.
A combination of overfishing, bad management, disease and predation spurred a massive decline of abalone stocks in the 20th century. And abalone are slow growers: it can take a decade or more for one to reach seven inches in diameter, the minimum size divers can take, making recovery a slow process.
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