Size Limits and Shrinking Fish?

Question: A friend of mine recently caught a legal (23 inch) halibut and put it in his cooler to take home. At the end of the day we showed it to a fellow angler and to our surprise the halibut had shrunk to 21.5 inches and was now illegal to keep!

Is there a way to keep the fish so that it actually remains legal after capture or should we just stop fishing and take it home?

Thanks for all your comments and advice that helps keep us on the straight and narrow!!! (David F.)

Answer: It seems very improbable, David, for a 23-inch fish to shrink that much. I think instead it was most likely either measured incorrectly initially or else after it was dead.

Measurements should be taken in a straight line with the mouth closed (1.62 CCR, Title 14). Perhaps the first time you measured the fish, the mouth was not completely closed. Then the next time the fish was measured, the mouth was closed. That might explain the 1.5-inch difference.

Either way, there are no provisions in the regulations to allow for “shrinkage.” If the fish is shorter than the minimum length (22 inches for California halibut) when the warden measures it, regardless of how long it supposedly was when it was caught, the angler may be cited. Once in a while a fish left in open air will have the tail curl slightly as it dries, but the whole fish will not shrink.

Game Warden Todd Tognazinni suggests it is always best to lay the measuring device down or have pre-marked measurements on a flat surface to measure the fish against. Also, don’t measure the fish over the contour of its body as that will not give a straight line measurement and will instead yield an extra length.

If you still have concerns and believe that fish do shrink that much, then maybe you should consider only keeping halibut that are larger than 24 inches long, to allow for shrinkage (or inaccurate measurements).

Do You Need a License to Hunt on Your Own Land?
Question:I just bought a place in the north state with a lot of acreage and streams running through it. I plan to hunt and fish on it and am wondering if I still need to buy the appropriate licenses and tags even though I will be fishing and hunting on my own property? (Daniel B.)

Answer: Yes. The reason is because the fish and wildlife belong to all of the people of the state of California and not to the landowners. Just because you may have fish and wildlife living on your land or just passing through, you do not own those fish or animals. Thus, even if you are hunting and fishing only on your own property, you will still need valid California hunting and fishing licenses, along with any tags appropriate for what you’re hunting or fishing for. You are also required to abide by all California fishing and hunting regulations, seasons, bag limits, etc.

How Many Bag Limits Can You Have Over a Multi-Day Fishing Trip?
Question: When fishing in the ocean, I know what the bag limits are but my question is how many bag limits can you have when fishing multiple days? Is your possession limit one bag limit for each day you fish? I usually go fishing for at least two days, always stay within my daily limit, but sometimes will have two limits (one for each day) in my ice chest upon leaving. Thanks. (Terry C.)

Answer: You may only take one bag limit per day and retain only one limit in your possession. Just because you’re fishing multiple days, you may not then take and retain multiple limits. Keeping more than one bag limit, even in your cooler, at any time could cause you to be cited for an overlimit of fish.

If your trip is aboard a boat which takes you away from shore for multiple days, you may file a “Declaration for Multi-day Fishing Trip” form with DFG prior to your trip. This form allows the angler up to three daily bag and possession limits of saltwater fin fish, etc. Provisions of this declaration require that you not return to shore or to berth or dock your boat within five miles of the mainland shore during your trip period. Your multi-day trip must also be continuous over several days and extend for a period of 12 hours or more on the first and last days of the trip. You can read all about the Declarations for a Multi-Day Fishing Trip in section 27.15 of the California Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations book (page 29) or online at

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at

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