diving for abalone and sea urchin
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.)
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.
"...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.
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.
as of 2009 you can take 35 sea urchin.
Seasonal Closures, Area
Closures and Depth
Gear Restrictions or Methods of
General Sec. 29.05(a)
Sec. 29.05(a) and (b)
Sec. 632 Sec. 29.05(d)
(including only the
turban snails, native
crabs, shrimp, sand
dollars, sea urchins
Sec. 29.05 Sec. 29.05 and
29.10(b) Sec. 29.05(a) and (b)
Sec. 29.05(c) and (d), 29.10(a), and
(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.
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,
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
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...:-)
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.
re: Chino Wayne
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.
re: Louisa Chu
re: Chino Wayne
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
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.
re: Louisa Chu
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,
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.
re: Louisa Chu
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.
re: Andy P.
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.
re: Louisa Chu
re: Louisa Chu
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
re: Andy P.
re: Louisa Chu
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.
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.
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.
re: Louisa Chu
re: Chino Wayne