California’s popular red abalone sport fishery season is now open in most waters north of San Francisco Bay. However, parts of Fort Ross State Historical Park remain closed to the take of abalone. A map of the closed area can be found online at http://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=42101&inline=true.
Fishing for abalone is allowed from 8 a.m. to one half hour after sunset. People may travel to fishing locations before 8 a.m. but may not actively search for or take any abalone before that time. The annual limit is 18, but only a total of nine can be taken from Sonoma and Marin counties.
A complete list of abalone fishing regulations is available in the 2016 Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet, which is available wherever fishing licenses are sold or at www.wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/ocean/regulations/sport-fishing.
Abalone licenses and report cards may be purchased online at www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing.
Abalone report cards are required to be reported online at www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing#758846-harvest-reporting or returned to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fort Bragg office, 32330 North Harbor Dr., Fort Bragg, CA 95437-5554.
The return deadline is Jan. 31, 2017 but cards can be submitted early. Abalone report cards must be returned even if no abalone were taken or no attempt was made to take abalone.
Abalone cling to rocks, from wave-swept intertidal ledges to deep ocean reefs, where they feed on kelp and other algae. It can take 12 years or more for abalone on the north coast to grow to legal size for harvest. Similar to rockfish, abalone are a long-lived species but have generally low rates of reproduction. The fishery is managed conservatively to ensure a healthy fishery for generations to come.
In recent years, the red abalone fishery has come under some stress due to unfavorable ocean conditions. In 2011, a red tide caused a die-off of abalone and other invertebrates primarily in Sonoma County. Abalone feed on kelp but the warm water conditions the past two years have greatly reduced kelp growth which has resulted in noticeably leaner abalone. Great increases in purple urchin populations have reduced the amount of food and habitat available for abalone and could slow the recovery of kelp beds.
Abalone divers can help state biologists assess the ever-changing conditions that influence the abalone fishery. This year, a program will be established to allow divers to report observations that may help ongoing management. CDFW plans to kick off the new observer program later this spring.
Currently, the only ongoing abalone fishery in California is in the northern region of the state, which has remained productive for nearly 60 years. In 2014, the most recent year numbers are available, the catch estimated from returned abalone report cards and telephone surveys was 148,000 abalone. The average catch over the past five years has been about 210,000 abalone annually.