Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The crisis comes in the wake of a massive deterioration in the spread and health of North Coast kelp forest over the past several years, a consequence of what scientists call “a perfect storm” of large-scale stressors that include two years of unprecedented and prolonged warm ocean conditions.
A marine wildlife expert put California fish and game commissioners on notice Thursday that significant new restrictions in the abalone fishery — including more closures — may be necessary next year because of continued starvation and die-off among the sought-after mollusks.
Even a shutdown of the iconic North Coast sport fishery should be on the table, though only as a worst-case scenario, said Sonke Mastrup, invertebrate program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“What we’re seeing is going to have long-term implications,” Mastrup said in an interview. “This is not a temporary problem, and what that turns into, we don’t know yet, and it’s appropriate to start having the conversation so people aren’t shocked down the road.”
No decisions regarding the 2018 season need to be made until later this year, after the results of annual underwater surveys conducted in August and September are available, Mastrup told the California Fish and Game Commission at its regular, bi-monthly meeting, held in Smith River.
But commissioners and the public need to be prepared for the possibility of drastic measures, given declining health and reproductive capacity among red abalone on the North Coast, he told commissioners.