Can I fish for free to feed my family?


Pier fishing in California is a great family fishing experience (Photo courtesy of Ken Jones of the United Pier and Shore Anglers of California.)

Question: If I am in need of food for myself and family, is it a crime to catch fish for subsistence from the ocean without a license? I understand that lakes in inland waters are stocked, policed and maintained and that these services have to be paid for via taxes, license and fines. That’s understandable, but what about fishing from the ocean? Should it not be a God-given right to fish the oceans and seas of this planet without permission from the powers that be? Please shed some light on this issue for me if you can. (Doug P.)

Answer: In California you can legally fish without a fishing license from public ocean piers and from the most seaward jetty of the harbor. Finfish may be caught by hook and line and crabs and lobsters by hoop nets from public piers and jetties, depending upon the area of the state where you are fishing. All regulations must still be followed, but you can fish without a fishing license in these locations only. There are also two designated free fishing days per year when people may fish in ocean and inland waters without a license.

Except for the opportunities mentioned above, subsistence fishing or any type of recreational fishing without a fishing license in ocean or freshwater is not allowed. California’s living marine resources are a public trust, which means they belong to all of the people of the state. However, it is necessary to manage these resources in such a way that they will be sustainable, both from an ecological point of view and in allowing recreational anglers to pursue them for enjoyment and to harvest them for food.

The California Legislature has given the Fish and Game Commission the authority to regulate all of our recreational fisheries, and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is the entity that manages these fisheries and enforces their regulations. Some regulations are very strict for species which have previously been overfished and are now recovering. Your right to fish is a privilege which must be considered in the context of a state with 37 million people.

Here’s an option for you if you can’t buy a license but want to catch lots of ocean fish for your family. Focus on the many species listed under section 27.60(b) on page 37 of the Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.

These species have abundant stocks and no bag limits, and a number of them are commonly taken from public piers.

Can a European citizen get a California hunting license?
Question: My uncle who lives in Europe and is not a U.S. citizen is planning to visit me next year on a normal tourist visa. He took me hunting 30 years ago and so I’d like to now take him on a hunt or two. Is there a way for him to get a hunting license or some kind of permit? Can his out-of-state/country hunting license be used instead as proof of completion of a hunter’s education class? He’s been a hunter for more than 40 years but the chances for finding and completing a regular hunter’s education class during his visit are unrealistic. Thanks ahead. (Ivan K.)

Answer: Your uncle will be able to purchase a Nonresident Hunting License to hunt with you in California if he can present a current hunting license or a hunting license issued within the past two years from a European country. This is the proof he will need to demonstrate he meets California’s hunter education requirements.

Otherwise, if he is only going to be here a few days, there are a few one-day, 10-hour hunter safety courses still offered in California. There’s also an online course available that requires a four-hour certification with a certified hunter education instructor. If he does not have a hunting license in Europe, these options would only take one day of his trip to California. You can find out more about local courses at or at your local hunting stores.

When do I need a two rod fishing stamp?
Question: When is a two rod fishing stamp required – when carrying more than one rod or when using two at one time? (Linda A., Weaverville)

Answer: A two rod stamp is required when an angler wants to fish with two rods simultaneously. Simply carrying or being in possession of two rods does not necessitate an additional stamp.

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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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