The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has postponed the 2018 recreational abalone season that was set to open Jan. 1. The state Fish and Wildlife Commission will review the status in March.
The decision follows California’s closure of its 2018 abalone season because of concerns over the health of the population. Abalone stocks in California have fallen below target levels as environmental conditions have reduced their food sources. Since California Fish and Wildlife closed its season Dec. 7, ODFW has seen a dramatic spike in inquiries about the Oregon fishery, which is dwarfed by the California fishery. Oregon issues about 300 abalone permits per year, while California issues 25,000 or more.
Southern Oregon is on the northern edge of red abalone range and has a relatively small population of the shellfish.
“California’s closure could lead to a large fishing effort shift to Oregon, which would cause a spike in harvest under the current rules," Scott Groth, ODFW shellfish biologist for the south coast, said in a release. "Yet we suspect that Oregon’s abalone population has declined from historic levels. This emergency action postpones the fishery so we can hold off on issuing 2018 abalone permits until we’ve had a chance to do a more thorough review of the situation.”
ODFW staff plan to evaluate the fishery, including potential impacts from California’s closure, solicit public input and present suggestions, including possible rule changes, to the commission at its March 16 meeting in Salem.
Annual regulations require recreational abalone harvesters to purchase an Oregon shellfish license and obtain a free annual abalone/scallop permit from ODFW. ODFW will continue to issue permits for scallops after Jan. 1.
Abalone are highly prized for their meat, and the fishery creates a high demand, primarily among divers. While seven species exist on the West Coast, five of these have some listing status under the Endangered Species Act. Red abalone is the only species still fished in the contiguous United States, and Southern Oregon and Northern California are the only areas where recreational harvest has occurred in recent years. Commercial harvest is not allowed in either state.