Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 6:58 am | Fair 34º

 
 
 
 

Outdoors Q&A: 8 a.m. Abalone Start Time Unfair for Rock Pickers

Red abalone feed on kelp at San Miguel Island.
Red abalone feed on kelp at San Miguel Island. (Derek Stein photo / California Department of Fish & Wildlife)

Q: Just a note (complaint) … The start time of 8 a.m. for abalone is very, very unfair. The two lowest tides of the year are in May and June, and you just eliminated them. Rock pickers are put into a shorter collection time and can make even more hurried decisions to take an under-size ab off a rock. You are punishing all rock pickers and putting them in danger by forcing them to dive for abs when they are not good divers (thus, in danger of drowning).

The 8 a.m. rule does not adversely affect the divers at all. You already closed off way over half the state of California. There is no way that abalone hunters can wipe out the abalone population. I go rock picking for abalone with six others and we all share these thoughts. (Fred M., San Francisco).

A: The California Department of Fish & Wildlife made recommendations to the Fish and Game Commission to reduce the take of abalone because recent scuba surveys had shown lower numbers of abalone at popular abalone sites, particularly in Sonoma County.

According to CDFW marine environmental scientist Jerry Kashiwada, the current Abalone Recovery and Management Plan (ARMP) recommends a 25 percent reduction in the take of abalone when the density (number of abalone in a standard area) reaches the low levels seen in the most recent surveys. Density in the Fort Ross area was so low it reached an ARMP “trigger” for closure to allow the abalone population to recover.

The commission had a choice between the 8 a.m. start time, reduction of daily limit to two abalone, reduction of the limit on the abalone card, reduction of the season (more closed months), reduction of take for Sonoma and Marin counties or some combination those proposed changes.

The 8 a.m. start time was initially proposed by CDFW wildlife officers who had been seeing large numbers of rock pickers at all low tides and believed that segment of the fishery was unsustainable. The officers observed rock pickers were taking more time to find legal limits, were less likely to get a limit and were removing and returning more short abalone, many of which were unlikely to survive the handling. The later start time also helps officers by eliminating predawn fishing hours when the light is too dim to observe violations. The effect of the new start time was estimated using data from returned abalone report cards, but the actual effect is unknown since it depended on whether many people would shift to later hours. Data from abalone cards returned this year will provide a clearer picture of the effects of the regulation changes.

The timing of low tides is variable from year to year and while the 8:00 a.m. start reduces the number of low tides available, there usually are some days with suitable tides. The lower numbers of abalone being taken by rock pickers may make it easier to find abalone at higher tide levels than in the past. The activities of sport fishermen might not be sufficient to cause extinction of abalone species but they can reduce abalone populations to the point that the abalone are spaced so far apart that their chances of reproducing are very low. At low abalone population levels, many people might stop participating in the fishery because it is too difficult to find abalone. Reducing abalone populations to low levels also makes them more vulnerable to events like the 2011 die-off that affected abalone in much of Sonoma County.

CDFW is in the process of developing a Red Abalone Fishery Management Plan to revise sections of the ARMP. Those interested in expressing their preferences for the management of the abalone fishery may take an online survey by clicking here to provide input.

Can a Nonhunter Carry an Unloaded Shotgun When with Other Hunters?

Q: While hunting on a game bird club, can a nonlicensed, nonhunter carry an unloaded shotgun while walking with other hunters? (Anonymous)

A: While it may not technically violate the law for you to carry an unloaded shotgun without a license, by doing this with others who have ammunition and are taking game, it will likely generate many questions by the wildlife officer contacting you in the field. Whether or not you have a hunting license is not an element of “take.” You may argue you are not taking game, but the officer has sufficient evidence to prove you are. Do you really want to put yourself through the hassle of going to court? Leave the firearm behind if you want to go with your buddies while they are taking game.

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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