Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Abalone diver Richard Hayman already had been observing troubling shifts in underwater conditions off the North Coast when he found himself gazing around the ocean floor in Arena Cove with a new level of alarm.
“It’s like a desert out there,” he recalled, describing a barren underwater landscape stripped of vegetation by colonies of purple urchins that vastly outnumbered the mollusks he sought. It looked, he said, “like a fire went through.”
During 25 years of diving, Hayman had come to know the area offshore the Mendocino County town of Point Arena as a source of succulent abalones, abundant and plump with meat.
“They’re starving to death,” the Calistoga man said. “It’s obvious.”
Hayman, 52, was among a dozen veteran divers who recently shared their observations at the midway point to the 2016 red abalone season, which resumes Aug. 1 after a month-long break and runs through November.
What they revealed was near consensus that all is not as usual out there, off the edge of the land, beneath the waves.
Scientists had predicted as much just before the season’s April 1 start, describing an unprecedented collapse of the North Coast’s iconic bull kelp forest and the resulting gloomy outlook for the abalone fishery and the overall ecosystem.
Divers reporting in over the past few weeks — people like Napa diver Andy Treweek, 55 — witnessed as much in some areas, where they discovered a few undersized abalone living on near-barren ocean floor.
Read more at: North Coast kelp beds ‘like a desert’ this year