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Pleasanton man is latest to die while abalone diving in Northern California

Pleasanton man is latest to die while abalone diving in Northern California
At least sevendivers have died in Northern California this year whilesearchingfor abalone. (Los Angeles Times)

A Pleasanton man who was overcome by rough seas became the latest person to die in Northern California while diving for abalone, officials said.

Rescue divers found the body of Yoshihiro Ohhashi, 57, off the Mendocino Coast just after noon Saturday near a spot where he was last seen, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

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FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this post misspelled Caspar Anchorage as Casper.

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The exact cause of his death has not been determined.

At least seven divers have died in Northern California this year while searching for the tasty sea snails, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported. Four deaths occurred in April.

On April 12, three abalone divers drowned after they were overcome by choppy water in Caspar Anchorage, a cove about five miles north of Mendocino. They were identified as Tae Won Oh, 49, of Dublin, Calif.; Hyun Kook Shin, 49, of Suwanee, Ga.; and Aaron Kim, 53, of Fort Lee, N.J.

A week later, on April 21, Joel Falcon, 52, and a friend were searching for abalone in a cove near Westport, about 15 miles north of Fort Bragg, when they became trapped by the rising tide. Falcon tried to climb to safety and fell 75 feet from a bluff.

The rugged Northern California Coast attracts thousands of people during abalone season, which runs from April 1 to Nov. 30, with a monthlong break in July.

Abalone cling to rocks along the coast and feed on kelp and other algae, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It takes years for abalone to grow to a legal size for harvest. The minimum size limit is 7 inches along the longest shell diameter — anything smaller must be returned to the rock surface from which it was removed.

The latest abalone-diving death occurred after Ohhashi and a friend visited the coast Friday and entered the ocean at Cobbler's Point in Little River.

Ohhashi's friend became seasick and got out of the water. As the friend came ashore, he lost sight of Ohhashi. He climbed atop a bluff and saw Ohhashi's flotation device, which had overturned.

The friend ran to Van Damme State Park for help.

Members of the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department dove into the water and searched inland for Ohhashi. The Coast Guard, sheriff's office and state parks department also launched search crews.

But as night fell, authorities had to suspend their search until the next morning.

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Last year, five people died during abalone season, the Press Democrat reported. Eight people died during the 2013 season, and two died in 2012. Four abalone divers died in 2011.

Times staff writer Hailey Branson-Potts contributed to this report.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA

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