Live Fish for Sale in Restaurants?

Question: I was in San Francisco about three weeks ago and went into a restaurant in Chinatown. As we watched our Maine lobster and crab being pulled from the saltwater tank, I saw three largemouth bass in their freshwater tank. This tank is NOT an aquarium as I saw them remove fish from it to serve to their customers. Is this legal? Can a person/business purchase Black Bass commercially to serve in a restaurant? If so, from where? (Scott S.)

Answer: Yes, it is legal. As long as the black bass were imported and produced legally, or raised in licensed aquacultural facilities for consumption, then they may be legally sold in a live condition to markets. No live fish may leave the premises though. All must be killed at the market or restaurant.

According to Capt. Mark Lucero, as far as appearance, farmed bass are generally more oblong (football shaped) and all are the same size. When this is the case, the fish are most likely a legal product. When we see bass that are of various sizes and more streamlined, it is an indicator that they are probably sport-caught and unlawfully sold and purchased.

The markets are required to maintain source documentation for all fishery products in the business per Section 8050 of the Fish & Game Code. These accounting records must indicate name of species, number of pounds purchased, name, address and phone number of seller, date of sale, price paid and intended use. Chinatown is an area where wardens conduct market inspections on a regular basis to assure Section 8050 requirements are adhered to.

Selling Ivory Pieces That Have Been Inherited
I have several pieces of ivory that were made into beautiful carvings and left to me as part of an inheritance. Unfortunately, to me they are just old bones. They are made of elephant tusk and walrus tusk. I often see them posted on eBay and was considering posting them there but I would like some clarifications as to the legalities of doing so. They were imported into the U.S. between 1945 and 1972 and some are over 100 years old. They are beautiful but I no longer want them. I am sure they have a substantial value and I could use the cash. Do I need some sort of clearance from the DFG? (Michael E.)

Answer: According to Lt. Don Kelly, the sale of both types of ivory you possess are not legal. Both state and federal officers routinely watch both eBay and Craig’s List for these types of items being posted for sale. In addition, California Penal Code sections 653(o) and (p) make it illegal to sell or to possess with the intent to sell a wide variety of wildlife parts including elephant and all Federal Endangered Species. Both species and parts from these animals are protected by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and you may want to obtain additional information from them.

How Many Abalone Can I Gift to a Family Member?
I am not completely clear on the amount of abalone we are allowed to give to a family member in a day. I understand the limit is three abalone per day and three in possession. I plan to take my 10-year-old son and my 7-year-old daughter with me. If we can bring back nine abalone over a three-day period, and all of us are in the truck at the same time with our abalone, would we be considered legal? It is important that the answer you give me be consistent with the wardens on the North Coast as they are the ones who will be issuing the ticket, which I choose to avoid. Not only that, my kids will be with me so I don’t want to be arrested. (Richard M., Sacramento)

Answer: Rest assured, Richard, the laws on abalone are pretty clear. Each person with a valid fishing license and a valid abalone report card is allowed to personally take three abalone per day, have no more than three abalone in possession, and to take no more than 24 per year. You are authorized to gift your abalone to another person, but you may never take more than three abalone in one day. This means that over a three-day period, you may take three abalone per day each day as long as you gift your abalone to another person before going back in the water for more the next day. You must tag and record all of your abalone you take each day on your abalone report card. The abalone must then remain in their shells with the tags still attached until they are ready for immediate consumption.

By abiding by these regulations, you will be legal. If you’re stopped along the way, the game warden will see from your report card that you have taken three abalone per day over a three-day period (for a total of nine). And each of your children’s abalone that you have gifted them will have your tags attached to the shells that will then correspond back to your abalone card.

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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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