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It used to be easy to find abalone off the California coast, and anyone could wade out at low tide and nab a couple of plate-size beauties without much effort. Now the mollusk is extremely scarce, collecting them is a sport for the brave, and regulations are extremely strict, with just a small portion of the Northern California and Southern Oregon coast open to sport divers. Only free diving is permitted, which means you hold a single breath—no scuba tanks allowed—and dive down to find, measure (using a gauge to ensure the abalone is larger than the legal minimum size), and harvest the abalone. While there are a few schools and instructors who offer formal training, it’s most common for people to learn from friends who are already divers themselves.
For those not drawn in by the idea of deep diving without oxygen, there are a few places to buy farm-raised abalone, such as the Abalone Farm in Cayucos, California, and Monterey Abalone Company in Monterey.