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Invertebrates of Interest: Abalone

California's coastal waters are home to a multitude of invertebrates (species lacking a bony skeleton). A small fraction of these, including abalone, are actually targeted by California's recreational fisheries. This page contains information about abalone species identification, biology, habitat, geographic range, fishing methods, and more.


Abalone Management

Abalone Diver and Rock-Picker Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why were regulation changes made for 2014?

The regulations were changed because dive surveys conducted by CDFW found abalone densities had dropped below trigger levels in the CDFW Abalone Recovery and Management Plan (ARMP). ARMP guidelines call for a reduction in catch if the average density of abalone at eight index sites in Sonoma and Mendocino counties falls below 0.5 abalone/m2. The ARMP also mandates closure of individual sites which have fallen below 0.5 abalone/m2. Abalone densities declined dramatically in Sonoma County due to fishing pressure and a harmful algal bloom which resulted in a large die-off of abalone at the end of August 2011. In 2012, average abalone density across index sites was below 0.5 abalone/m2, and density at Fort Ross was below 0.25 abalone/m2. On June 26, 2013, the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) decided to reduce the abalone catch according to ARMP guidelines and close the Fort Ross area.

What is the reason the start time was changed to 8:00 a.m.?

The new 8:00 a.m. start time is intended to discourage poaching activities and reduce incidental mortality. In the spring, there are a number of low-tides that occur before 8:00 a.m. Poachers were taking advantage of the dim light before dawn to hide illegal activities of taking more abalone than is allowed. Wildlife Officers also saw numerous undersized abalone removed from the rocks during normal rockpicking activities. Abalone may not survive being removed as a result of injury from being detached. This incidental mortality results in much greater losses than the estimated legal catch. The later start time is designed to minimize these impacts and the Fish and Game Commission decided to choose that option as a way to reduce fishing effort and keep the fishery sustainable.

The new start time reduces the number of low-tide days people will be able to take abalone by rock picking. However, the timing and number of low tides year-to-year is variable, and there are usually suitable low tides that occur after 8:00 a.m. to allow for rock picking. Moreover, with lower numbers of abalone being taken, it may become easier to find abalone at higher tide levels than in the past.

Does the new rule mean that divers cannot enter the water prior to 8 a.m. if they are planning to take abalone?

The new 8 a.m. start rule means divers cannot enter the water with the implements to take abalone and start searching for or taking abalone before 8 a.m. They can enter the water early to travel and wait without searching for or taking abalone until 8 a.m. For example, if it takes a diver 30 minutes to swim to a dive spot, he or she could enter the water with the implements to take abalone, swim to the dive site as long as they are not searching for or taking abalone before 8:00 a.m. Rock pickers have similar restrictions; they can walk to the spot before 8:00 a.m. but they cannot search for or take abalone before 8:00 a.m.

Can divers go spear fishing at the normal legal start time or take early morning photos, then switch over to abalone diving at 8 a.m.?

Will the 8 a.m. start time prevent rock pickers from getting any abalone?

No, but the actual effect will vary each year because the timing of the tides changes each year. A number of good low tides will be too early in the morning to be useful for rock pickers but there will still be some good opportunities. For example, in 2014 there are several days with tides below -1.0 ft. after 8:00 a.m. in May and June.

Why was the annual limit lowered to 18?

The lower annual limit was combined with the 8:00 a.m. start time by the Fish and Game Commission to reduce the abalone take to levels prescribed in the ARMP. Since the increased restrictions in Sonoma and Marin counties will likely cause a shift in fishing effort to Mendocino County, the lower annual limit will also help keep the overall catch from increasing in Mendocino County.

Why are the annual limits lower in Sonoma and Marin counties?

Sonoma County sites which have been surveyed over the years have shown a greater decline in abalone density than Mendocino County sites. Lower annual limits were implemented for Sonoma and Marin counties to help prevent densities at those sites from further declines which could result in the sites being closed in the future.

How far north does the Sonoma-Marin annual limit of 9 apply?

The Sonoma-Marin annual limit extends to the Gualala River, located between the community of Sea Ranch to the south (Sonoma County) and the town of Gualala to the north (Mendocino County).

How will the Sonoma-Marin annual limit of 9 be enforced?

The site codes used on previous versions of the abalone card have been modified by adding a letter before the code numbers. All site codes within Sonoma and Marin counties now begin with the letter "S" and site codes within Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties begin with the letter "N". Fishermen are required to include the "S" or "N" along with the number when recording the location code. An abalone card can have a mix of "N" and "S" records as long as there are no more than 9 "S" records.

I was not aware of abalone regulation changes for 2014 until recently. How can I be notified in advance of possible regulation changes in the future?

Go to the FGC website and request to be put on the list to receive regulation notices for abalone.

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

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 between the end of the season on November 30 and January 31 the following year. 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.

Are marine protected areas along the northern California coast closed to abalone fishing?

Some marine protected areas restrict the take of red abalone. All MPAs located north of the mouth of San Francisco Bay that allow the take of abalone are listed below:

MPAs That Allow Recreational Take of Red Abalone


For more information about California's marine protected areas, please visit the Marine Protected Area website.

Why are tags required for abalone?

The tags allow Wildlife Officers 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 tagging and reporting requirements is accessible online.

Can I give abalone to a traveling companion who does not have an abalone card and then take more abalone?

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 18 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.

Does everyone taking abalone now need to have an abalone report card?

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 CDFW's accounting of abalone taken in the fishery.

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?

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.

If I am diving, do I need to take the card with me on my dive?

Abalone report cards must be in the immediate possession of any person who is taking or attempting to take abalone, including divers. Some divers leave their card on shore but would need to swim back to get their card if checked by a Wildlife Officer in a boat.

What can fishermen do to protect abalone populations?

  • Report illegal activities - Call CalTIP (888) 334-2258.
  • Reduce fishing mortality (see below)
    • Detaching only legal-sized abalone
    • Cease fishing when bag limit is reached
    • Avoid cutting abalone
    • Allow any undersized abalone to reattach to the rock before you move on
  • Know and follow all regulations
  • Take only what you need

How do abalone reproduce?

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.

Why are there so many empty shells in some areas?

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.

How fast do abalone grow?

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.

Isn't disease a large problem with abalone populations?

Withering Syndrome (WS) was very significant in reducing black abalone populations in southern California during the 1980s-1990s. The rickettisal bacterium that causes WS can infect all California abalone species but each reacts differently to infection. Green abalone appear to be more resistant to the disease than red or black abalone. Department biologists found that WS is much more pronounced at higher temperatures such as those experienced in southern California during the summer. The agent of WS is now present as far north as southern Sonoma County, but the disease has not occurred because the cold water temperatures keep the bacterium in check.  Elevated water temperatures associated with global climate change could make WS a threat for northern California red abalone in the future.

Can hatcheries help increase abalone populations?

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 are carefully regulated to eliminate infestations of several known diseases (including Withering Syndrome) and parasites. Outplanting hatchery reared abalone to enhance abalone stocks is more conducive for recovering severely depleted wild abalone populations to prevent species extinction.  The federal and California recovery programs for the endangered white abalone are currently using this technique to save the species from extinction.

Are abalone vulnerable to overfishing?

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.

Do I need to return my Abalone Report Card or report online if I did not try to take any abalone?

The card needs to be returned or reported online even when people do not try to catch abalone. When cards are not returned, we do not know for sure how many abalone were taken and the return information is critical for calculating the catch for the year. 

Why is the Department developing a Fishery Management Plan for red abalone?

The development of Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) is governed by the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA). The MLMA guides CDFW in the conservation and sustainable use of California's living marine resources. The MLMA states that FMPs "shall form the primary basis for managing California's sport and commercial marine fisheries." CDFW is currently in the process of transitioning current abalone fishery management from the Abalone Recovery and Management Plan (ARMP) to a FMP under MLMA guidelines.

The new FMP will focus on management for the sport red abalone fishery in northern California. It is a planning document that contains all the necessary information to make informed decisions to sustainably manage the species while allowing harvest opportunities.

On our website you can find information on public input opportunities, additional literature and reports, public meeting announcements and overview of past meetings.

 

How are abalone affected by the recent loss of kelp or large purple sea urchin populations?

Both lack of kelp and crowding by purple sea urchins negatively affect abalone populations. In recent years, there have been unusually warm ocean temperatures which have caused poor growth of kelp and other seaweeds and greatly reduced the amount of food for abalone and sea urchins. Lack of food can cause abalone to die from starvation or to be weakened and reduce their ability to survive predators or strong waves. Lack of kelp greatly reduces the amount of food available for abalone in deeper water and may cause them to move into shallower water where they can be caught in the fishery.  Movement to shallow water will make abalone seem more abundant but the population will be more vulnerable to overfishing. The presence of large numbers of purple sea urchins reduces the amount of food and living space for abalone. When in large numbers, sea urchins can create barrens by eating kelps and seaweeds before they have a chance to grow. Sea urchins are able to withstand starvation conditions and can maintain barrens for many years but abalone cannot survive in barrens. This website provides more information on this issue.

What is the correct way to remove an 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 presses against the rock rather than the animal. 

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.



Abalone and General Invertebrate Information

Abalone Videos

Video; North Coast Abalone Management

Video: Abalone Report Card Instructions

The Perfect Storm: North Coast Abalone and Urchin Fisheries at Risk?

View CDFW's entire collection of YouTube videos

Magazine and News Articles

News Releases



Marine Region (Region 7)
Regional Manager: Dr. Craig Shuman
Main Office: 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, Monterey, CA  93940
AskMarine@wildlife.ca.gov  |  (831) 649-2870
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Red abalone attached to boulder. CDFW photo by Derek Stein.


Return your abalone report cards by Jan. 31 following the season closure to:

CDFW
Abalone Report Card
32330 N. Harbor Dr.
Fort Bragg, CA 95437

You can also submit harvest data online.


Marine Protected Areas