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diving for abalone and sea urchin

Louisa Chu Apr 29, 2002 04:04 PM

I thought I'd make my diving this summer a little more interesting than usual by harvesting some abalone and sea urchin. I'm just starting to do the research and was just wondering if anyone here has done it and if it's worth it - i.e. quality and safety of the critters.

(And if you have any secret spots you'd like to share with me I promise not to tell anyone. Please feel free to email me directly.)


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  1. c
    Chino Wayne RE: Louisa Chu Apr 29, 2002 09:54 PM

    Is is even legal to harvest these creatures? If it is, Is abalone native to these waters? I was under the impression that you would find abalone further north up the coast, and then the sea otters probably eat it all, no?

    20 Replies
    1. re: Chino Wayne
      Louisa Chu RE: Chino Wayne Apr 30, 2002 02:52 AM

      Of course it's legal otherwise I wouldn't be doing it. I hate poachers.

      You need a Sport Fishing license from the California Department of Fish and Game (link below) and for abalone an Abalone Report Card.

      For sea urchin, there is no closed season, size regulation, or daily/annual bag limit.

      Abalone is a totally different story thanks to overharvesting and pollution. Season started April 1st, will run through November, closed July during breeding season. Can only be taken north of the Golden Gate. Free diving only - no scuba gear, not even on the boat. Abalone iron only - no knives. Shells at least 7 inches in diameter - which means it's about 11 years old. Only 3 per day/24 per year - down from last year's 4 per day/100 per year (which I thought was way too much). Usually found in cold water with strong currents - which means at least a couple of people die every year trying to pry these tough suckers off the rocks.

      Otters have the advantage over us but it's poachers who have the advantage over abalone. Commercial abalone harvesting has long been banned, so blackmarket abalone run as high as $200 each in Japan.

      I won't wish harm for fear of bad karma but please let me repeat that I hate poachers.

      Link: http://www.dfg.ca.gov

      1. re: Louisa Chu
        Chino Wayne RE: Louisa Chu Apr 30, 2002 02:21 PM

        Good for you Louisa, I admire someone who can free dive, having long ago discovered off the coast of LaJolla that my ears decided that they had apparently had enough while diving in shark infested waters off of Panama.

        I'll think all the ill thoughts of poachers for you.

        1. re: Chino Wayne
          Carlos RE: Chino Wayne Apr 30, 2002 04:07 PM

          Perked my ears up when you said Panama.
          Spent many happy years in the Canal Zone enjoying the abundant and great food in Panama.
          Scallops,corvina at the Summit Golf course, Jumbo shrimp, Pizza at the Napoli, empanadas, patacones con puerco,sopa de otoe, etc.Not to speak of all the tropical fruit.

          Truly a chowhound experience.


          Surfed in Panama, saw my share of sharks

          1. re: Carlos
            Chino Wayne RE: Carlos Apr 30, 2002 08:09 PM

            I was stationed in the zone 1966-1968, and being a sailor at the time it wasn't about the local food, if you get my drift. I do recollect we used to get on our motorcycles and cruise across the bridge from our little jungle abode in to Panama City and go to this Italian joint that had outside dining, under yellow lights. The pasta was OK, but I was never sure what it really was since everything had a yellow cast to it.

            I tried ordering "naranja" to drink at a local empanada stand, and always got empanadas instead.

            Interesting roadkill there too, and to a local, roadkill was like a prime beef experience...

            Lots of memories.

            1. re: Chino Wayne
              jaco RE: Chino Wayne May 6, 2002 06:10 PM

              If not chow, then what, amigo? What were you after?

              1. re: Chino Wayne
                oerdin RE: Chino Wayne May 6, 2009 10:49 PM

                I was down in the zone in '96 and also enjoyed myself immensely.

          2. re: Louisa Chu
            Nate RE: Louisa Chu Apr 30, 2002 04:17 PM


            I sent you an email but also wanted to post here. Unless laws have changed, I believe the daily limit for sea urchins was 35. I've never taken more than 5. I would usually take the biggest and darkest.

            The uni usually don't make it back down with me as I usually crack'em and eat them at the dive spot.

            good luck, dive safe,


            1. re: Nate
              Louisa Chu RE: Nate May 1, 2002 07:13 AM

              Hi Nate,

              Thanks very much for the info.

              There's no limit on the DFG website but I'll email them to be sure. I'd never take as many as 35, only a few.

              What's better about the bigger and darker urchin? And are those the red or purple? I've heard the red are better but harder to find but I'm sure either is going to be good just given the circumstances.

              Thanks again and safe diving to you too.

              1. re: Louisa Chu
                Andy P. RE: Louisa Chu May 1, 2002 08:26 AM

                Hi Louisa,

                Even though I'm living in Tokyo, I'm an ex-pat California boy. I'm sure that you already know this, but I'll post it for the benefit of those reading along:

                Just about any store in CA. that sells fishing licenses will also have on hand the DFG Fishing Regulation handbook. The last time I went fishing in my beloved Golden State (last year), the handbook was still free.

                The handbook pretty much covers the entire range of water-bound life that can be legally captured within the waterways of and/or off the coast of California. Kind of legalistic, but it gives the limit and minimum size for most of our H20 restricted friends.

                If you think that you might capture something that is not covered in the regulations, PLEASE, call your local DFG field office beforehand, and find out the regulations/restrictions for said species. These folk are probably some of the friendliest state employees I've ever spoken with! They love a stumper. Their classic answer,(from the Sacramento DFG office)..."If we can't answer it, you shouldn't be trying to catch it!".

                If you've caught something really strange for the waterways of California, take it to your local bait shop, and get it weighed/measured. Then, call the DFG. They'll come out, and take a look at it, (like the rarely found pink salmon caught near Red Bluff...new State record).

                This also includes the totally unexpected catch, like the 4 lb. pirhana that was caught in a drainage canal in Sacto. county, or a non-native predatory fresh-water fish, (walleye, muskie). But, DON'T throw these fish back into the ecosystem; their harm could be better than their good.


                1. re: Andy P.
                  Louisa Chu RE: Andy P. May 2, 2002 02:12 AM

                  A 4 pound pirahna? Yikes. Hope it didn't have too many friends.

                  I don't even know who sells the licenses around here in southern California. I'm just going to buy mine online. Not the same as the old bait shop.

                  That reminds me of the pharmacists in France where you can take in any mushrooms for them to tell you if they're poisonous.

                  Thanks for the info.

                  1. re: Louisa Chu
                    Melanie Wong RE: Louisa Chu May 2, 2002 11:37 AM

                    DFG site has a search engine to find a local sales outlet by zip code.

                    1. re: Louisa Chu
                      Nate RE: Louisa Chu May 2, 2002 03:52 PM


                      I'm sure you've researched is already, but better safe than sorry. In addition to the license, you'll need a punch card as well. As soon as you get out of the water, you'll need to punch the card as many times as there are abalone (up to 3/day). The card will have instructions. Don't wait to get dressed or clean and store your gear/catch. Some fish and game wardens are very strict.

                      Because abalone can't be harvested south of San Francisco, I haven't seen many places that sell the punch card in SoCal. You might have to visit a F&G office or get one up north

                      1. re: Nate
                        Louisa Chu RE: Nate May 2, 2002 04:08 PM

                        Hi Nate, thanks again. You can actually order the Abalone Report Card online as well. But I had no idea they were that strict. Good to know since the fines are so high - as well they should be.

                    2. re: Andy P.
                      Sam Fujisaka RE: Andy P. May 4, 2009 03:41 PM

                      I'd bet that that four lb piranah was actually a cachama- a larger but similar Amazon native.

                    3. re: Louisa Chu
                      Nate RE: Louisa Chu May 2, 2002 01:03 AM


                      I've always found the purple urchin to taste better. The red ones I've eaten were kinda bitter. I recommended Van Damme, but Salt Point is another good place as there's always a life guard on duty there. Keep in mind that you can't take anything within the preserve, but boy is it a great place to look at big fish and BIG abalone. Fish and Game scientists collect and put big breeder abalone into the preserve to breed. You'll see lots of big abalone. Along with the abalone, you'll see VERY big lingcod and I mean scary big. The fish there are protected and so become bold or tame.

                      Just outside the preserve are legal abalone and urchin. Salt point is not as calm as van damme.

                      good luck,

                      1. re: Nate
                        Louisa Chu RE: Nate May 2, 2002 02:08 AM

                        That's interesting about the taste of the red abalone roe. It may explain why some people I know say they don't like it and find it bitter which I've never experienced.

                        Thanks again for all the info. I didn't know about the preserve up there. Looking forward to seeing the sea monsters.

                    4. re: Nate
                      WLA RE: Nate May 1, 2002 11:12 AM

                      I always enjoyed cracking a few open while diving Catalina and getting the Garabaldi spooled up into a feeding frenzy,(Garabaldi sure are an attractive, and appropriately colored fish for the "Golden State").

                      For those who have never seen one I included the link below.

                      Link: http://community.webshots.com/photo/1...

                      1. re: Nate
                        calaragorn RE: Nate Mar 4, 2012 03:07 PM

                        I assume you still need a fishing license to harvest sea urchin or any other sea critter for that matter such as mussels? Any special license or just a fishing license?

                      2. re: Louisa Chu
                        calaragorn RE: Louisa Chu Mar 4, 2012 03:04 PM

                        Do you need a fishing license to take Sea Urchin? I assume yes?

                      3. re: Chino Wayne
                        calaragorn RE: Chino Wayne Mar 4, 2012 03:09 PM

                        P.S. Yes Abalone are VERY native to California Waters. Used to be one of the favorite foods of sea otters long ago. The best Abalone are cold water species (Nothern California on up). You can get warm water species but they are not near as tasty

                      4. g
                        GAR RE: Louisa Chu Apr 30, 2002 02:26 AM

                        Its been awhile, but the Mendocino area used to be good for abalone. Don't know what the limit is now, might be as little as 2 or 3 reds. Check when you get your license. Scuba diving should make it easier.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: GAR
                          Louisa Chu RE: GAR Apr 30, 2002 03:41 AM

                          Thanks for the info.

                          But absolutely no scuba diving for abalone. And yes, the Mendocino coast is popular - probably too popular for a novice like me. And the limit's now 3 per day/24 per year.

                          Have you had any local abalone? Any good?

                          Thanks again.

                        2. c
                          ciaolette RE: Louisa Chu Apr 30, 2002 05:48 PM

                          Cleaning and cooking abalone is labor intensive ...it involves prying the flesh off the shell, cleaning and trimming it of unwanted parts and then pounding the meat till it is very thin. Dip in beaten eggs,dust in crumbs and flash saute in butter. Lemon slices.
                          Uni is pretty simple....my Dad,(a biologist whose 40 years of research has involved sea urchins), would take us tide pooling, grab a sea urchin, crack it open, and slurp up the uni. This was many many years before the word Sushi was in my vocabulary...:-)

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: ciaolette
                            Louisa Chu RE: ciaolette May 1, 2002 06:59 AM

                            What a cool dad. I take it you didn't try it yourself at the time? Have you tried it au naturel since then and if so how do you think it compares to what you've had as sushi?

                            Here's a great link with photo instructions on how to prep abalone and some great looking recipes. Doesn't seem too bad but the hard part will be finding one.

                            Link: http://www.fishtech.com/recipes.html

                            1. re: Louisa Chu
                              ciaolette RE: Louisa Chu May 1, 2002 07:56 PM

                              It's a shame, but no I never tried it with him....I was a very fussy eater as a child,
                              Interesting abalone link...farmed abalone are so tiny!

                              1. re: ciaolette
                                calaragorn RE: ciaolette Mar 4, 2012 03:10 PM

                                Farmed Abalone are tiny because it takes many years for them to get large. One of the reasons why they have become so rare in the wild. They do no grow like clams or Oysters

                            2. re: ciaolette
                              Sam Fujisaka RE: ciaolette May 4, 2009 03:42 PM

                              We always ate it raw - after cleaning and pounding. Delicious.

                            3. o
                              orrechine RE: Louisa Chu Jun 30, 2008 03:25 PM

                              Hey Louisa,

                              I realize I am replying to your post a long while after the last one, but I would love to add to this whole thread. I have been abalone diving for about 4 years now and it has really been a lot of fun. I go diving mostly around Ft. Ross area and a little bit north.

                              Catching the abalone is a lot of fun especially since I just love to swim and dive. I would always exercise caution in terms of any animal life that you encounter, but I myself have never had a bad experience with any of the seals or otters or fish in the areas. In fact the only real close encounter with an animal I had was when I was a Ft. Ross and just as I was coming up from the bottom with an abalone a seal swam alongside and sidled me trying to scare me in dropping some food. Happily I didn't let him have it though.

                              I also love to cook the abalone and try a different way each time. Thus far I have of course breaded and fried it, I have also done a cioppino, calzones, ceviche, BBQ/grilled, in a cream an lemon sauce like you would with scallops or clams, sashimi style, in a few indian dishes...
                              The list keeps going.

                              I haven't done any urchin diving yet, but I do plan on doing that this year.

                              We are stuck in July with no diving during breeding season, but I will keep doing trips for the rest of the year till I catch my limit, and if you haven't dove already and are looking for a dive buddy/compatriot let me know.

                              All the best,


                              4 Replies
                              1. re: orrechine
                                joeli26 RE: orrechine May 4, 2009 02:30 PM

                                Mark, where do you live. Fort Ross is usually where I go to. I live in SF. Went 2 times already. Really needs a dive body.

                                1. re: joeli26
                                  tchau209 RE: joeli26 May 6, 2009 05:34 PM

                                  Hi Joeli26,
                                  I've always wanted to free dive for abalone and sea urchin but don't know how and where to start. If you need a dive buddy, then let me know. Looking forward to hear back from you soon.

                                  1. re: tchau209
                                    joeli26 RE: tchau209 May 8, 2009 12:56 PM

                                    you will need to spent about $350 unless you already have some gear. recommand a 7 /5mm full wetsuit, cheapest $149, hood about $45, gloves $45, boots about $60, float 45, (to store you ab urchin and your gear) ab iron $7, gogle and snorkel tube. this year's fish license and ab tab total to about $70. am planning to go may 29. hit me up joe _ li26 @yahoo don't want bots to get my mail address so.. take out the space

                                    1. re: tchau209
                                      joeli26 RE: tchau209 Jul 20, 2009 01:03 AM

                                      Hey, Tai, check you mail. I was away for business trip so didn't check my mail in time.

                                      anyone on this post know Tai please let me know that I am looking for him.

                                2. j
                                  joeli26 RE: Louisa Chu May 4, 2009 03:34 PM

                                  as of 2009 you can take 35 sea urchin.

                                  Individual Daily
                                  Bag and
                                  Possession Limit
                                  Size Limit
                                  Seasonal Closures, Area
                                  Closures and Depth
                                  Marine Protected
                                  Gear Restrictions or Methods of
                                  General Sec. 29.05(a)
                                  Sec. 29.05(a)
                                  and (c)
                                  Sec. 29.05(a) and (b)
                                  Sec. 632 Sec. 29.05(d)
                                  All marine
                                  invertebrates not
                                  listed below
                                  (including only the
                                  following: limpets,
                                  turban snails, native
                                  oysters, octopuses,
                                  crabs, shrimp, sand
                                  dollars, sea urchins
                                  and worms)
                                  Sec. 29.05 Sec. 29.05 and
                                  29.10(b) Sec. 29.05(a) and (b)
                                  Sec. 632
                                  Sec. 29.05(c) and (d), 29.10(a), and
                                  Sec. 29.80

                                  29.05. General.
                                  (a) Except as provided in this article there are no closed seasons, closed hours or minimum
                                  size limits for any invertebrate. The bag limit on all invertebrates for which the take is authorized
                                  and for which there is not a bag limit otherwise established in this article is 35. In San Francisco
                                  and San Pablo bays and saltwater tributaries east of the Golden Gate Bridge invertebrates may
                                  not be taken at night except from the shore.
                                  (b) Take of all invertebrates is prohibited within state marine reserves. Take of certain invertebrates
                                  may be prohibited within state marine parks and state marine conservation areas as per subsection
                                  632(b). In addition, tidal invertebrates may not be taken in any tidepool or other areas
                                  between the high tide mark (defined as Mean Higher High Tide) and 1,000 feet seaward and
                                  lateral to the low tide mark (defined as Mean Lower Low Water) except as follows:
                                  (1) Except where prohibited within state marine reserves, state marine parks, state marine
                                  conservation areas, or other special closures only the following may be taken: red abalone, limpets,
                                  moon snails, turban snails, chiones, clams, cockles, mussels, rock scallops, native oysters,
                                  octopuses, squid, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, sand dollars, sea urchins and worms except that no
                                  worms may be taken in any mussel bed, unless taken incidental to the harvesting of mussels.
                                  (c) Measuring Devices. Every person while taking invertebrates which have a size limit shall
                                  carry a device which is capable of accurately measuring the minimum legal size of the species
                                  (d) In all ocean waters skin and Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) divers
                                  may take invertebrates as provided in this article except that in all ocean waters north of Yankee
                                  Point (Monterey Co.), SCUBA may be used only to take sea urchins, rock scallops and crabs of
                                  the genus Cancer. For the purpose of this section, breathing tubes (snorkels) are not SCUBA.

                                  1. Sam Fujisaka RE: Louisa Chu May 4, 2009 03:47 PM

                                    Louisa - what memories. We used to (free) dive for abalone in the 50s through the early 70s when I left California for grad school and beyond. The back yard at my parents' house is now paved over by a freeway; but under all of that are many beautiful abalone shells. "Even" back then we practiced strict limits, size minimums, seasons, and harvesting methods. And we hated poachers.

                                    1. o
                                      oerdin RE: Louisa Chu May 6, 2009 09:45 PM

                                      Abalone cannot be legally caught in the state of California in many areas and the fines are stiff so I'd suggest not doing that without first consulting a map which shows exclusion zones. Recreational divers can catch sea urchin with the right license but if you wish to sell them then you need a commercial license which costs several thousands of dollars.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: oerdin
                                        PolarBear RE: oerdin May 7, 2009 07:21 AM

                                        "...a commercial license which costs several thousands of dollars."

                                        Which seems like a rather paltry sum after seeing tons of the critters filling four foot cubic wooden crates sitting on a wharf up on the north coast, Point Arena? Anchor Bay? can't recall. If I understand correctly almost all of it is exported to Japan.

                                        1. re: PolarBear
                                          joeli26 RE: PolarBear Jul 20, 2009 01:05 AM

                                          I thought they are not giving out commercial alblone license anymore. Unless one has been doing it and it's their only way to make a living and for those they can renew their license or something but I still think there is no commercial at all.


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