(CN) – California’s famed sport abalone fishing will be postponed until 2019 after regulators unanimously voted on Thursday to close the fishery due to shrinking red abalone numbers.
State biologists and fish and game officials said California’s abalone population is collapsing due to multiple environmental stressors, but largely because of the disappearance of kelp forests over the past several years. Biologists warned West Coast kelp forests are 93 percent smaller compared to recent years, citing a “perfect storm” of ecological impacts.
The California Fish and Game Commission voted 4-0 to close the 2018 sport abalone fishing season, the first statewide ban since 1997. The 2018 season would have run from April to November. Last year the commission shortened the sport fishing season and reduced fishing limits because of the abalone decline.
Red abalone starve and stop reproducing due to a lack of kelp, the main habitat and food source for the herbivores. Researchers point to warming ocean temperatures, toxic algae blooms and a massive starfish wasting that has decimated West Coast starfish populations as reasons for declining kelp beds. The lack of starfish paved the way for a sea urchin population boom, which are ravenous kelp eaters.
State biologists recommended the commission freeze the recreational season – the only type of abalone fishing permitted – after a recent survey revealed 37 percent of abalone found by divers were dead on the seafloor.
Abalone fishing has been closed in Southern California since 1997, but remains popular in Northern California. A 2016 study by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated abalone tourism brings in $24 to $44 million annually to coastal communities, with approximately 31,000 active abalone divers.
Warm ocean temperatures and toxic algae blooms have also been blamed for shortened California Dungeness crab seasons over the past three years. High levels of domoic acid was found in Dungeness crab along the West Coast and caused unprecedented fishing delays for the last two fishing seasons.
The state has delayed the current commercial Dungeness crab season in parts of the North Coast due to elevated levels of the neurotoxin, which can cause diarrhea and dizziness in humans.