Yesterday we woke up early to drive 2.5 hours north for an abalone diving class by Sonoma Coast Divers. We met up at the Gerstle Cove parking lot in Salt Point State Park after an incredible drive up CA-1.
Abalone are large, edible sea snails that are considered a delicacy in many Asian cultures as well as here in the US. The meat from abalone can sell for upwards of $100 on the black market and their shells can be highly coveted.
Abalone in California are highly protected and regulated and may only be taken using breath-holding techniques or shorepicking; scuba diving for abalone is prohibited. Abalone must measure at least 7″ to be taken in California and each person can only take 3 abalone per day and 24 total per year.
After our instruction on equipment (you must have an abalone gauge to measure the size and an abalone iron for removal), diving techniques, fishing laws, and abalone removal techniques, we geared up in 7 mil wetsuits with boots, gloves, and hood to keep us warm in the 50-degree water. We then hiked down a rocky cliff to our entry point. After a relatively smooth swim out, we were ready to start diving.
Abalone need to be removed with a certain technique, otherwise they clamp themselves down onto the rocks and usually cannot be removed. This technique is not easy to master, but Chris was able to get his limit of three abalone in about an hour. Annie came back empty handed but enjoyed the snorkeling! While diving, we swam through large kelp forests and saw many large starfish, a white sea lion, fish, anemones, kelp, and of course abalone.
After taking our abalone, we headed to a picnic table overlooking the ocean for a potluck picnic featuring our catch! Abalone are able to live long after being removed from the water. While our abalone were on the table, they moved and attempted to roll themselves off their backs. Annie found this to be particularly disturbing, but thought she would film their movement:
To prepare abalone to eat, we removed the abalone from the shell and trimmed off the tough portions. We then filleted the ab steak and pounded the meat to tenderize it. The meat was then lightly breaded and pan fried to a golden brown for 30-45 seconds a side. We donated all three of our abalones to the potluck lunch and were left with these beautiful shells for a trophy (7″ on left, 7.5″ on right, and 8″ in middle).
More about abalone: Diving can also be very dangerous due to the large amounts of bull kelp throughout the Northern Coast of California. It is not uncommon to hear about divers who get stuck in massive kelp beds and are unable to free themselves before drowning.
There are massive fines (usually around $1,500 per offense) for taking small abalone, using illegal equipment (scuba, illegal ab irons, etc.), taking more than your limit, failure to obey tagging laws, and other various regulations.
Abalone are found along the coastal waters of every major continent with the exception of the Atlantic Coast of South America, the Caribbean, and the East Coast of the United States. The majority of abalone species are found in cold waters, off the Southern Hemisphere coasts of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, and Western North America and Japan in the Northern Hemisphere.