Those who hunt abalone have a final chance this week to offer input to California Fish and Wildlife personnel working on a draft plan aimed at stemming the depletion of red abalone in the only region where they’re still around in sufficient numbers to be fished.
An online survey that can be completed and submitted to the agency through Friday is part of a yearslong effort to develop long-term solutions in the face of declining red abalone populations, particularly off the Sonoma Coast, while still permitting sport fishing of the tasty mollusk, officials said.
The survey is, in a way, a chance for anglers to weigh in on what, if any, trade-offs they’d be willing to make to ensure the continuation of the North Coast fishery.
The survey follows four workshops held last fall in Sacramento and three North Coast communities to get a feel for the priorities of those who dive and hunt for abalone.
“We want to know: What are their concerns? What would they like to see? What are they scared of,” said Craig Shuman, the agency’s marine region manager.
While managing a shared resource means balancing sometimes extremes of opinion, the goal is a plan “that achieves resource sustainability but that meets the needs of the greatest number of constituencies,” Shuman said.
California’s coastal waters once supported five species of abalone — all of them depleted until only red abalone found north of San Francisco were open to sport fishing, within some restrictions. Recreational abalone fishing is legal up to the Oregon border, but the vast majority occurs in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, said Pete Kalvass, a senior environmental scientist in Fish and Wildlife’s Fort Bragg office.
A toxic algal bloom off the Sonoma Coast in 2011 destroyed thousands of the sea snails, contributing to a 60 percent decline in red abalone density off the Sonoma Coast between 2003-2007 and 2009-2012 survey periods, according to Fish and Wildlife.
Eight ports surveyed in Sonoma and Mendocino counties that account for about 50 percent of the recreational catch show a combined reduction in density of 35 percent, agency studies say.
Annual adjustments in fishing regulations reflect some effort to reduce the impact of fishing on the abalone stock, including the complete closure of the area around Fort Ross, a change in the daily start time from a half-hour before sunrise to 8 a.m. and a reduction in the seasonal limit from 24 to 18, only nine of which can be taken from south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line.
The daily bag limit remains three shellfish, all of which must be at least 7 inches when measured across the longest shell diameter.
But continuing concerns and state legislation requiring adoption of a fishery management plan have Fish and Wildlife biologists looking for long-term recovery solutions for abalone species and zones where they’re needed, as well as management plans for red abalone, Kalvass said.
Those involved in the effort hope to develop a draft plan later this year and hold another round of workshops allowing public review and offer input on the proposal before a plan is finalized next year and put into effect in 2017.
“One of the things we’re waiting for is the results of the online survey for giving us some direction ... for helping us figure out which kind of management tools we want to work at and where the preferences are for the constituencies.”