After considering a number of options, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced new restrictions for the California abalone sport fishery last month. On June 26, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to reduce the annual limit from twenty four to eighteen abalone with no more than nine taken from Sonoma and Marin Counties. The Commission also voted to modify the start time for the fishing day from one half hour before sunrise to 8 a.m. and to impose a closure at Ft. Ross in Sonoma County.
The new restrictions are a response to declining red abalone populations on the Northern California coast, particularly in Sonoma County, where a recent harmful algal bloom caused a large die-off and reduced red abalone densities there by sixty percent. The Department of Fish and Wildlife adaptively manage red abalone in Northern California and surveys abalone densities at eight index sites on a three-year cycle. If abalone densities dip below a threshold prescribed by the Abalone Recovery and Management Plan (ARMP) adopted by the Commission in 2005, the ARMP recommends that the commission reduce the number of abalone taken. Declining coast-wide abalone densities over the past five to ten years caused the Commission to seek to reduce the fishery by twenty five percent. If abalone densities continue to drop and reach an even lower threshold, the entire fishery could be closed. The new restrictions aim to increase densities across the Northern California coast, allowing abalone populations in Sonoma and Marin Counties to increase and helping Mendocino County maintain a productive fishery.
In determining how to reduce the fishery by the prescribed amount, the Commission considered multiple approaches, including changing the legal fishing hours, reducing the daily bag and possession limits, reducing annual limits, apportioning tags by region, and reducing the length of the season. The Commission also considered the results of opinion surveys of over one thousand constituents gathered and complied by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The closure of the fishery at Ft. Ross was widely supported. While divers supported the later start time, rockpickers did not, as they are more dependent on early morning tides to expose abalone habitat in the intertidal zone.
Current regulations for the 2013 season can be found in Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations, section 29.15. The new restrictions will be written into the regulations prior to the 2014 season. For more information about these changes and the red abalone fishery, visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s web page devoted to the abalone fishery.