Babe Ruth's home run series was trounced by Hank Aaron; an Englishman named Roger Bannister finally ran a four minute mile, a record that was once thought impossible; and the list goes on. No record it seems is etched in stone. On the evening of September 5th 1993, a sport diver named John Pepper took two hours to set a record that among abalone trophy fishers is in the same ball park as Hank Aaron's. He captured a red abalone that was 1/2 inch larger than the previous world record size of 11.76 inches set by the late Don Thorpe on September 18th, 1983. Pepper's abalone was also the first to break the 12 inch barrier, a record claimed by others in the past, but never produced in the shell for DFG certification. Pepper first brought his abalone in for DFG certification at the Menlo Park office on September 10th. Biologists John Geibel and John Ugoretz carefully measured the shell using verneer calipers. They certified the shell length, width, and depth at 12.34 inches, 9.72 inches, and 3.26 inches respectively. They weighed the shell at 5.13 pounds. Peter Haaker, my DFG shellfish biologist counter-part from southern California, and I met with John Pepper and Stephanie Fucero at their Montara home on September 15th to obtain additional data for the scientific record and to hear his fantastic fishing story. We took four separate measurements of the shell length that averaged 12.33 inches essentially matching the measurements by Geibel and Ugoretz. We weighed the shell at 4.99 pounds or 0.14 pounds lighter then the weight obtained by Geibel and Ugoretz on September 10th. We also weighed the rest of the abalone that Mr. Pepper had frozen at 4.98 pounds. Using the two different shell weights we estimated a minimum total weight of 9.97 pounds or 10.11 pounds. Pepper weighed the abalone intact one day after capture at 11.6 pounds. The discrepancy in the three weights can be attributed to fluid loss since the time of capture. We could not determine the sex directly by looking at the frozen gonad that had darkened in the process of freezing but Mr. Pepper described the gonad as cream colored at the time of capture which suggests the animal was a male. Mr. Pepper plans to donate the frozen parts for later scientific analysis by other researchers, at which time a more definitive sex determination can be made.
No fish story is complete without a description of the capture. John's adventure began two hours before dark "somewhere in Humboldt County" while free diving in 12 feet of water. John first found and removed a 11.25 inch red abalone from a deep hole. Behind this abalone, but unreachable to an ab-bar of conventional length, was what looked like the father of all abalone. Fortunately for John (and less so for the abalone) John's diving partner had brought along a 35.5-inch long abalone bar (36 in. is the legal maximum length, see Abalone Regulations). Over the next two hours and innumerable dives John finally pried the abalone loose just before dusk. Once freed the abalone was poised precariously, at risk of falling beyond his reach. Again fortune was on John's side and the abalone chose to attach to his ab-bar and was thus extracted "like a giant popsicle." The rest is now history and a new record. Are we ever going to see a 13 inch abalone? Will anyone ever top Hank Aaron's record? Don't bet against it. -KK
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