Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It could take until at least 2032 before California reopens even the slightest season for abalone diving and hunting along the North Coast, where depleted stocks have shut the popular sport fishery since 2018.
But that’s a best-case scenario envisioned by scientists studying the beleaguered red abalone population, as nothing like the open seasons of the recent past is likely for up to three to six decades under the current range of environmental circumstances and reproductive projections that have sunk the species, the scientific team has concluded.
That rough timeline, though subject to ongoing debate and changes based on ocean conditions and population shifts in the coming years, suggests a whole generation of people could miss out on a sport that has inspired adventure and deeply held tradition for legions of families and friends across Northern California.
It also could mean die-hard divers in upper age groups may have to make peace with having bagged their last abalone.
“Some of us won’t live long enough to get back in the water, so that’s not making a lot of people happy,” said longtime ab diver Sonke Mastrup, invertebrate program manager and chief representative in the process for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Jack Likins, a 74-year-old Gualala ab hunter known for bagging trophy sized shellfish, summed up the gloom that has taken hold in the sport’s community. “I think fishermen like me are pretty discouraged,” he said.
The projections are part of a framework prepared for the state Fish and Game Commission to help guide management of the abalone fishery beginning next year, when an emergency three-year ban on the harvest of the mollusks expires.