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Ocean Sport Fishing

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Finfish and Invertebrates

Selected Fishery Regulation Information

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Frequently Asked Questions: Marine Fish and Invertebrates

 

Are California saltwater fish safe to eat?

For fish that you and your friends catch yourselves, refer to the current sportfishing regulations booklet for local link opens in new tab or windowhealth advisory notices for fish and shellfish, or contact the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology Section (PETS) at (916) 327-7319 in Sacramento.

Are the fish I catch in Santa Monica Bay or off Los Angeles Harbor safe to eat?

If the fish is highly migratory (spending relatively short periods in the Bay or Harbor), like salmon, California halibut, yellowtail, and white seabass, they are safe to eat. Deepwater fish such as lingcod and rockfish pose no problem. Fish that spend most of their lives in nearshore areas, such as white croaker, may absorb higher levels of contaminants present in the water. Consumption of croaker and other species from areas known for poor water quality should be limited. Specific area link opens in new tab or windowhealth advisory notices for fish and shellfish are listed in the California sport fishing regulations booklet. For more information on Southern California, contact the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project at (714) 755-3200.

When is the annual mussel quarantine?

The California Department of Health Services prohibits sport harvesting of mussels for food from May 1 to October 31. The viscera are where the toxins for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) tend to accumulate. Clams and scallops may be eaten during the quarantine period but the viscera should be discarded.

The quarantine does not apply to companies licensed by the State as certified shellfish harvesters. The Department of Health Services tests and certifies the shellfish from these companies to be free of toxins.

You can call the toll-free Biotoxin Information line before you take any shellfish, and find out sport harvest and quarantine areas for bivalve shellfish throughout California. Their phone number is (800) 553-4133, or (510) 540-2605 if you are in Alameda or Contra Costa counties.

You can also read the California Department of Public Health's link opens in new tab or windowFAQ on the annual mussel quarantine.

Is it legal to remove some of the legs from Dungeness crabs and rock crabs and then release them?


Frequently Asked Questions: Pier and Shore-Based Sport Fishing

 

Where and when can I fish in the ocean without a fishing license?

Anyone 16 years and older must have a fishing license to take any kind of fish, mollusk, invertebrate or crustacean in California, except for persons angling from a public pier for non-commercial purposes in ocean or bay waters. A public pier is defined in the sport fishing regulations as a publicly owned man-made structure that has the following characteristics: is connected, above the mean high tide, to the main coastline or to the land mass of a named and charted natural island; has unrestricted free access for the general public; and has been built or currently functions for the primary purpose of allowing angling access to ocean waters.

Additionally, publicly owned jetties or breakwaters that are connected to land, as described above, that have free unrestricted access for the general public and whose purpose it is to form the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor are public piers. Jetties, breakwaters, promenades, sea walls, moles, docks, linings, barriers and other structures that are not the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor, are not public piers.

Even though a license is not required on a public pier, all other regulations (including minimum size, bag limits and seasons) apply while fishing from a public pier.

If you are in doubt about whether or not a license is needed to fish a particular location, the best way to avoid a potential citation is to purchase a license or find another spot to fish where you are sure that a license is not required.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife offers two "Free Fishing Days" per year to encourage new and lapsed anglers to participate in this great outdoor tradition. On these dates, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife waives the normal licensing requirements; all other fishing regulations, such as bag and size limits, gear restrictions and fishing hours remain in effect, however. To find out the dates for this year's Free Fishing Days, visit the CDFW License and Revenue Branch website.

Do I need an ocean enhancement stamp while fishing from a public pier?

No. An ocean enhancement stamp is required when fishing anywhere in the ocean south of Point Arguello (Santa Barbara county) where a fishing license is required. This stamp is not required to fish from a public pier.

While fishing from a public pier without a fishing license, am I allowed to go down onto the beach to land a big fish that I hooked on the pier?

No. A fishing license is required when fishing everywhere except for a public pier. Even if you hooked the fish on the pier and only came down onto the beach to land the fish, you would need a valid license to avoid a potential citation. Purchasing an annual fishing license will make this a non-issue; or you may want to buy a pier net to help you land bigger fish from the pier.

How many rods can I actively use while fishing from a public pier?

You may use no more than two rods and lines, two hand lines, or two nets, traps or other appliances used to take crabs. Species-specific gear restrictions (such as for rockfish, lingcod and salmon) do apply when fishing from a pier.

How many rods can I actively use while fishing from a public pier inside San Francisco bay?

On public piers in San Francisco and San Pablo bays between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge, you may only use two lines, two hand lines, or two nets, traps or other appliances used to take crabs. Species-specific gear restrictions (such as for rockfish, lingcod and salmon) do apply when fishing from a pier.

How many rods can I use while fishing from the shore where a fishing license is required?

Any number of hooks and lines may be used to take finfish in all ocean waters and bays except in San Francisco and San Pablo bays between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge, where you may only use one line with no more than three hooks. Species-specific gear restrictions (such as for rockfish, lingcod and salmon) do apply when fishing from the shore.

How many rods can I actively use while fishing from the shore inside San Francisco bay?

While fishing from the shore in San Francisco and San Pablo bays between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge, you may only use one line with no more than three hooks; you may also use an unlimited number of crab traps. Species-specific gear restrictions (such as for rockfish, lingcod and salmon) do apply when fishing from the shore.

If I have two rods and lines in the water on a public pier, can I also put a baited hoop net in the water?

No, you may use no more than two rods and lines, two hand lines, or two nets, traps or other appliances used to take crabs.

Can I have more than two rods with me while I'm on a public pier?

Yes, as long as you are actively using no more than two rods at any one time.

Can I keep a crab or lobster if I catch it on a hook with bait?

No, hook and line is not a legal method of take for crustaceans. Any lobster or crab taken on hook and line shall be returned to the water immediately.

Do I have to use barbless circle hooks while fishing with a lure for salmon in the ocean from a public pier?

Yes and no. Hooks attached to lures must be barbless, but they do not have to be circle hooks. You must use barbless circle hooks when fishing with bait in the ocean from a public pier for salmon.

Can I use two rods while fishing for salmon in the ocean from a public pier?

No. Salmon may be taken by angling with no more than one rod in ocean waters north of Point Conception.

Is the monkeyface prickleback (eel) considered rockfish, and included in rockfish seasonal and emergency closures?

No. The term "rockfish" in the sport fishing regulations refers to members of the genus Sebastes. While the monkeyface prickleback is considered a "nearshore fish stock" under Section 1.90 of the regulations, it is not a nearshore rockfish, or any other kind of rockfish.


Frequently Asked Questions: Sport Fishing

 

Why are there so many regulations for sport fishing?

The complexity of the sport fishing regulations is due to CDFW's goal of providing the most fishing opportunities to sport fishermen, while meeting state and federal mandates to manage, protect, and restore marine fisheries.

Am I required to display my sport fishing license outside of my clothing, above my waist?

This requirement has been repealed. Effective March 1, 2010 anglers no longer have to display their sport fishing license on their outer clothing above the waist, but their sport fishing license must still be in their possession while fishing. When diving from a boat or shore, divers may have their license on the boat or within 500 yards on the shore, respectively (Ref Section 7145).

Is a fishing license required while fishing on a public fishing pier?

No; but it must be a public fishing pier.

FG§ 7153. Pier Fishing in Ocean

(a) A sport fishing license is not required to take fish for any purpose other than profit by means of angling from a public pier in the ocean waters of the state.

(b) For purposes of this section, "ocean waters" include, but are not limited to, the open waters adjacent to the ocean and any island; the waters of any open or enclosed bay contiguous to the ocean; the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, with any tidal bay belonging thereto; and any slough or estuary, if found between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge.

What is the "RCG Complex"?

As defined in Section 1.91 of the annual Ocean Sport Fishing regulations booklet, the RCG complex means all species of rockfish (genus Sebastes), cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus), and kelp and rock greenlings (genus Hexagrammos). The sport fishing daily bag and possession limit for the RGC Complex is 10 fish in combination of species, with sublimits on some species.

What is the bag limit for California scorpionfish (sculpin)?

The daily bag and possession limit for California scorpionfish (Scorpaena guttata), aka sculpin, is 5 fish per angler. The minimum size limit is 10 inches, with a minimum fillet length of 5 inches.

View a summary of the current California scorpionfish regulations.

Why can't I fish for ocean whitefish during a rockfish closure?

Ocean whitefish are prohibited during a rockfish closure to prevent the incidental take (bycatch) of depleted species of rockfish (namely bocaccio). Data shows that these species are often taken by sport fishermen in conjunction with one another.

Why is there a minimum fillet length requirement for ocean whitefish, but no minimum size limit for this species?

This is due to the similarity of appearance between whitefish and bass (barred sand bass and kelp bass) fillets, in order to prevent dishonest anglers from taking short bass (minimum size limit is 12 inches), filleting them and then claiming they are whitefish fillets. If you catch and choose to keep an ocean whitefish that may not meet the minimum fillet length (6 inches) once it is filleted, the best advice to avoid running into this problem is to keep the fish whole, or gutted, until you get home and prepare the fish for eating.

How many fish total can I have in my bag and possession limit?

The general bag and possession limit of Section 27.60 states that no more than 20 finfish in combination of all species with not more than 10 of any one species, may be taken or possessed by any one person. Within this general bag limit of 20 fish with not more than 10 of any one species, special sublimits apply to many species. There are also many species that have no bag or possession limit. Refer to the ocean sport fishing regulations for complete information.

Why are some fish like cabezon, greenling (sea trout), and sheephead closed to take in the middle of each year?

Some species of fish like cabezon, greenling (sea trout), and sheephead have a yearly statewide harvest quota. When this quota is reached the Fish and Game Commission suspends the take until the end of the year when a new yearly quota starts again. Sport and commercial fishing have different quotas for the same species of fish. If the commercial quota for a species is reached before the sport quota, the commercial season for that species may be closed while the sport season remains open until that quota is reached.

How many fishing rods and hooks can I use when sport fishing in the ocean?

Any number of hooks and fishing lines may be used in all ocean waters and bays with the following exceptions:

  • You can only use one line with no more than three hooks while fishing in San Francisco and San Pablo bays between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge.
  • When you are fishing from a public pier you can use only two rods and lines, two hand lines, or two crab nets, crab traps or other appliances used to take crabs.
  • When you are fishing for rockfish or lingcod or you have rockfish or lingcod aboard your boat, you can only use one line with no more than two hooks.
  • If you are fishing north of Point Conception for salmon or have salmon on board your boat, you can only use one rod and line with no more than two single barbless hooks (check current salmon regulations for other hook restrictions).

Ref. Section 28.65.

What are the gear restrictions when fishing for salmon?

  • You can not use weights over four pounds unless the weight is attached to a downrigger and the fishing line releases automatically from the downrigger when a fish is hooked.
  • You can only use up to two single point single shank barbless hooks when fishing for salmon or you have salmon on your boat, even if you are fishing for something other than salmon.
  • If you are fishing for salmon with bait or have salmon on board and you are not trolling (drifting or mooching), you can use no more than two single point single shank circle hooks. If you are using two hooks for mooching with bait, the hooks have to be tied in place so they do not slide (hard tied), and the distance between the hooks must not exceed five inches measured from the top of the eye of the top hook to the inner base of the curve of the lower hook.
  • If you are salmon fishing or have salmon on board your boat when fishing for something else, you can only use one fishing rod and line.

Ref. Section 27.80

If I go fishing for salmon and have salmon on board my boat, then I go fishing for rockfish and lingcod what are the restrictions?

Because you have salmon on board your boat, you are restricted to using only gear that is legal to take salmon. You can only use one fishing rod and line. You can only use up to two hooks and those hooks have to be single and barbless. If you put bait on your hooks the hooks have to be single barbless circle hooks. For example: You can fish with a single Scampi jig and a shrimp fly with the barbs pinched down or you can fish with two barbless shrimp flies and a weight. If you put on bait you can use two barbless circle hooks with or without attached lures.

Ref. Section 27.80

If I go fishing for rockfish and lingcod and have rockfish and lingcod on my boat and then go fishing for salmon, what are the restrictions; and what if I catch a rockfish or lingcod while I'm fishing for salmon?

Because you have rockfish or lingcod on board your boat and rockfish and lingcod cannot be taken or possessed in water deeper than the groundfish management area (GMA) depth limit, you are restricted to fishing for salmon in water shallower than the GMA depth limit for your area. The same thing applies if you are fishing for salmon and don't have rockfish or lingcod on the boat, but then you catch a rockfish or lingcod. If you are fishing in water deeper than the GMA depth limit for your area, you cannot keep the rockfish or lingcod because they cannot be taken in water deeper than the GMA depth limit. If you are fishing for salmon in water shallower than the GMA depth limit, but you catch a rockfish or lingcod and keep it, you now are restricted to fishing for salmon in water shallower than the GMA depth limit because rockfish and lingcod cannot be possessed while fishing in water deeper than 20 fathoms. View summaries of groundfish management area regulations.

Ref. Section 27.82

How many limits of fish can I legally possess when I have been fishing for multiple days; and can I possess more than one daily limit at my home?

No more than one daily bag limit of each kind of fish, amphibian, reptile, mollusk or crustacean may be taken or possessed by any one person unless otherwise authorized (see Section 27.15 and Section 27.80(e)); regardless of whether they are fresh, frozen, canned, smoked, or otherwise preserved. This includes in your home.

Ref. Section 1.17.

Can I give fish away to friends and family and do they need to have a fishing license for me to give it to them?

Yes, you can give fish away. The person you give fish to does not need to have a fishing license. A fishing license is only needed to take fish. You can still only take one daily limit, but you can give that limit away so that you can go fishing the next day and not be in possession of more than one daily bag and possession limit. So, if you have two people in your boat, car, camp or living in your home, you can possess two limits of fish in your boat, car, camp or home.

What is the largest white seabass and California halibut ever taken in California? When are they mature, and how old do they get?

White seabass

  • reported to 90 pounds,
  • 50% are mature by 28 inches, total length,
  • the oldest recorded white seabass was 16 years.

California halibut

  • reported to 72 pounds,
  • 50% of males mature by 9 inches, females by 18 inches,
  • the oldest recorded California halibut was a 30-year-old female.

Where can I find a list of record size saltwater fish taken by angling or diving?

Visit the CDFW Fishing and Diving Records web page. You may also contact any of the CDFW Marine Region offices, or call the Los Alamitos office at (562) 342-7184.

Who do I contact regarding a saltwater fish that might be a record size, and what do I need to do to document it?

Contact any CDFW Marine Region office that works with marine species. You will need to have a CDFW biologist verify the species, the weight must be taken on a certified scale (such as at a supermarket meat counter), and a photograph must be taken. CDFW offices have the application forms and can identify the fish. For more information contact the Los Alamitos office at (562) 342-7184.

For more information, visit the CDFW Record Ocean Sportfish web page.

I caught a weird saltwater fish. Who can help me identify it?

Contact any CDFW Marine Region office. They will either help you with the identification or find someone close to you who can identify it. You can also send your question, with a digital picture of your fish, to AskMarine@wildlife.ca.gov.

Note: Your questions sent to AskMarine@wildlife.ca.gov, and CDFW's response, may be posted on the Internet or published in periodicals to help others with similar questions. If you do not wish your question to be used in this manner, please indicate this in your email.

Why are there so few corbina today as compared to several years ago, and where do these fish go in the winter?

Recent indicators show corbina populations are improving, based on juvenile fish sampling. As for the disappearance of corbina in the winter, they may be seeking warmer water by moving further south or into embayments, or perhaps offshore. Unfortunately, movement patterns of corbina are not well understood.

Why isn't there a minimum size limit on sport-caught rockfish?

Many rockfish species will not survive if caught in deep water and returned to the ocean. Because of changes in internal pressure after the fish is hooked and retrieved from great depths, there is physical trauma to the gas bladder and other internal organs. Minimum size limits would not be an effective management tool for most species of rockfish because of this reason. Bocaccio have a minimum size limit of 10 inches to protect juvenile fish that are sometimes caught in large numbers in shallow water by pier and shore-based anglers in central and northern California.

Why isn't there a size limit on mako sharks? I only see small ones being caught.

Most of the mako sharks caught off Southern California are small (under 4 feet) because the Southern California Bight is part of a juvenile shark nursery area. The adults live in different habitat, either far offshore or in very deep water. Many shark populations are known to segregate by size, an adaptation thought to keep young sharks from being preyed upon by larger relatives. A size limit restricted to adult mako sharks would effectively shut down the recreational fishery because of the scarcity of large fish in Southern California waters. So far, there is no supporting biological information to show conservation benefits from a minimum size limit on mako sharks. Currently, the allowable take is two (2) mako sharks per person per day, within the twenty fish per day limit.

Why are bocaccio still a species of concern when we are now seeing so many of them in Southern California and they appear to be well on their way to recovery?

Many anglers have said that bocaccio are abundant in Southern California, and it's true that anglers are currently seeing many bocaccio. This is because 1999 was one of the more successful spawning events for bocaccio. Hopefully those fish will survive to spawn themselves.

On the other hand, while the 1999 event was good, NMFS scientists tell us that it was not as good as they thought when they established harvest levels in 2000 for the next three years. Scientists use complex, state-of-the art computer modeling programs to determine the overall health of the fishery. Information including catches (both commercial and sport), the age of fish caught, abundance measures of larval bocaccio and research (fishery independent) fish are all used in these models. The Secretary of Commerce has accepted these analysis methods as appropriate and they are the tools used to guide management decisions. All indications are that more stringent management measures are needed.

I have a lot of questions about sport fishing licenses. Where can I go for information?

CDFW's License and Revenue branch maintains a FAQ page with frequently asked questions about sport fishing licenses.


Additional Information



Marine Region (Region 7)
Regional Manager: Dr. Craig Shuman
Main Office: 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, Monterey, CA  93940
AskMarine@wildlife.ca.gov  |  (831) 649-2870
Office Locations  |  Marine Blog  |  Subscribe


Going Ocean Fishing?

Kim Larson displays his state record 21-pound, 5-ounce Pacific bonito

Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations

For summaries of ocean sport fishing regulations, see our easy-to-use California Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations Map. Simply click the portion of the California coast where you plan to fish, and you will access a summary of current Sport Fishing Regulations for that area.

Learn more about this 21 pound 5 ounce Pacific bonito and other California record ocean sportfish.

For Current Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulations, call
(831) 649-2801.

For Current Ocean Salmon Regulations, call
(707) 576-3429.

For Current Shellfish Season Information, call the Domoic Acid Fishery Closure Information Line at
(831) 649-2883.