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.
Read more at: Unprecedented delay in California abalone season shuts down North Coast in April | The Press Democrat
Tara Duggan, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Citing poor environmental conditions affecting the Northern California red abalone fishery, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to reduce the annual limit on the recreational fishery from 18 to 12 per diver.
The move follows recommendations from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to reduce the annual abalone take by about 24 percent. The agency and many divers have been at odds as to the best way to respond to underwater surveys that show the abalone population facing starvation due to kelp forest decline. Researchers also found that abalones are not reproducing at sustainable rates, partly because of warm ocean temperatures.
“We’re concerned that these warm water conditions that caused or partly caused these situations may persist next year,” Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager of the invertebrate program at Fish and Wildlife, said at the meeting, which took place in San Diego.
The new limits, which will go into effect in 2017, follow a previous reduction in 2014 that changed the annual limit from 24 to 18, based on rules in the state’s Abalone Recovery and Management Plan.
About 95 percent of diving takes place in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, bringing in an estimated $44 million a year in tourism revenue, according to an analysis done by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Read more at: California sets stricter limits on abalone
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The state Fish and Game commission is meeting over two days next week in San Diego and will take up the emergency abalone proposal on Wednesday. The meeting will be live-streamed at cal-span.org.More information is available at fgc.ca.gov.
Concern about abnormal ocean conditions off the North Coast is prompting a move by state wildlife officials to restrict next year’s abalone fishery, perhaps halving the number of sea snails individual hunters would be permitted to harvest and even lopping a month or two off the traditional seven-month season.
The dramatic cutback proposed for the popular recreational fishery comes as red abalone stocks are showing the severe effects of wide-scale habitat disruption, including the die-off of kelp forests, leading to starvation for abalone and other sea life.
While the survival of the species is not currently in question, the sustainability of the fishery is “threatened,” said Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager for California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s marine region.
“We should try to be a little conservative until we know what is going to transpire, because if you overdo it, it’s hard to take back,” Mastrup said. “Once you’ve killed too many, you’ve killed too many.”
The state Fish and Game Commission is set to decide Wednesday in San Diego on the abalone harvest limits, including several proposals meant to protect stocks that draw divers and pickers by the thousands to the wave-battered Sonoma and Mendocino coasts from April to November each year.
Read more at: New limits posed for California’s abalone fishery amid poor ocean conditions | The Press Democrat