Abalone Diving, & The Natural Beauty Of Sonoma & Mendocino Counties

California Abalone Law 

The first weekend in April each year is the traditional opening for the abalone season and recreational salmon fishing. The temptation provided by this delectable sea snail, abalone, last year lured in at least 25,000 people who went through the proper licensing procedures. There are always others who fail to get the proper permits and licensing and that’s another story.

Because new rules were introduced last year, abalone divers should be much more vigilant and careful to follow every rule and regulation to avoid a citation for a misdemeanor, jail time and a hefty fine. One new rule introduced last year sets limits on Sonoma Coast abalone, which includes a later daily start time of 8 AM, and the closure of a popular swath of coastline around Fort Ross and State historic Park. Other restrictions include: 1. Red abalone diving and rock picking also is permanently prohibited in the Stewart’s Point State Marine Reserve, stretching roughly from southern Sea Ranch to Fisk Mill Cove in Salt Point State Park. 2. In addition, this same prohibition includes two smaller protected marine areas at Del Mar Landing and Gerstle Cove.

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Fish and game wardens will be out in full force this year especially with the new regulations and the diminishing supply of abalone in particular. In a recent Press Democrat news article Capt. Steve Riske of the State Fish and Wildlife stated that, “we’ll bring in people from other counties to help out,”meaning that enforcement will be greatly increased, strict and scrutinizing, so be on the lookout. Our experience in representing Abalone divers who have been cited, is the result of Fish and Game wardens carefully observing them from the bluffs high-up above the water with high-powered binoculars, that can even see underwater! No, they do not work for the NSA but, they should!

Part of the reason for the increased law-enforcement presence and heavy-handedness of Fish and Game wardens is because tightened regulations were put into place after a 2011 “red tide” (caused by a toxic algae bloom) which decimated and killed thousands of these tasty sea snails off of the Sonoma Coast and contributed to a 60% decline in red abalone density found over a three-year period of time, according to the Fish and Wildlife Department.

Red abalone is the last of five abalone species that can be legally finished or pryed off the California Coast, but only in Waters north of San Francisco Bay and only by recreational divers and pickers. However, they must abide by very specific and exact guidelines: for example the catch must be a minimum of 7 inches in length with a daily bag limit of three abalone, and a maximum take per person per season of 18. Only nine (9) of which maybe taken south of the Mendocino County line. If you think these rules are complex then you must know how and when your catch must be “tagged” order to avoid the risk of getting cited for a misdemeanor, having your fishing gear and abalone confiscated and ultimately avoiding a court appearance in either Sonoma or Mendocino County–which carries a hefty fine and possible jail time.

It should be noted that abalone divers are prohibited from using scuba gear, so they have to be able to dive, locate individual abalone and pry them from the rocks while holding their breath. That can be a taxing endeavor for some. Our law firm has actually handled misdemeanor cases where divers who went into the water and for some medical reason could not drive down deep enough to secure the abalone had a family member do so for them. This is illegal and the wardens saw this from one of the bluffs overlooking the water with high powered special binoculars, so don’t do it. It is not worth being arrested or cited for a misdemeanor which can affect your record and ultimately future job prospects.

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If you, any of your friends or family members have a question about a citation or a court case in either Sonoma or Mendocino Counties, please free to call us 24/7 for your free and confidential consultation: our Sonoma County number is 707-571-8600. We also have another convenient location in San Rafael at 415-492-4507 and finally you may be able to reach us on our toll-free line at (855)-247-3190… In the meantime happy fishing and diving!

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