Bringing Fish and Game Back from Mexico

Thresher boat

P/V Thresher patrols Southern California ocean waters down to the U.S.-Mexico border and out to 200 miles offshore (CDFW photo).

Question: I fish in Mexico and have a question regarding bringing them back to the U.S. I saw a statement on Facebook where the poster said we cannot bring cowcod or fillets into U.S. waters even if we have a signed declaration to present with the fish. Despite the fact cowcod are not legal to possess in California, they are legal to catch in Mexico.

I would like to know if this is true as many things posted on the Internet are not always correct. If it is correct, is this also true for the other three protected rockfishes – canary, yelloweye and bronzespotted rockfish? If I take a legal Mexican limit of five bocaccio, would I be limited to bringing only three back into California? Also, I hunt in Mexico where it is legal to take 60 doves. At the border, could I declare the 60 doves when I cross the border or would I only be able to have the California limit of 10 doves? What are the laws? Since I am hunting and fishing in another country and abiding by their laws, do I have to also abide by California laws when I import game from another country? (Randy H.)

Answer: It is unlawful to import or possess birds, mammals, fish, reptile or amphibian taken from outside of this state unless the following requirements are met (as per Fish and Game Code, section 2353):

  • The animals were legally taken and legally possessed outside of this state.
  • California and federal codes and regulations do not expressly prohibit their possession in this state.
  • A declaration is submitted to the department or a designated state or federal agency at or immediately before the time of entry, in the form and manner prescribed by the department.

Therefore, even if the fish were legally taken in Mexico but are prohibited here in California, then they cannot be brought back here. This means while cowcod, canary, yelloweye and bronzespotted rockfishes may be legally caught and possessed in Mexico, they cannot be brought back to California. California’s sport fishing laws do not allow possession of whole fish, or filleted fish, that are less than California’s size limits, or are in excess of California’s bag or possession limits, regardless of where the fish were taken.

There is an exception for migratory gamebirds. Migratory gamebirds, such as doves, taken in Mexico fall under the federal migratory bird regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 50. Federal regulations allow importation of doves from Mexico “not to exceed the maximum number permitted by Mexican authorities to be taken in any one day: Provided, that if the importer has his Mexican hunting permit date-stamped by appropriate Mexican wildlife authorities on the first day he hunts in Mexico, he may import the applicable Mexican possession limit corresponding to the number of days actually hunted during that particular trip.”(see CFR section 20.61.)

Declaration for entry forms can be found online at

Trolling for salmon
Question: There is a one rod per angler rule in Monterey Bay. This last weekend while trolling with my husband for salmon, we had three fish on board and needed one more for the two of us to have limits. My question is, do we need to fish with just one rod as one of us has a limit, or may we fish with two rods until we catch one more fish? (Donna S.)

Answer: You can use two rods until you catch your final fish because boat limits apply in ocean waters. When there are two or more persons who are licensed or otherwise authorized to sport fish in ocean waters, fishing by all authorized persons aboard may continue until boat limits of finfish are taken and possessed aboard the vessel (CCR Title 14, section 27.60(c)).

Collecting starfish can be very expensive!
Question: Our family was at Mavericks Beach in Half Moon Bay recently. I wasn’t paying close attention when the kids were collecting things from the beach. My kids collected a starfish and snails and put them into a cooler. When a ranger saw what they had he made me put them back in the water. We didn’t know it was against the law. He wrote a ticket out to my husband as “CCR Title 14, section 29.05(d) Unlawful taking of invertebrate” and marked as misdemeanor.

We wouldn’t have let the kids do it if we knew it was illegal. What will the fines or penalties be? (Laurice P.)

Answer: Sea stars (starfish) residing on nearshore rocks between the mean high tide line and 1,000 feet seaward of the mean low tide line may not be taken (CCR Title 14, section 29.05(b)). Pursuant to Fish and Game Code section 12000, the maximum fine for this violation is $1,000.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at

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