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Countering Overfishing, Pollution : Diving Team to Plant Abalone Off Peninsula

September 21, 1986|JILL STEWART | Times Staff Writer

A team of Caltech diving enthusiasts has been granted $2,800 by the county Board of Supervisors to plant baby abalone off Palos Verdes Peninsula and Santa Catalina Island in an effort to bring back the prized mollusks, which were decimated in the 1960s by overfishing and pollution.

The Caltech Kelpers Dive Club, in cooperation with county and state game officials, will plant about 2,000 baby green abalone on rocks along the Peninsula and the Catalina Isthmus over the next two years, county officials said.

An abalone reseeding project of the state Fish and Game Department has already begun to restore the beleaguered abalone community, but state officials say the population is still only a fraction of what it was in the 1940s and '50s.

Scientists say that the delicacy, which retails for about $30 a pound, was nearly wiped out by divers, commercial fishermen and heavy pollution from sewage piped off Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Kelp Beds Killed

The toxin-laden sewage was blamed by scientists for killing the kelp beds that once flourished off the coast and provided the abalone with a rich menu of plankton.

Since 1980, the sewage has been treated more extensively by the county Sanitation DistrictsQ, whose plant in Carson now removes most toxic chemicals and heavy metals before sewage is piped to the sea. Cleaner water, combined with a replanting program by the state Fish and Game Department, has helped the kelp beds slowly regrow.

County Fish and Game Commission officials said the diving club has volunteered the services of its divers, who will plant the baby abalone using special containers that are designed to reduce shock and death among the fragile mollusks.

The abalone will be purchased for $1,500 from a San Diego firm. Transportation and diving expenses will be about $1,300.

Under a seven-year moratorium that remains in effect until next year, abalone hunting is illegal on a 40-mile stretch of coastline from Dana Point to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

But state game officials say poachers still snatch abalone from rocks at low tide, and divers have been apprehended taking the larger abalone that grow farther offshore.

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