When size matters – the world’s largest recreational abalone fishery

Dr Randall Bess
Insights Newsletter
4 November, 2016

While recently in northern California researching the management of recreational fisheries, I recalled the common phrase, “Size isn’t important, unless you’re a fisherman.”

This phrase came to mind in relation to the red abalone fishery, which is the most common and largest of seven abalone species along the northern California coastline.

What really stands out in this fishery is the recent breakthrough in the way it is being managed. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (the Department) is collaborating with local abalone divers and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to improve the fishery.

This breakthrough is largely driven by the Department having limited funds for collecting data on red abalone. The Department could utilise data outside that collected every three years at specific sections of the coastline. It makes sense to use local knowledge to improve data collection.

This fishery also stands out because of the size of red abalone. The world’s record is 12.33 inches (313 mm), and the minimum legal size is 7 inches (178 mm).

It is also the world’s largest recreational-only abalone fishery, with around 30,000 people harvesting 250,000 abalone each year.

The Department is collaborating with local divers and TNC to design a cost-effective method to expand the geographic scope of data collection. This method must also minimise potential harm to abalone, as they are susceptible to haemorrhaging when disturbed, especially if removed from rocks.

This local diver-led programme is testing a small-scale data collection programme to measure the length of red abalone to help estimate the sustainability of the current fishing pressure.

They have developed a measuring device. When in use, the length of the red abalone is imprinted onto a white plastic strip. A diver can record the length of numerous abalone on one strip in a relatively short period of time and without any harm done to the abalone. The data is then provided to the Department for analysis.

Their collaborative efforts may well have an application in New Zealand. It is possible their measuring device might be improved with some Kiwi ingenuity, such as the laser device for measuring legal-size paua recently invented by a Year 13 student.

The red abalone fishery will feature in the fisheries project’s next report, which will be released in early 2017. For now, a more detailed story on this fishery is featured in the November issue of New Zealand Fishing News.

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