California Fish and Game commissioners voted unanimously to adopt a new abalone recovery and management plan calling for the possible reopening of a limited commercial and recreational red abalone fishery off San Miguel Island. The decision was made despite recommendations from state biologists that such a move could undo population progress made by abalone since the commercial fishery was closed in 1997. Beginning in the 1940s, recreational and commercial divers fished the California abalone population so aggressively that scientists have characterized it as “serial depletion.”
The popular pink abalone — once the most abundant — were virtually wiped out, followed by the green, red, black, and white abs. Disease and pollution further decimated the rest; today the once abundant shellfish is a rarity in southern waters, though red abalone are still legally taken by recreational skin divers in Northern California. Currently, illegally poached abalone, highly regarded as a delicacy and aphrodisiac, fetch up to $100 apiece on the black market. According to Fish and Game abalone plan coordinator Ian Taniguchi, implementation of the abalone fishery is at least a year or two away, as extensive research and public comment would be necessary as well. Taniguchi added that should the fishery reopen as planned, permits would only be given to those who possessed working permits in 1997.