*Abalone Season 2023 Update
Abalone season for California is closed through 2026, possibly longer
Will it Ever Open?
But now we just dream of having one abalone.
Reasons for the Abalone Season Closure
We know that all of you who legally pursued, cooked, and ate the tough-until-pounded mollusks regretted the changes to our California abalone season. But there are serious reasons for them.
Surveys were conducted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) counting red abalone populations in deeper waters. Results indicated this gastronomic delicacy was on the decline due to unfavorable “perfect storm” of environmental conditions.
A series of large-scale catastrophic events over the last few years caused a significant ecological impact triggering dramatic shifts in the kelp forest ecosystem on the north coast. Those environmental stressors included impacts from toxic algae bloom off the Sonoma coast in 2011, a widespread sea star disease in 2013 that was followed by an explosion in the sea urchin population, and offshore warm water conditions that have persisted since 2014.
The Decimation of Kelp Forests
Kelp beds, or actually the decimation of them play a key role in whether we continue to have an Abalone season within our north coast marine ecology. Sadly though, over the years, the growth of kelp — a major food source for abalone – has declined significantly. While the size of kelp forest varies from year to year, the recent low levels are unprecedented.
Changes in water temperature
Our lush, dense jungles of seaweed have provided shelter, food, and in many cases home, for many marine creatures that need cold water to thrive. In 2014, oceanographers noticed unusual warming in the Northern Pacific–even more than could be explained by climate science. For lack of a better term, they called it the “Pacific warm blob.” Then, 2016’s El Niño made the water even warmer.
Lush-flowing kelp forest acts as the ocean’s rainforest providing cover and nourishment for sea creatures. Photo by Kip Evans – Published by NOAA
Then- in 2014:
Unusual foraging behavior was documented near Elk in Mendocino County. A large red abalone is climbing a bare kelp stalk desperately trying to reach fronds that are not there.
photo by K. Joe
Comparison of kelp cover at four important abalone fishery sites in 2008 and 2014. Green indicates kelp canopy observed. Maps created from data collected during CDFW aerial surveys. (Data: M. Fredle)
And Now in 2023:
Each time we travel up the coast to Sea Ranch Abalone Bay we can’t help but look out the window to check how the kelp growth is going. I’m happy to say it’s looking wonderful! And it seems that we’re not alone in our assessment as drone images give hope for the return of kelp on the U.S. West Coast. After a 95% die-off since 2013 due to rising sea temperatures and disease, a team from environmental group Nature Conservancy has spotted signs of a partial recovery of kelp forests during surveys off the coast of Mendocino and Sonoma counties by drone.
Purple Sea Urchins remain a major factor in reopening abalone season
Further, dramatic increases in purple sea urchin populations have reduced the food available for abalone. Sea urchins, like abalone, depend on healthy kelp forests for nourishment. Previously, sea stars kept this competing herbivore in check. Because of this many explored how to reclaim the kelp forests from them. In 2019, the Nature Conservancy’s drone survey found an average size of kelp canopy of less than one acre per survey site and in 2020 that had increased to 5.5 acres. The numbers are not yet in for this year.
Sea Star Wasting Disease
In 2013, Sea Star Wasting Disease killed large numbers of sea stars on the West Coast of North America, from Mexico to Alaska. Sea stars are important predators of invertebrates that live in the kelp forests. The loss of these predators added another stressor that would later contribute to a sea urchin population expansion. Purple sea urchin densities are now greater than 60 times their historic density in northern California. With their uncontrolled growth, they out-compete other species, such as abalone, for space and food.
Abalone numbers have also declined in places, partly because of poachers. Gangs and syndicates take abalone out on a large scale unconcerned about law enforcement. At the cost of $125 per pound, poachers fill their sacks to supply a booming illegal restaurant trade.
Poachers not only disregard quotas but also ignore the size of the species. Most California abalones mature between 3 and 7 years of age and may live for 35 to 54 years. It can take 12 years or more for abalone on the north coast to grow to legal size for harvest. Thus, the undersized abalone has not had an opportunity to reproduce.
Further, the abalone is not able to coagulate their blood. The diver must measure the abalone prior to taking it off its rocky perch. To do otherwise damages the flesh of the animal making recovery impossible. Basically, the diver causes the abalone to bleed to death.
Why the Abalone Season Remains Closed
The poor condition of red abalone populations led the California Fish and Game Commission to close the fishery in 2018. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) surveys in 2018 found lower densities of abalone. They also found numerous fresh empty shells which indicated continued high mortality. The CDFW recommended extending the closure until 2021 and the Commission adopted that recommendation at their December 2018 meeting.
During the ensuing years state and local legislators, the California Coastal Commission, environmentalists, local abalone divers, and scientists met to determine the fate of the abalone and its potential as a fishery. Unfortunately with the passing of each year the recovery and health of the abalone failed to improve.
As a result, the Ocean Protection Council developed an Interim Action Plan for Protecting and Restoring California’s Kelp Forests published in February 2021 to guide the state’s efforts to help understand and improve the situation. Several projects are focused on reducing purple sea urchin populations at strategic areas of the coastline. The goal is to create patches of healthy bull kelp that will provide a source of kelp spores that may lead to the recovery of the kelp forest when environmental conditions become favorable.
Below are resources to help you learn more about California’s new regulations and the causes behind them.
By a unanimous vote on December 7, 2017, the Northern California 2018 Abalone Season closed by the California Fish and Game Commission. The commission’s decision was due to ongoing environmental conditions that have significantly impacted the abalone resource.
Abalone Season Recovery and Management Plan
The Commission’s 4-0 decision (Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin was absent) upholds the policies of the Abalone Recovery and Management Plan, which was adopted by the Commission in December 2005. Over the past several years, the Commission took taken several actions to protect abalone from the unprecedented environmental conditions. Primarily they reduced the take and shorten the season.
The Commission directed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to work with stakeholders to deliver a new fishery management plan that includes guidance on navigating these unprecedented conditions. The Commission also directed CDFW to consider how the new fishery management plan can inform the potential reopening of some fishing opportunities for the 2026 season.
Diving While Staying at Sea Ranch Abalone Bay Vacation Rental
Even though you may not harvest abalone, presuming you could find any, that doesn’t mean you can’t dive Sea Ranch! On clear dive days pack your underwater camera instead of your ab iron. Besides those nasty purple urchin, you just might find the friendly face of our neighboring harbor seals. Spearfishing is another sport that remains a delight for many. With luck you may just spear a ing cod, cabezon, or sea trout. All are wonderful for dinner later that day!
What You’ll Love
You’ll love that we are just a short walk to Smugglers Cove (easy staircase access) or Pebble Beach. Divers will be happy to note we offer wetsuit drying racks. We also have a fish cleaning station with added pegs for our diving and fishing enthusiasts!
What to Do for Non-Diver or When the Abalone Season Is Closed
But not everyone is into diving. There’s plenty to do for our guests who are unable to get into the water due to poor conditions or prefer to stay up on dry land. Hiking, exploring the other nooks and crannies are just a few examples. Learn more about what to do when dive season is closed or if you’re not a diver at all: 8 Epic Reasons You Must Visit Sea Ranch Even If You Can’t Dive for Abalone
There’ll be no need to worry about the messes afterward. You’ll find in the garage extra towels to help with the clean-up. We just ask that you please wash them prior to departure to avoid added housekeeping charges.
Note Sea Ranch HOA Rules
There is one very important note to be aware of while staying at Sea Ranch. All equipment MUST be stored in our courtyard for safety and compliance with Sea Ranch HOA rules. Do not hang it across the fence or outside of the courtyard.
Be sure to visit our calendar for updates to our booking calendar.