Category Archives: abalone

California Fish and Game Commission Meets in Oceanside

At its December 2018 meeting in Oceanside, the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) took action on a number of issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from the meeting.

The Commission voted unanimously to extend the closure of the recreational red abalone fishery until April 1, 2021. In December 2017, the Commission closed the recreational abalone fishery season due to the declining abalone population because of starvation conditions. The commercial red abalone fishery closed in 1997.

The Commission voted unanimously to approve 15 Experimental Gear Permits to be issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) for the purpose of targeting brown box crabs with the goal of authorizing new methods of using existing commercial fishing gear to research potential new fishing opportunities. The Commission also approved a list of terms and conditions to be associated with the permits. A drawing took place following Wednesday’s meeting to identify the order of the fishermen who would receive one of the approved experimental gear permits.

The Commission took action to conform state groundfish regulations with recently adopted federal regulations that largely expanded groundfish opportunity for California recreational groundfish anglers.

CDFW staff gave a presentation on living with coyotes and the Wildlife Watch program, as well as announced the release of the Statewide Elk Conservation and Management Plan.

Commission President Eric Sklar, Commission Vice President Anthony Williams and Commissioner Russell Burns were present. Commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Peter Silva were absent. This was Commission Vice President Anthony Williams’ last meeting. Beginning Jan. 7, 2019, he will begin serving as Legislative Secretary for incoming Governor Gavin Newsom.

The full Commission video and audio minutes, supporting information and a schedule of upcoming meetings are available at www.fgc.ca.gov. An archived video will also be available in the coming days.

The California Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, predating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. There is often confusion about the distinction between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Commission. In the most basic terms, CDFW implements and enforces the regulations set by the Commission, as well as provides biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision-making process.

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Media Contact:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

 

California Sea Otter Numbers Take a Slight Dip From Last Year, but Average Count Exceeds 3,090 for Third Consecutive Year

Southern sea otter numbers have declined off the coast of California since peaking in 2016, but the average population count remains above 3,090 for the third consecutive year. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan, the population average count would have to exceed 3,090 for three consecutive years for southern sea otters to be considered for delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

Despite the recent dip in numbers, the population average count this year has reached this three-year threshold.

According to data just released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), this year’s average count of 3,128 was 58 sea otters lower than the 2017 survey. Southern sea otters, Enhydra lutris nereis, are designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

“Reaching this threshold is a milestone in southern sea otter recovery, but it will be important to review all factors influencing the population to determine whether or not delisting is appropriate using the best available science,” said Lilian Carswell, southern sea otter recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “For the southern sea otter, those factors include ongoing threats such as shark bite mortality, lack of range expansion, and changes in prey.”

In part, this year’s dip reflects a 2.2 percent decrease in the three-year average count of the sea otter’s mainland population, which stretches from about Point Año Nuevo in San Mateo County to a few kilometers west of Gaviota State Beach in Santa Barbara County. In contrast, the small sea otter population at San Nicolas Island continues to increase.

“Surface kelp canopies were abundant this year within the otter’s mainland range compared to last year when they were very sparse,” said Brian Hatfield, the USGS wildlife biologist coordinating the annual range-wide survey. “This may have influenced sea otter distribution and contributed to the higher count in the center of their range.”

Scientists from CDFW, USGS and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have conducted this range-wide census of southern sea otter populations every year since the 1980s, except for 2011, when poor weather conditions prevented completion of the field research. Researchers compute the annual population index and evaluate population trends, providing the USFWS and other resource agencies with insight into southern sea otter abundance and distribution.

The mainland population of sea otters was largest in the central part of the species’ range, which is between Seaside and Cayucos; it increased slightly in the southern part of the range. North of the central region, however, the five-year trend in sea otter populations continued to drop. Changes at the range ends have implications for the long-term outlook for sea otter recovery.

“We continue to recover high numbers of shark-bitten sea otters along the northern and southern ends of the range. These are the same areas we’ve documented a decrease in abundance. This trend is concerning and is likely impacting population expansion and recovery,” said Mike Harris, senior environmental scientist with CDFW.

In addition to the sea otter population along the mainland California coast, USGS and partners also survey the sea otters at San Nicolas Island in the Southern California Bight. This population, established by introducing sea otters back into the area in the late 1980s, struggled at low numbers through the 1990s. However, over the last decade, the population has grown rapidly at an average rate of about 10 percent per year.

The sea otter survey and stranding programs are just one part of a larger research program investigating sea otters and their role as predators in coastal ecosystems. As a “keystone” species, sea otters can give scientists clues on the health of Pacific nearshore ecosystems, which support diverse wildlife species and provide economic support for coastal communities. To keep a finger on the pulse of sea otter populations, USGS researchers monitor changes in the kelp forest ecosystems that provide sea otters with suitable resting and feeding habitat. USGS also collaborates with CDFW and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in running a sea otter stranding network. The findings from these coordinated efforts inform and support effective management of sea otter populations to guide them toward recovery.

Survey Methodology

  • The annual population index is calculated from visual surveys conducted via telescope observations from shore and via low-flying aircraft along the California coastline by researchers, students and volunteers from CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Monterey Bay Aquarium, USGS, UCSC, USFWS and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
  • This year, the surveyed coastline spanned from Pillar Point in San Mateo County, south to Rincon Point near the Santa Barbara/Ventura County line, and included San Nicolas Island.

About the Sea Otter

  • Sea otters were presumed extinct in California after the fur trade years, but they were rediscovered in the 1930s, when about 50 animals were documented near Bixby Creek north of Big Sur.
  • Sea otters are considered a keystone species of rocky sub-tidal ecosystems because they prey on sea urchins that, if left unchecked, can decimate kelp beds.
  • Scientists also study sea otters as an indicator of nearshore ecosystem health, since sea otters feed and live near the coast and often are the first predators exposed to pollutants and pathogens washed down from coastlands, such as the microbial toxin microcystin.
  • The public can report sightings of stranded sea otters to institutions listed on this webpage.

More detailed survey results and maps are available in the full report “Spring 2018 California Sea Otter Census Results,” which is available online.

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Media Contacts:
Steve Gonzalez, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (916) 715-9072
Michael Harris, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (805) 772-1135
Ashley McConnell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 320-6225
Robyn Gerstenslager
, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 701-5751

 

California Fish and Game Commission Meets in Fortuna

At its August 2018 meeting in Fortuna, the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) took action on a number of issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from the meeting.FGC logo

Commission President Eric Sklar, Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Commissioner Peter Silva were present. Commission Vice President Anthony Williams and Commissioner Russell Burns were absent.

In response to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) findings of declining density and poor ocean conditions, in December 2017, the Commission adopted regulations to close the recreational abalone fishery for the 2018 season. Unfortunately, ocean conditions are not improving for California’s red abalone, and populations continue to decline due to severe starvation conditions. Consequently, on Aug. 22, the Commission voted unanimously to authorize publication of notice of intent to amend regulations to extend the fishery closure sunset date for the recreational red abalone fishery another two years (through April 2021). They will take action on whether or not to extend the closure the season at their December meeting.

On Aug. 23, The Commission voted unanimously to list the Humboldt marten as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Commission also received an update from CDFW regarding cutting-edge rehabilitation techniques being utilized on wildlife severely burned in wildfires. Typically wildlife finds ways to flee from wildfire and CDFW does not anticipate large scale population declines associated with the fires. However, some animals have been deemed suitable for rehabilitation and have been taken in for treatment. Thus far, three bears and one mountain lion have been treated for burns with sterilized tilapia skin. CDFW released a time-lapse video of one of the bears undergoing the treatment.

The full Commission summary and supporting information can be found at www.fgc.ca.gov. An archived video will soon be available.

The California Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, predating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. There is often confusion about the distinction between CDFW and the Commission. In the most basic terms, CDFW implements and enforces the regulations set by the Commission, as well as provides biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision-making process.

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Media Contact:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

North Coast Red Abalone Fishery Closed for 2018

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds anglers that the north coast red abalone fishery will be closed in 2018. In December 2017, the Fish and Game Commission voted to close the 2018 season. The closure is the result of extreme environmental conditions, including a widespread collapse of northern California kelp forests (https://cdfwmarine.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/perfect-storm-decimates-kelp/).

CDFW surveys in 2017 found low abalone abundance, starving abalone and many fresh empty shells, which indicate recent high abalone mortality.

The reopening of the fishery will be determined by the new Red Abalone Fishery Management Plan (RAFMP) currently being developed under the direction of the Fish and Game Commission. The California Fish and Game Commission will be discussing the RAFMP at their April 18-19, 2018 meeting in Ventura.

Jerry Kashiwada, CDFW Marine Region, (707) 964-5791
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

 

Three Abalone Poachers Hit with Heavy Fines, Other Penalties

The Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office has settled three major abalone poaching cases involving Fort Bragg, Sacramento and Bay Area abalone poachers, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced.

Two of the settled cases resulted in hefty fines and other penalties for restaurant owners:

  • Steven Yuan Qin Liang, 47, of Fort Bragg pled
    LiangAbaloneCase
    Evidence seized in the Liang case.

    guilty to felony conspiracy involving the purchase and black market sales of sport-caught abalone for personal profit. Liang, owner of the Asian Buffet restaurant in Fort Bragg, was ordered to serve 360 days in the Mendocino County Jail, placed on probation for 36 months and ordered to pay a fine of $15,000. He is prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.

  • Bryant Chiu Shiu Lee, 44, of Sacramento, pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of purchasing abalone for black market resale. Lee, owner of the Sushi Café in Sacramento, was placed on probation for 36 months and ordered to pay a fine of $40,000. He is prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.

Liang and Lee were both convicted in late 2017, following a joint investigation by the CDFW Special Operations Unit and Mendocino Coast squad that began in June 2015.

In the third case, the strange circumstances surrounding an emergency rescue led to an investigation and eventual conviction.

  • Justin Joseph Adams, 44, of Alameda, pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and taking abalone for black market sale. He was ordered to serve 210 days in the Mendocino County Jail, was placed on probation for 36 months and was ordered to pay a fine of $15,000. He is also prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.
Adams case April 2017
Evidence seized in the Adams case.

In April 2017, wildlife officers received information from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, Elk Volunteer Fire Department and Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department about odd circumstances surrounding a cliff rescue in Elk, Mendocino County. Adams had been dropped off by a friend the day before at the headlands just north of Cuffy’s Cove in Elk. He climbed down a steep cliff to the water’s edge and harvested abalone during low tide, but when the tide returned, his return route was blocked. When he failed to appear at a pre-determined pick-up location, a friend called in a missing persons report. Rescuers found Adams stranded on the side of a steep cliff and extracted him around 2 a.m.

Wildlife officers suspected poaching activity may have factored into Adams’ predicament. The day after the rescue, CDFW Lt. Joel Hendricks and Warden Don Powers donned wetsuits and swam to the location below where Adams was rescued to look for evidence of poaching. In a deep cut under the bluff, directly under the location of Adams’ rescue, they found two bags containing 38 abalone. One of the bags also contained a half-consumed plastic bottle of water. After obtaining a DNA sample from Adams via a search warrant, they sent the sample and the water bottle to the California Department of Justice Forensics Laboratory. The lab matched the DNA evidence from the bottle to Adams.

Trafficking of illegally harvested abalone on the black market continues to pose a significant enforcement problem and further exacerbates the pressure on the abalone population. Black market values will likely increase with the closure of the 2018 sport abalone season. Wildlife officers continue to conduct in-depth investigations and arrest those who continue to poach and commercialize abalone.

“It is immensely important for wildlife officers to work with District Attorneys who understand the importance of prosecuting poaching crimes against the dwindling abalone resource,” said CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of Law Enforcement David Bess. “The Mendocino County District Attorney’s office has an excellent track record in this regard.”

CDFW’s wildlife officers and biologists alike hope to see the return of a recreational abalone harvest as soon as the abalone population rebounds.

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Media Contact:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692