Baiting crab traps with rockfish carcasses?

Dungeness crabs in a crab trap (DFG photo by Debra Hamilton)

Question: I belong to a popular fishing forum on the Internet, and most of my fellow sport fishermen say that when they bait their crab traps/pots, they can use whatever bait they want. Many people are using the carcasses from regulated game fish, such as rockfish, after the fish have been filleted. During previous salmon seasons, they used salmon carcasses, too. Isn’t there something in the regulations about this subject? If a person saves their fish carcasses in their freezer, for instance, and then goes out and uses those carcasses in their crab traps, isn’t that still considered as “possession”? If I put out crab pots baited with rockfish carcasses, spend the day catching my limit of rockfish and then come back to pull my pots to head back in, I not only have my legal limit of fresh rockfish, but also a bunch of other rockfish carcasses. And what about having those carcasses when a fish isn’t even in season?

I seem to be alone in believing that we need to follow certain rules about using fish as crab bait, and now I am very anxious to clear this up once and for all, with your help. Thank you so much for your time and consideration in this matter. (Cat C., North Fork)

Answer: Generally, portions of the fish that are normally discarded after cleaning do not count toward a possession limit. For example, let’s say you catch 10 rockfish. When you clean them, you end up with 20 fillets and 10 boney carcasses in your possession. Most people would discard the 10 carcasses, minus the fillets, and keep the 20 fillets to eat. The 20 fillets are your possession limit of 10 rockfish. You can keep the 10 carcasses for crab bait and these carcasses would not count as part of your rockfish possession limit.

According to Department of Fish and Game Lieutenant Dennis McKiver, to eliminate any questions or confusion when you go out crabbing and fishing for rockfish, set your crab traps baited with rockfish carcasses first. Then, at the end of the day when you are returning with limits of rockfish, you can pull your crab traps and discard the used rockfish carcasses before returning to port. Otherwise it may look as though you went out and caught a limit of rockfish to use as crab bait and then continued to catch another limit of rockfish to take home. People have been caught and cited for doing this.

Also, make sure that any fish carcasses you use are from legal fish. Many crab fishermen get cited because the carcasses they are using are from undersized salmon, lingcod, cabezon, greenling or other fish with size limits, or from cowcod, canary, yellow-eye or bronze-spotted rockfish or other restricted species. They may tell their friends they got cited by the warden for using a fish carcass as crab bait, but the real story is that they got cited for the illegal take and possession of restricted fish.

Can I collect a deer head with attached antlers from a carcass?
Question: While fishing for steelhead on Carmel River, I came across a 4-point buck that had been dead for at least three months. Given that it was in deep brush, I am guessing a mountain lion had gotten him. Is it legal to take the head with perfect rack and give it to someone as a gift? Not to be sold or re-sold, but as a gift. (Blake, Monterey)

Answer: No, this would not be legal. If the antlers were sheds (naturally detached from the skull), then there would be no problem. However, for any other deer parts, even if this deer was found dead due to predators or natural causes, it is not legal to possess any portions of that animal. Deer may only be possessed if taken by a licensed hunter with a rifle, shotgun, pistol, revolver, muzzleloader or with archery equipment. Otherwise, especially with a deer carcass picked up out of season, It would be impossible for a game warden to know whether this was a deer that had been found dead of natural causes or had been illegally poached.

Can I buy or sell a stuffed rattlesnake or rattlesnake skins?
Question: Is it legal to buy or sell a stuffed rattlesnake or rattlesnake skins in California? (Jody S.)

Answer: No, buying or selling a stuffed rattlesnake or native reptiles of any kind is prohibited. In general, it is also unlawful to capture, collect, intentionally kill or injure, possess, purchase, propagate, sell, transport, import or export any native reptile or amphibian, or part thereof (CCR, Title 14, section 40). In addition, native reptiles may not be sold, possessed, transported, imported, exported or propagated for commercial purposes unless listed under CCR, Section 43(c). Native rattlesnakes are not included among these species and therefore may not be commercialized. The only exception for selling or buying rattlesnakes is if the rattlesnake is albino or albino captive bred (CCR, Title 14, section 43[a][7]) or if collected by a biological supply house authorized to supply research and educational facilities.

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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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