UPDATE 7am: A veteran surf lifesaver has called on the State Government to cancel abalone hunts in rough weather after a man was lost at sea and at least 17 people were rescued on the first day of the abalone season yesterday.

Police divers and searchers on jetskis, boats and in helicopters resumed a search for the 20-year-old man this morning.

Volunteer surf lifesavers also pulled 12 people from the surf at Yanchep and five from Mullaloo yesterday.

Four men rescued were taken to Joondalup Health Campus. They are all in a stable condition this morning.

Yanchep Surf Life Saving Club president John Heesters said he and a volunteer fought fatigue to drag at least 12 people to safety before looking for the missing man.

He was giving one abalone fisherman oxygen when he saw another man pulled from the surf.

"He was in a pretty poor state but still conscious," Mr Heesters said.

"He indicated with his hand and just said, 'My friend, my friend', and pointed out to the water."

Mr Heesters said tragedies could be prevented if Fisheries Department officers could halt abalone hunting in dangerous weather.

On Friday, Fisheries and Recfishwest warned recreational hunters that bad weather could make the season opener risky.

Regular abalone fisherman Steve, who did not want his surname used, said if authorities knew two days before of the "atrocious" conditions, they should have cancelled yesterday's hunt.

Steve, who chose not to fish because of the weather, said the suspected drowning was preventable.

WA Abalone Industry Association executive officer Ian Taylor said it would be hard to call off abalone fishing at the last minute.

Shadow fisheries minister Jon Ford said he understood the frustration of lifesavers but believed that though Fisheries Minister Norman Moore had the power to stop fishing, "it has to boil down to people using their common sense".

"If the minister decides after this that the risks are too high and he wants to close the fishery permanently, I'll support him," he said.

Recfishwest chief executive Andrew Rowland said cancelling days in the abalone season in bad weather would not be workable.

"I wouldn't have gone out there in that weather," he said. "It's a wake-up call. Fishing for abalone is dangerous and people need to pay attention to forecasts and watch the ocean before they go into it."

He said a big issue was many people looking for abalone, particularly immigrants, could not swim.

A Surf Life Saving WA spokesman said it would discuss managing such situations with Fisheries.

Mr Moore is overseas and unavailable for comment.

The West Australian

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