Abalone season set to begin

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Posted by on March 30, 2005 at 17:43:47:

Divers and rock pickers willing to battle the North Coast’s unpredictable ocean conditions will get a chance this weekend to take the highly desirable red abalone as the split seven-month season for the slimy mollusks begins.

Although there are small pockets of abalone tucked away in the rocky portions of Humboldt County’s coast, most recreational abalone divers flock to the Mendocino County Coast, where there are larger populations.

A recent California Department of Fish and Game news release stated the season begins April 1 and continues through June 30. After a monthlong closure during July, the season continues again from Aug. 1 through Nov. 30.

The recreational bag limits for abalone — three per day, 24 per year — remains the same as last season.

Divers are prohibited from using Scuba equipment or other surface-supplied air devices when taking abalone.

In addition to possessing a license, abalone divers are required by DFG to purchase an abalone permit report card, or punch card, which logs the number of abalone taken per day and over the season.

The 2005 abalone permit report card is currently available for $16 through all DFG offices and most license vendors.

John Mello, a DFG biologist, said the majority of enforcement manpower would be dedicated to the Mendocino area.

He said abalone populations are scarce north of Fort Bragg because of environmental conditions that prevent them from establishing populations similar to the Mendocino Coast area.

Mello said this area’s numerous rivers pump sediment into the ocean that limits light, which prevents the growth of kelp.

It is the munchable kelp that makes abalone get up and go — so to speak.

Abalone are related to snails and slugs and they move slowly by flexing their one, large foot muscle, which is the edible portion of the animal.

Mello said DFG is nearing completion of the abalone recovery and management plan for the fishery, which will determine the management policies for the next few years.

Mello said work on the plan included fishery-dependent research that involved creel counts and abalone punch cards, as well as fishery-independent research that included diving surveys to determine actual abalone numbers in specific spots.

“We definitely know from this information what the catch rates are for certain areas,” Mello said.

He said the punch card information helped confirm that some areas, like Van Damme State Park in Mendocino County, are areas that have been utilized the most for the recreational abalone fishery, which he said definitely brings in a lot of money to that area.

According to the historical background portion of the management plan, the abalone fisheries in Southern California waters saw devastating declines in abalone populations during the past few decades from intense commercial and recreational fisheries pressure.

In addition, the document said decades of warm ocean temperatures and outbreaks of the disease known as withering foot syndrome caused further population declines until a moratorium on the take of abalone south of San Francisco was put in place in 1997.

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