Do we toss our dead fish back to stay legal?


Weather must always be considered and monitored when going to sea on multiple day fishing trips (Anacapa Island photo by Robert Schwemmer).
Question: We often take three-day fishing trips on a private boat and always get the multi-day fishing trip permits to cover us. The multi-day permits require the trip to be continuous and to extend for a period of 12 hours or more on the first and last days of the trip, and berthing or docking within five miles of the mainland shore is prohibited. Since we do a lot of fishing within five miles of the shore, can we anchor and fish or sleep within five miles of the mainland as long as we don’t berth our boat or touch land or a dock? What do we do if we get our limit and a storm comes in before noon on the last day? Do we throw our dead catch over so we can get to shore safely and still be legal or do we keep them even if technically we’ll then be over the limit? Thank you. (Don F.)

Answer: Anglers can fish within five miles of the mainland, but berthing (anchoring) or docking is prohibited and anglers must disembark at the place of return as stated on the declaration form (California Code of Regulations Title14, section 27.15[b]). These permits were originally designed more to cover people who are fishing many miles offshore for multiple days (like for tuna and the more long range species) who cannot easily get back to the dock each night.

According to Game Warden Jason Chance, every mariner and boat operator is  responsible for planning out their trips in advance – especially trips that will encompass multiple days at sea. If you plan your trip according to weather forecasts, it’s relatively unlikely that you’ll be caught off-guard by a sudden storm. By continuously monitoring your marine radio for ongoing NOAA weather forecasts and hazardous conditions updates, and then Channel 16 for any emergency U.S. Coast Guard announcements, you should not be surprised by changing weather conditions.

Of course, if poor weather conditions appear to be imminent, use your best judgment as to whether to continue or to immediately end your trip. Remember that safety should always come first, and attempting to avoid a ticket is not worth risking lives nor creating what becomes an emergency rescue situation. But be aware that wasting fish (in this case dumping dead fish overboard) is a violation of the law (CCR Title 14, section 1.87), so do not consider this an option.

Is it legal to shoot birds on the water or on the ground?
Question: Regarding waterfowl hunting, I am curious if it is lawful to shoot a bird that is on the water or, if I’m field hunting, to shoot a bird that is standing on the ground. I do not consider it sporting, but I was party to a group of hunters that took part in the above actions. (Nick V.)

Answer: It’s not illegal, but it’s certainly not sporting as it violates the Fair Chase Principle. “Fair chase” is the ethical, sportsman-like, lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an unfair advantage over such animals. In addition, it can also be unsafe to shoot birds on the ground or on the water because nearby hunters might be in your line of fire.

Is it legal to keep legal-sized fish caught in hoopnets?
Question: If I catch fish in a hoop net while lobster fishing, are they legal to keep provided they meet any size requirements? I have been throwing them back because I’m not sure it is legal to catch them that way. Someone told me they must be caught on fishing line only. What about sea snails and octopus that are caught in my hoops? Can other line-caught sportfish, such as tuna, be used as bait in lobster hoops? Please advise. Thanks. (Steve G.)

Answer: You were correct to return fish caught in your hoop nets because hoop nets are not a legal method of take. Finfish may only be caught by hook-and-line except in very specific circumstances listed under “Finfish – Gear Restrictions” (pgs. 51-52) in the Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet (CCR Title 14, section 28.65).

Taking sea snails and octopus caught incidentally in your lobster hoop net is not allowed (section 29.10(a), on pg. 52 of the booklet).

Any finfish that is legal to take or possess in California may be used as bait in your lobster hoop net.

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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. Contact her at

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