After prohibiting abalone fishing in 2018, the California Fish and Game Commission has decided to extend the ban for at least two more years. The announcement was made following a survey that showed the the invertebrates’ populations were grim amidst warming ocean temperatures and struggling coastal ecosystems.
The decision was met with frustration from the abalone diving community who understand the importance of reinvigorating the populations while losing out on financial dividends from the robust industry. An economic impact statement from the Fish and Game Commission estimated the closure will cost between $15 million to $25 million for businesses frequented by abalone divers. North Coast hotels, campsites, restaurants and sports equipment rental shops will see the greatest impact.
Trouble for the abalone populations began during the El Niño of 2014-16, which sparked extreme environmental conditions for coastal environments. Since then, the large kelp forests of the North Coast have died off and the purple sea urchin population has exploded, leaving the competition for kelp food the highest in recorded history. The sea creature most affected by these changes are the sea snails, which are starving and not reproducing.
Typically, a restaurant abalone would have a shell of at least 7 inches. Now, you can see NorCal restaurants serving smaller shells due to the rise of abalone farms, which began to pop-up over recent years following the initial struggles of the population.
Northern California abalone were once so abundant that commercial fishermen used to catch nearly a million in a season. In 1997, commercial fishing was banned and recreational diving for red abalone was allowed north of the Golden Gate. From 2005-2015, the average annual take was approximately 241,000 abalone.
It’s probably safe to say that Northern California abalone populations will never be as abundant as they once were.