Trophic Cascades, Kelp Forest Dysfunction, and the Genesis of Commercial Abalone (Haliotis spp.) Fishing in California

Author(s): Todd Braje

Year: 2017


For over 12,000 years, hunter-gatherers of coastal California harvested abalone as an important subsistence and raw material resource. Archaeological evidence from the Northern Channel Islands suggests that human-induced reductions of local sea otter populations may have triggered a trophic cascade beginning 8000 years ago and released abalone and other shellfish from predation pressure, helping to sustain intensive human harvest for millennia. With the arrival of the Spanish in AD 1542 and the Mission Period in AD 1769, abalone were quickly released from nearly all predation as sea otters were locally extirpated and indigenous shellfisheries were severely disrupted. For decades, abalone populations exploded, reaching unprecedented sizes and densities. By the 1850s, however, Chinese immigrants recognized the potential of abalone and founded the first commercial shellfishery in California. Although the fishery was predicated on ecosystem dysfunction, Chinese fishers harvested black abalone relatively sustainably for decades. Ironically, it was state and federal claims of overharvest that resulted in targeted legislation of Asian fishers and the subsequent collapse of the commercial fishery by Euro-American interests. Today, California abalone communities are a shadow of their former selves, but restoration targets based on historical hyper-abundance and lacking perspectives from deep history may only compound the problem.

Cite this Record

Trophic Cascades, Kelp Forest Dysfunction, and the Genesis of Commercial Abalone (Haliotis spp.) Fishing in California. Todd Braje. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430900)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -125.464; min lat: 32.101 ; max long: -114.214; max lat: 42.033 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14905