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I picked up a ton of abalone shells last year in 2018.
Anyone would love walking the beach and finding a nice shinny pieces of polished abalone shells. I saw more abalone shells washed up on the northern California beaches than I have in the last 50 years last summer (2018). The cause was and is still starvation. The Kelp loss and recovery will come back sooner than the abalone population. It could take 25 to 35 years for the abalone population to recover.
The loss of kelp is caused by the weakened rooting system known as hold-fast from the serious purple sea urchin population and heavy winter storms. They eat the kelp from the sea bottom up, loosen the kelp and it washes ashore. The depletion of available kelp weakens the abalone and the wave surges caused by winter storms wash the abalone ashore and the die. The depleted available kelp drives the deeper abalone into the shallows and they wash up and die on the beach or starve to death in the water. It is tragic and devastating.
I saw vultures and seagull feasting at low tides. Some beaches have hundreds of shells littered at the high tide levels. It will literally take decades for the red abalone to recover. The natural predators to the purple sea urchin were the sea star fish and otters. Both in a major decline since 2011-2012 during the Sonoma County Red Tides that killed everything but a certain star fish from the shoreline down to 35 feet of sea water or so.
In the 1980's up the mid 1990's the Red Sea Urchin industry was the number one seafood export in California. This is a drastic change in the industry. My brother and cousins have been chasing the illusive 10 inch abalone as one of the items on our bucket list. Gonna have to scratch that one off the list in my life time i figure.
The minimum size of the ab shell when before the entire abalone recreational take was restricted last year was seven inches. Abalone growth is slow and varies but take at least 10 years to grow seven inches. The world record size in 1993 and still is 12 and 3/4 inches. There is discussion that when they do open up the recreational take in lets say 25 to 35 years from now, it will be a restricted license. Similar to a deer or elk hunting license based on propagation.
I hope to tell my grandchildren about and how to dive for abalone. I am dedicating my Art to the Recovery of the California Red Abalone and hope to be alive when they do see the recovery.