Harvesting rules and regulations:

In October of 1997, then-Governor Pete Wilson signed SB463 into law bringing sweeping changes to abalone management. Besides the closure of all abalone take south of San Francisco, the bill created the Recreational Abalone Management Program, that requires sport license holders to purchase an abalone stamp/report card to take abalone. The funds are deposited into the Abalone Restoration and Preservation Account.

Under the auspices of Mendocino County’s Water Agency, our county has a Fish and Game Commission that is charged with the duty of advising the Board of Supervisors on fish and wildlife matters, including abalone harvesting. Craig Bell is the Commissioner and the group provides technical analyses and funds proposals designed to improve wildlife practices and regulatory enforcement.

Select DFG Frequently-Asked Questions about Red Abalone
(DFG Website, 2009)

Q. Where do I send my Abalone Report Card after the season ends, or after I am finished taking abalone for the season?

A. All cards must be returned to the Department, even if the card holder did not take or even try to take abalone. All returned cards provide data necessary for annual take estimates and should be sent to:

California Department of Fish and Game

32330 N. Harbor Drive

Fort Bragg, California 95437

Q. Will proposed marine protected areas along the North Coast close the area to abalone fishing in 2009?

A. The California Fish and Game Commission is currently considering adoption of marine protected areas (MPAs) proposed along the north-central coast region (from Alder Creek/Point Arena to Pigeon Point). The proposals are considering discrete areas that may restrict the take of abalone, but do not close the entire region to abalone harvest. The adoption of these MPAs would not affect the 2009 abalone season.

To find out more about specific MPA proposals and the locations of proposed MPAs now under Commission consideration, visit the MLPA Web site. A public comment period is currently under way for the proposed MPAs, which should be adopted this summer, and would not be effective until around January, 2010. To find out more about how to provide comments to the Commission on the proposed MPAs, and the timeline for Commission adoption of MPAs in the north-central coast region, visit the Commission Web site.

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 at:

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 DFG’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. 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. Fisher folks 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. The Department 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.