Abalone shells are a beautiful and unique addition to any collection or piece of jewelry. However, if you’re in California, you may be wondering if it’s legal to sell them.
The answer is not so straightforward. While it is generally legal to gather abalone shells for personal use, selling them can be a different story.
In this article, we’ll explore the laws surrounding the sale of abalone shells in California and what you need to know before buying or selling them.
So, let’s dive in and uncover the truth about abalone shell sales in California.
Is It Illegal To Sell Abalone Shells In California?
In California, it is illegal to sell abalone shells unless they were obtained by licensed commercial divers prior to the 1997 commercial abalone fishing ban or purchased from a commercial abalone aquaculture operation. This means that if you find an abalone shell on the beach or in the ocean, you cannot legally sell it.
It’s important to note that this law only applies to the sale of abalone shells and not other parts of the abalone, such as pearls. If you want to sell abalone pearls, you must ensure that they comply with commercial fish laws regarding importation and have documentation proving that they were obtained legally.
The Importance Of Abalone In California
Abalone is an iconic species of the California coast and has a rich history in the state. Native Californians relied on abalone for sustenance, using their shells as tools, decorative emblems, forms of currency, and ceremonial artifacts. Some tribes even placed abalone shells over the eyes of the deceased, believing it would grant them the ability to see in the afterlife.
However, the history of abalone in California is also intricately tied to human exploitation and environmental degradation. The earliest users of abalone were Native Americans who left the earliest middens (piles of abalone shells) about 12,000 years ago. Many Native American tribes valued and utilized abalone for its spiritual significance and protein content.
In the late 18th century, Spaniards began using abalone shells as a path to their own wealth via the Pacific fur trade. The Spaniards exchanged abalone shells for otter furs or sold them for quicksilver, which eventually became gold. This trade decimated the populations of many indigenous peoples who were enslaved, genocided, and killed by various diseases transferred by the Europeans.
For Chinese and Japanese immigrants to California, abalone was already embedded in their culture and cuisine. They propelled the California abalone fishery in the mid-late nineteenth century but were eventually barred from labor due to a series of xenophobic acts.
Abalone also supports a recreational fishery enjoyed by over 30,000 anglers annually in California. However, because of the abalone’s reproductive processes and lengthy juvenile period, overexploitation and other detrimental factors can have a long-lasting and potentially catastrophic impact on the population. The numbers of abalone on the coast of California have been declining in recent decades, leading to regulatory measures to protect the red abalone population from further harm.
In addition to its cultural significance and recreational value, abalone plays an important ecological role as kelp forest architects. Abalone graze on kelp plants that inhabit some of the most productive and biodiverse places on the planet. While this grazing may seem harmful, it actually increases kelp diversity by clearing patches of rocky surface so that multiple kelp species can flourish. The increase in kelp diversity translates to an increase in diversity of fish and other animals that depend on kelp forest habitat.
Laws Surrounding Abalone Harvesting And Sales
Abalone harvesting and sales are tightly regulated in California due to the decline in wild abalone populations. The state only allows recreational fishing of abalone, and only north of the Golden Gate. Red abalone is the only species that can be fished, and there are strict limits on the number that can be taken. Recreational abalone divers may take no more than three per day and 18 per year, with each abalone being at least seven inches in diameter.
Once an abalone is harvested, it must be tagged and recorded immediately. All individuals, including divers, must have an Abalone Report Card in their immediate possession while fishing or taking abalone. Individuals must complete and return the card pursuant to another harsh set of regulations in this section. Under section 29.16(d) of the California Code of Regulations, the tag of prior activity is very specific: (A) All tags must be accounted for at all times by the entry of a record on the Abalone Report Card corresponding to all tags that are not in possession; (B) Any tag that is lost or destroyed shall be recorded as such on the corresponding line on the Abalone Report Card; (C) Any tag that you may have inadvertently removed and is still in your possession shall be recorded as void on both the tag and the corresponding line on the Abalone Report Card.
Violations of these regulations can result in fines or even criminal charges. The third most common violation abalone divers face is violation of Section 29.16(d) of the California Code of Regulations, usually a misdemeanor. Here, the diver is accused of not recording prior activity on his or her Abalone Report Card.
After commercial abalone fishing was banned in 1997, abalone farms began springing up around the state. However, it’s important to note that most of what they produced was sent to Asia until recently. Generally only a few inches wide rather than the minimum 7-inch shell required for collecting wild abalone, the farmed variety is showing up more frequently in Bay Area restaurants. American Abalone Farms in Davenport (Santa Cruz County), the Bay Area’s main local producer, sells everything it grows and increased its production of abalone a few years back in anticipation of increased local interest (it takes about three years for the shellfish to reach market size).
Penalties For Violating Abalone Regulations
Violating abalone regulations in California can result in severe penalties. The punishment for violating the regulations set forth in 29.16(b)(2) of the California Code of Regulations is a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, or both. This provision specifically prohibits the possession of an abalone with a tag that has not been properly filled out. The cardholder must fill in the month, day, time of catch, and fishing location on the abalone tag, remove and detach it from the card, and affix it to the shell of the abalone. Failure to complete any one of these requirements can result in a misdemeanor charge and a stiff fine.
In addition to fines and imprisonment, those who violate abalone regulations may also face permanent revocation of their fishing license. This was the case for Paul Chak Po Mak, who was recently sentenced to probation and a $15,000 fine for taking more than the bag limit of red abalone from the Mendocino County coastline. Mak also lost his ability to get a California fishing license for life. Similarly, Samuel Xing Sin and four other men were recently sentenced for abalone poaching-related convictions in Mendocino County. Sin was fined $35,000 and put on formal probation for five years, with his fishing license revoked for life.
It’s important to note that ignorance of the law is not a defense for violating abalone regulations. The laws regarding fishing and hunting within the State of California are extensive and constantly changing. A person may be accused of a violation without knowledge that their conduct was illegal. Therefore, it is crucial to have an experienced defense attorney who is familiar with these nuanced statutes and regulations to have the best chance of getting charges dismissed.
Exceptions To The Abalone Sales Ban
There are a few exceptions to the abalone sales ban in California. One exception is for licensed commercial divers who obtained abalone shells prior to the 1997 commercial abalone fishing ban. These licensed commercial divers are allowed to sell abalone shells that were obtained legally before the ban.
Another exception is for commercial abalone aquaculture operations. These operations are allowed to sell abalone shells that were obtained through their farming practices.
It’s important to note that these exceptions only apply to the sale of abalone shells and not other parts of the abalone. Additionally, any sale of abalone shells must comply with commercial fish laws and regulations.
Ethical Considerations For Selling Abalone Shells
When considering selling abalone shells, it’s important to take ethical considerations into account. As mentioned earlier, the way in which abalone shells are collected can have negative impacts on the environment and the animals themselves. It’s difficult to know how the shells were obtained and whether or not they were collected in a sustainable manner.
Additionally, there are reports of worker exploitation and human rights abuse in the abalone industry. Some workers are trafficked and held against their will at sea, forced to work in dangerous and inhumane conditions with little to no compensation. By selling abalone shells, there is a risk of contributing to this unethical industry.
Furthermore, abalone populations are declining due to overfishing and habitat destruction. Selling abalone shells may contribute to the demand for these shells and indirectly contribute to the decline of abalone populations.
Where To Legally Purchase Abalone Shells In California
If you are looking to legally purchase abalone shells in California, your best bet is to find a licensed commercial abalone aquaculture operation. These operations are authorized to sell abalone shells and other parts of the abalone.
It’s important to note that not all abalone farms may be authorized to sell their shells. Therefore, it’s crucial to do your research and ensure that the farm you are purchasing from has the necessary permits and documentation.
Another option is to purchase abalone shells from licensed California commercial divers who obtained them prior to the 1997 commercial abalone fishing ban. However, this may be a more difficult option as these shells are likely rare and in high demand.
It’s important to always ensure that the abalone shells you purchase are obtained legally to avoid any legal issues. If you have any doubts about the legality of your purchase, it’s best to consult with a legal professional or contact the controlling agency for the area where the shells were obtained.