The article in your current issue about sea otters and black abalone is a real stinker. The author clearly know little about the subject. Instead, he plays politics with living marine resources.
First, designating “critical habitat” by itself does nothing immediately for the black abalone. This is a political decision. The critical habitat essentially covers the entire range of black abalone. The disease damage has already occurred to the species over the past 30 years. Nature will restore this species, not human intervention.
Second, the black abalone I have observed are not consumed by other animals. I have found them belly up in tidepools dying or dead. It appears that crabs and other scavengers ignore what would generally be a free meal.
Third, sea otters will forage on healthy black abalone if they can access them. Often, these abalone are deep in cracks and holes and very difficult for an otter to get to.
When withering syndrome, the malady affecting black abalone, was first observed, it was stated these abalone were not being overfished. The “overfishing” claim is a new and as usual is designed to disparage human fishermen.
We humans have seasons, closed areas, and size limits. Sea otters do not. The published literature demonstrates that in areas where sea otters exist, invertebrate populations decline by 90 percent.
I visited Cayucos in November 2011 during minus tides. I found no living black abalone, no shells, nor even broken shells. I have been visiting and fishing this area since the mid-1950s. It appeared in my small sample that the entire population was gone. This in an area where 15 years ago there were thousands of healthy specimens.
Playing politics does nothing of benefit for these animals. If they had fur or feathers, concern might be real. But because they are slimy invertebrates, they re only treated as so much fodder for “real animals” like sea otters.