Red Abalone in the Shell
April 1 was the beginning of the highly prized Red Abalone that so many people come to the coast to harvest. The season will run from April 1 and runs until June 30, then re-opens August 1 and finishes on November 30.
This year on opening day every beach and cove along the Mendocino coast was filled with divers out for the first day of abalone season. There was a minus tide at 10:15 am and calm, sunny weather created ideal conditions.
This year there are some new Marine Protected Areas that have closed a couple of the most popular dive spots on the Mendocino coast. One is the Point Cabrillo Marine Reserve, the northern boundary was moved north to take in the entire Frolic Cove, and also the Ten Mile State Marine Reserve, which closes to all fishing the area from Ten Mile River north to the Vista Point north of Pacific Star Winery.
Marine Protected Areas (MPA) that allow recreational take of red abalone this year on the Mendocino coast is:
- MacKerricher State Marine Conservation Area
- Russian Gulch State Marine Conservation Area
- Van Damme State Marine Conservation Area
- Salt Point State Marine Conservation Area
- Stewarts Point State Marine Conservation Area
- Duxbury Reef State Marine Conservation Area
FAQ’S (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q. Where do I send my Abalone Report Card after the season ends, or after I am finished taking abalone for the season?
A. Please send your completed Abalone Report Cards to:
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
32330 N. Harbor Drive
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
You can also enter your report card data online. Cards or card data must be submitted to CDFW, even if the card holder did not take or even try to take abalone. All card data provides information necessary for annual take estimates.
Q. Are marine protected areas along the northern California coast closed to abalone fishing?
A. Some marine protected areas restrict the take of red abalone. All MPAs located north of the mouth of San Francisco Bay are sorted below into MPAs that either allow or prohibit take:
Q. Why are tags now required for abalone?
A. The tags allow wardens to easily see that an abalone was taken legally and identify the abalone cardholder who took the abalone. This regulation will help to ensure that all abalone are taken within daily bag and annual limits and to show abalone were taken legally even in cases when they are given away. An instructional video on the new tagging and reporting requirements is accessible online.
Q. Can I give abalone to a traveling companion who does not have an abalone card and then take more abalone?
A. You can take up to three abalone in a single day but cannot possess more than three abalone at a time. If you eat or give away (also called “gifting”) any of your three abalone, you can take more abalone the following day as long as the daily bag limit and possession limit of three abalone per person and the annual limit of 24 abalone per year are not exceeded. People who receive abalone as gifts are not required to have abalone report cards but the abalone must remain in the shell and tagged until being prepared for immediate consumption.
Q. Does everyone taking abalone now need to have an abalone report card?
A. Abalone report cards are required for everyone taking or attempting to take abalone. Abalone report cards (but not fishing licenses) are now required for people under 16 years of age and for those taking abalone on free fishing days. This regulation change will improve the CDFW’s accounting of abalone taken in the fishery.
Q. When must abalone tags be detached from cards and attached to an abalone, and must the abalone card be filled out at the same time?
A. For each abalone retained, the cardholder must record the date, time, and location of catch on both the tag and the card immediately after exiting the water or immediately upon boarding a vessel, whichever comes first. Persons using a non-motorized vessel such as a kayak or a float tube may wait until reaching shore to tag their abalone and record catch information on their abalone report cards. Tags must remain attached to abalone report cards until an abalone is being tagged. Tags separated from abalone report cards prior to immediate use are invalid. All tags that are not in possession must be accounted for by entry of a record on the abalone report card. Any tag that was lost or destroyed shall be recorded as such on the corresponding line on the abalone report card. Any tag that was inadvertently removed and is still in possession shall be recorded as void on both the tag and the corresponding line on the abalone report card.
Q. If I am diving, do I need to take the card with me on my dive?
A. Abalone report cards must be in the immediate possession of any person who is taking or attempting to take abalone, including divers.
Q. What can fishermen do to protect abalone populations?
- Report illegal activities – call CalTIP (888) 334-2258.
- Reduce fishing mortality
- Detach only legal-sized abalone
- Stop detaching when bag limit is reached
- Avoid cutting abalone
- Take care in returning undersized abalone – return it to the rock surface it was removed from
- Know and follow all regulations
- Take only what you need
Q. How do abalone reproduce?
A. The sexes are separate but have similar external appearance. The gonads are the prominent, crescent-shaped end of the internal organs. Ovaries are dark green and testes can be cream, light brown, light green or pinkish in color. Abalone release eggs or sperm through the open holes in their shells. For effective fertilization, abalone need to be within a meter of each other. When abalone are too far apart, their eggs do not become fertilized. Fertilized eggs develop into larvae which can be carried by currents for about a week. The larvae settle to the bottom and develop into very small versions of adults.
Most male red abalone start to reproduce when they are 4 inches in length and 5 years in age. Most females are reproducing at 5 inches in length and 6 years of age. Small females produce far fewer eggs than larger females; a 5 inch female produces about 300,000 eggs while females larger than 7 inches produce about 2,500,000 eggs. Although abalone produce large numbers of eggs and sperm, reproductive success is very sporadic. The last major successful reproductive period for northern California red abalone was probably in the late 1980′s.
Q. Why are there so many empty shells in some areas?
A. Although there are many possible causes of death for abalone, a likely cause is carelessness while removing abalone or returning undersized abalone. Any time an abalone is removed from the bottom, there is a chance it could be fatally injured or unable to reattach safely. Fishermen can help preserve abalone populations by removing abalone only after they have confirmed to the best of their ability that it is legal sized. Abalone irons are designed to reduce the chances of injuring abalone, but the irons can still cause fatal wounds if used improperly. Foot cuts deeper than a half-inch are likely to cause death since abalone have no blood clotting capabilities. Cuts around the head are often fatal.
When sliding an iron under an abalone, the iron should be kept as close to the rock as possible to avoid stabbing the foot. Even abalone that are not removed from the bottom can sustain fatal cuts. In prying abalone off rocks it is important that the abalone iron handle is lifted away from the rock so that the tip of the iron does not dig into the bottom of the foot. An uninjured abalone can easily be killed by predators if it is not carefully returned to suitable habitat. Abalone placed on sandy areas or seaweed-covered rock surfaces will not be able to clamp down sufficiently to protect themselves from predators. Fishing regulations require undersized abalone to be returned to the same rock surface from which it was detached. Experienced abalone pickers can distinguish undersized abalone and do not remove them from rocks.
Q. How fast do abalone grow?
A. Abalone are relatively slow growing. Tagging studies indicate northern California red abalone take about 12 years to reach 7 inches but growth rates are highly variable. Abalone grow nearly one inch per year for the first few years and much slower after that. It takes about 5 years for red abalone to grow from 7 inches to 8 inches. At 8 inches, growth rates are so slow it takes about 13 years to grow another inch. Slow growth makes abalone populations vulnerable to overfishing since many years are needed to replace each abalone taken.
Q. Isn’t disease a large problem with abalone populations?
A. Withering Syndrome (WS) was very significant in reducing black abalone populations in southern California. WS affects all California abalone species but there were so few abalone left by the time WS became widespread that its impact on most species cannot be accurately assessed. CDFW has found a few abalone in northern California infected by the rickettsial bacteria that causes WS, but no abalone has been found with the disease in this area. Department biologists found that WS is much more pronounced at higher temperatures and might not develop in abalone living in cooler waters. The cold waters in northern California may help protect abalone from developing the disease but WS has been found in abalone as far north as San Mateo County and the potential impacts of global warming could make WS a threat for northern California red abalone in the future.
Q. Can hatcheries help increase abalone populations?
A. Abalone hatchery efforts in southern California were not economically feasible. Caring for young abalone is expensive and abalone released from hatcheries had very poor survival rates. Some studies indicated that hatchery-reared abalone did not develop behaviors needed to avoid predators. Abalone from hatcheries can also pose a danger by spreading diseases or parasites. Abalone hatcheries have had problems controlling infestations of several diseases (including WS) and parasites. There is also the possibility that abalone outplanted from hatcheries could spread disease and parasites to native populations.
Q. Are abalone vulnerable to overfishing?
A. Abalone are easily overfished as was seen in central and southern California. They have slow growth, infrequent reproductive success, vulnerability to fishery-related injuries and poaching, and high mortality of young. They also need relatively high densities for successful reproduction. These factors limit the ability of abalone to withstand heavy fishing pressure. Great care will be needed to prevent the northern California red abalone fishery from joining all the abalone fisheries that have collapsed throughout the world.
Stevenswood Spa Resort is perfectly situated for any abalone diver. We are only 1 to 20 minutes away from the most popular and easily accessible abalone picking spots. Plan on coming to the coast and enjoy one of our suites, dinner and relax and get pampered in our spa after an exciting day of abalone picking.
For dinner phone 707-937-2810 or online at urban spoon.
For lodging phone 707-937-2810 or online at reservations.
For spa reservations phone 707-937-2810 or online at Indigo Eco-Spa.