Filleting Halibut at Sea


Associate Marine Biologist Ken Oda with a California halibut. (DFG photo by Travis Tanaka)

Associate Marine Biologist Ken Oda with a California halibut. (DFG photo by Travis Tanaka)

Question: Is it true that halibut can only be cleaned once the boat is tied to the dock? If not, can the fillets either just be attached to the skeleton upon coming back to the slip or can fishermen produce the fillets without the skeleton attached? Cleaning and disposing of the halibut innards and skeletons into the water at the harbor creates a major bird problem, and the neighboring sailing and pleasure boaters are quite upset with the bird droppings on their vessels. We just want to be sure we’re doing the right thing. Can you please clarify? (George J., Newport Beach)

Answer: Fish for which there is a size or weight limit may not be possessed on a vessel or brought onshore in such a condition that the size, weight, or species cannot be determined. The Fish and Game Commission has provided exceptions for some species, including California halibut.

California halibut taken from or possessed aboard a vessel in waters north of Point Arena (Mendocino County) may not be filleted at sea, but halibut taken south of Point Arena may, under certain conditions. The fillets must be a minimum of 16 3/4 inches in length, retain the entire skin intact, and the fillet may not be cut cross-wise in half fillets. Fillets may, however, be cut lengthwise in a straight line along the midline of the fillet where the fillet was attached to the vertebra (backbone) of the fish. The two fillet pieces must remain joined along their midline for a length of at least two inches at one end of the fillet (FGC Section 27.65).

Keep in mind that it is difficult to produce a legal fillet (16 3/4 inches) from a barely-legal halibut (22 inches total length). Anglers who retain fish that measure between 22 and 23 inches may want to keep them whole and fillet them when they get home. Someone who may not have a lot of skill with a fillet knife or who is trying to fillet a barely legal fish at sea while rolling back and forth might not be able to get a legal-sized fillet.

Rights of a Non-Hunter in a Hunting Party?
Question: What are the rules regarding having a non-hunter in my hunting party? Can that person possess a firearm for self defense? Can it be a rifle? In what ways can he participate in the hunt? If he has a hunting license but no tag, does this change anything? If he wants to hunt coyote, for which he does not need a tag, can he also sit in a stand with a deer hunter just to watch before moving to his hunting area? (David V.)

Answer: The basic answers to your questions are that California has no general law regarding who can accompany you while you are “taking” fish or game (hunting). However, there are some restrictions relating to special circumstances and/or areas (special hunts, wildlife areas, game refuges, etc.).

According to retired Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Capt. Phil Nelms, what California Fish and Game laws regulate is who is required to have a valid license in their possession while taking game. For the purposes of Fish and Game laws, the definition of “take” is “to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill (fish and wildlife).”

This means that while DFG laws would not expressly prohibit a non-hunter from carrying a firearm for self-defense, a non-licensed person who is  carrying a firearm (especially a rifle) while in the company of an active hunter could be cited for taking wildlife without a license.

Any person who accompanies you while you are taking game must have a license if their actions in any way assist you in your efforts. And if a tag is required for the wildlife being pursued, they must also carry their own tag. If the non-hunter does not have a valid license and tag in possession and behaves in any manner that is consistent with a person who is taking wildlife, he will likely be cited.

If your guest wants to hunt coyote (which does not require a tag) and wants to sit in a deer stand with you just to watch before moving to his hunting area, he could be cited for being in possession of a firearm.

Keeping Fish on Stringers While Trolling
I know I can’t transport trout alive in my livewell while trolling, but can we keep live fish on a stringer over the side of the boat? I also fish with my grandsons and am wondering if it is permissible for two people to use the same stringer or must each person have his own stringer? Thank you for your time and consideration. (Dennis J., Loyalton)

Answer: You may keep your fish on stringers to keep them fresh but those fish all must be rendered to your bag (e.g. you cannot throw them back.) It is recommended but not required by law that you keep your fish on separate stringers so that it is clear which fish belongs to which angler. In saltwater, the members of a fishing party may only fish until the collective “boat limit” has been reached. Boat limits do not apply in freshwater and so each person is individually responsible for their own fish.

#  #  #

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s