Saturday, May 19, 2018

Amid Kelp and Abalone Die-offs, State Raises Urchin Limits

Posted By on Sat, May 19, 2018 at 1:56 PM

click to enlarge Urchins blanket a rocky reef. - CYNTHIA CATTON/CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
  • Cynthia Catton/California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Urchins blanket a rocky reef.

The California Fish and Game Commission adopted emergency regulations this week aimed at reducing purple sea urchin populations off the North Coast.

The urchin populations have exploded in recent years, part of what marine biologists call a “perfect storm” of factors contributing to the collapse of northern California kelp forests and the widespread starvation of the region’s red abalone (“Plight of the Abalone,” March 8, 2018.)

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY JACQUELINE LANGELAND
  • Illustration by Jacqueline Langeland
Purple sea urchins generally fall under the commission’s “general invertebrate bag limit” of 35 a day for SCUBA and skin divers off the Mendocino and Sonoma county coasts, but the new emergency regulations allow a daily bag limit of 20 gallons with no limit on how many urchins can be possessed.


The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is also working with some commercial divers and academic researchers in select tests plots to study whether “smashing” the urchins in some areas is an effective strategy. But the commission warns recreational divers that there are regulations prohibiting the waste of fish and it is only legal for them to take urchins they plan to use, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be eaten.

“Besides collecting purple urchins to extract gonads for eating, the urchins can make a good addition to compost material,” the press release notes.

For more information, see our timeline of the "perfect storm" below, the full release copied below that and Assistant Editor Kimberly Wear’s March cover story on the issue here.

click to enlarge Timeline of the 'perfect storm' of ecological impacts on the kelp forests and abalone population. Source: California Department of Fish and Wildlife - JONATHAN WEBSTER
  • Jonathan Webster
  • Timeline of the 'perfect storm' of ecological impacts on the kelp forests and abalone population. Source: California Department of Fish and Wildlife

From the Fish and Game Commission:
Fish and Game Commission Adopts Emergency Regulations to Increase Purple Sea Urchin Bag Limit in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties


At its April 2018 meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) adopted emergency regulations to increase the daily bag limit for purple sea urchins taken while skin or SCUBA diving off Mendocino and Sonoma counties only. Purple sea urchins fall under the general invertebrate bag limit of 35 per day, but the emergency regulations now in effect will allow a daily bag limit of 20 gallons with no limit on possession. The emergency regulation will remain in effect for 180 days (until Nov. 6, 2018) unless extended by the Commission. Upon expiration, the bag limit will return to 35. A recent explosion in purple sea urchin populations off northern California has prompted requests for increased daily bag limits as an option to reduce purple urchin numbers. The increase in purple urchin populations is one of several extreme environmental conditions contributing to a widespread collapse of northern California kelp forests.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is collaborating with commercial divers, academic researchers and stakeholders to clear purple sea urchins in select test plots in order to study the effectiveness of clearing on restoring the bull kelp ecosystem. CDFW and its partners are working on permits and procedures to conduct controlled experiments to evaluate smashing compared to collecting purple sea urchins in these test plots.

CDFW reminds recreational participants that the new recreational limit allows urchin collection while skin or SCUBA diving by hand, and that there are regulations against waste of fish.  Recreational harvesters of urchin must put harvested urchins to use.  Smashing and disposing of sea urchins in the trash is still illegal.

Besides collecting purple urchins to extract gonads for eating, the urchins can make a good addition to compost material.



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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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