SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Thursday it is calling a time-out on abalone season, postponing the 2018 recreational season that was set to open on Jan. 1 until further review and commission consideration in March.
The decision follows California’s closure of its 2018 abalone season due to concerns over the health of the population. Abalone stocks in California have fallen below target levels as abalone face ongoing environmental conditions that have reduced their food sources.
Since California Fish and Wildlife closed their season on 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 officials said the state’s fishery is managed conservatively to protect the health of Oregon’s relatively small population.
“California’s closure could lead to a large fishing effort shift to Oregon, which would cause a spike in harvest under the current rules. Yet we suspect that Oregon’s abalone population has declined from historic levels,” said Scott Groth, ODFW shellfish biologist for the south coast.
“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 Fish and Wildlife 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. The agency said it will continue to issue permits for scallops after Jan. 1.
Abalone are highly prized 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 are 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.