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Abalone Fishery Closes after Die-Off Observed in Sonoma (2011)

September, 2011

Young and healthy red abalone in Point Lobos State Park. Photo by Dr. Steve Lonhart, MBNMS NOAA.

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) confirmed reports of dead red abalone and sea stars inside coves along the coast in Sonoma County beginning on August 27, 2011. The number of dead and dying abalone is not known. Reports of dead abalone, mussels, gumboot chitons and other marine mollusks include coastal areas such as Bodega Bay, Russian Gulch, Fort Ross, Timber Cove and Salt Point State Park. DFG biologists and game wardens have collected abalone, mussels and water samples and are continuing to document reports from the public.

According to DFG biologists, these abalone deaths coincided with a phytoplankton bloom (commonly called a red tide) that developed in late August 2011 during calm ocean conditions. Although the exact reasons for the abalone deaths are not known, invertebrate die-offs have occurred in the past along the northern California coast when similar weather and bloom conditions existed.  Mortality could be directly due to the phytoplankton and the toxins they produce, or possibly due to above normal water temperatures coupled with lowered levels of oxygen in the water.  Oxygen-poor waters have caused similar die-offs along the coast of Oregon in recent years.  Similar invertebrate die-offs have occurred in the past along the northern California coast due to lack of oxygen and/or poisoning, but not at the magnitude of this event.

On September 15, 2011 the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) took emergency action to close the abalone fishery along part of the northern California coast. Specifically, the Commission voted 3-0 to close the fishery in the entirety of Sonoma County.

DFG is assessing the impact of the situation and provided the Commission with information at the September 15th meeting. The public is encouraged to report the location, number and date of dead or dying abalone to Ian Taniguchi at (562) 342-7182 or by email at:  itaniguchi@dfg.ca.gov

Divers are encouraged to avoid diving in the affected areas. The exact implementation date of the emergency closure will be determined by the regulatory process and is expected soon. Please continue to check the Commission’s website www.fgc.ca.gov

For more information contact:
Carrie Wilson, DFG Communications, (831) 649-7191, CWilson@dfg.ca.gov   or

Jordan Traverso, DFG Communications, (916) 654-9937