The abalone was a well-managed sport and commercial fishery with seasons, size limits, and gear and depth restrictions. [Letters, “Otter Defended,” 4/1/10] The end was brought about not from fishing but from the deadly withering foot disease which acted like a plague, killing up to 95 percent of some populations. The disease hit hard in the 1990s, causing an outright closure of all abalone fisheries south of the Golden Gate. The disease spreads via warm water; thus a natural barrier exists in water colder than about 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Before the disease hit, there remained abundant abalone populations all up and down California; more than 60 years after the abalone fishery came into being; it was a sustainable fishery.
The white abalone was hit harder than other species, with a 99 percent mortality. These animals did experience heavy fishing, as they were extra exposed because they only live on the outside of rocks and not in crevices. This also makes them very vulnerable to sea otters. The otter people will tell you that the remaining one percent of living white abalone are conveniently located deeper than otters dive. If they admitted the truth—which is that white abs live all the way up to 20 feet of water (I have taken them personally in water this shallow) and that otters dive frequently to depths of 100 feet and sometimes all the way to 300—then they would have to admit that the otter can easily force the white abalone into extinction, a fact they refuse to come to terms with.
Just as the abalone are recovering from the withering foot disease, otters are moving into the abalone recovery area. Would it not be better to let the abs recover to a sustainable level, and then talk about expanding the otter’s range past its already safe haven of 400 miles of California coastline? —Chris Goldblatt