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Thursday, 30 November 2017 07:39

Diving For Abalone From a Kayak

Written by Kevin Hofer
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Some may think it is crazy to strap on a belt full of lead weights and jump off a perfectly good kayak into the chilly, sharky waters of the northern Pacific ocean. Yet myself, and many others on the rugged Mendocino , Humboldt and Sonoma coasts can't wait to do just this every year. 

Its not for everyone, good health /physical shape and good judgment are a must. If you don't give the ocean the respect it deserves, this sport can become a deadly adventure. Rip tides, strong currents and powerful waves, combined with the cold water are just a few of the things that need to be payed close attention to. Risks and warning aside, so many people go through all this because, dispersed on the seafloor below, lay a delicacy known as red abalone.

The red abalone, or Haliotis rufescens, is a type of large sea snail that cruises the rocky kelpy tidal zones of the west coast from Baja California to Alaska. The muscular foot that this herbavore uses to clamp itself to the rocks is a food I've grown up with and always enjoy. From sashimi style to breaded and fried or any way inbetween it really is a delicacy . Learning to harvest these abalone as a kid, I used the same boogie board that I played in the surf with, my dad and I never really would venture too far from the parking lot because of this. We would swim out a ways and just start diving. 20-some years later... retired is the boogie board and dad's inflated innertube, replaced by a Wilderness Thresher 140 and a Radar 135. The difference these kayaks have made in our abalone adventures is astounding. Sometimes being just a few hundred yards away from the popular spots can make all the difference.

For one, there can be more and bigger abalone out of the reach of swimmers, and oftentimes you can find better water visibility if you look around. The pleasure of diving in 15-20 ft of visibilty is so much more fun than diving in water with less than 5 ft, and sometimes a short paddle can make this difference. Being able to cruise the coastline watching whales, porpuses and an array of birdlife while searching for a clear secluded cove to dive is just awesome! The kayak can also help you find a place with less urchins and more feed available which can equal bigger and fatter abalones.

Another advantage of diving off my kayak is getting in and out of the water very easy, so when I need a breather I just hop up on the yak and take a little break. Having the security and comfort of the kayak just a few kicks away is awfully nice too, so much better than the days of trying to relax and catch my breath on the boogie board, or swimming to a rock to take a rest.

Over the years, my dad and I have had some unforgetable adventures paddling up and down the coast and diving together, but as the 2017 Red Abalone season wraps up in Northern California and us divers send in our harvest report cards, we can't help but wonder what lays in store for the abalone season of 2018. Having grown up on the coast and harvesting abalone since the late 80's Ive seen quite a few changes happen in regulations over the years. Never before has the season been threatened to be closed all together, but that is not out of the question for the coming 2018 season. In an interview done by Mary Callahan of the Press Democrat with Sonke Mastrup (DFW invertebrate program manager) the topic of a closed season arose, but Mastrup said that the closer is a worst case scenrio. Mastrup also stated "This is not a temporary problem, and what it turns into, we dont know yet, and its's appropriate to start having the conversation so people aren't shocked down the road"

This does not completly surprise me becuase never have I seen so many starving abalone. According to an article on cdfgnews website the decline is being caused by an assorment of factors all boiling down to "unfavorable environmental conditions" .

I contacted Captain Patrick Foy with California Fish and Wildlife, who also happens to be a lifelong abalone diver and kayak enthusist also to ask his thoughts on what is currently going on. He replied...

"It is safe to say the abalone population has been in steep decline and our biologists have significant concerns about the long-term health of the population because of that decline. It is also safe to assume there will be some reduction in recreational harvest via the fish and game commission regulation change but at this moment no one has details on what that would look like. "

As much as I love eating abalone and would be a bit disapointed if we were no longer allowed to harvest them for a while, I do feel that there are some serious issues going on and action does need to be taken. With all the environmental factors working against them then add the greedy unscrupulous poachers taking way more than their fair share, if we want the abalone to still be around in the future, changes need to be made.

One easy way to help save a few abs or unfortunatly too frequenlty, 100s of abs is to Call 888-334-2258 to turn in poachers!!! As for the 2018 season.. we will all have to wait a little longer for the studies and research done from this season to be examined and processed before we find out how long a season and how many tasty snails we are going to be able to eat apiece next year.

Last modified on Thursday, 30 November 2017 08:04

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