A diver was found dead after searching for abalone off the coast of Northern California, becoming at least the ninth person to perish this year while seeking the delicacy. The body of Eric Stine, 58, was discovered Sunday in the surf in Manchester State Beach, 140 miles north of San Francisco, authorities said. A diving friend had reported Stine, of Vallejo, California, went missing Saturday. Stine becomes at least the ninth person to die in Northern California while diving for the marine-snail delicacy this season, which started April 1 and ends Monday. The section of Northern California from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border is the only place in the country where recreational divers can hunt for abalone, says Ian Taniguchi, a senior environmental scientist. About 30,000 people register each year for a license, including divers from as far away as New Jersey and Texas.
The long-distance traveling may encourage divers to swim when they're not fit enough or the weather too foul. "People who come from afar, they've spent a lot of money to get here so they go into the ocean when they shouldn't and it overpowers them," says Shannon Barney, Mendocino's chief deputy coroner. Fans of the hard-to-find mollusks say the seafood is delicious and well worth the trouble. But Chris Constantine, who publishes the Marin County-based California Diver Magazine, said harvesting abalone can be particularly demanding. Divers can't use scuba-diving tanks or other gear. Because the water ranges between 48 and 52 degrees year-round, a wetsuit, hood, boots, and gloves are needed to keep warm. Drowning isn't the only way to die out there: Sometimes divers suffer heart attacks. (Read more abalone stories.)