OUTDOORS: Can't use harpoon to land big halibut

June 11, 2013 

Question: Pacific halibut have become a sought-after sport fish out of Eureka and Trinidad. I have a question about landing large Pacific halibut, particularly in a relatively small boat. Many people use a type of harpoon with a head that comes off and is tethered to the boat. This prevents the fish from heading down while a rope is run through its gills for hauling it aboard. I was told that harpooning them this way was possibly illegal.

In this case the fish was caught with normal hook and line. The harpoon is used only to land the fish safely, similar to a gaff but more secure. Is this legal? Are there better methods?

I have heard many tales of big halibut doing serious damage to fishermen if they are brought aboard too early and without steps taken to control them.

Tom P., Eureka

Answer: Harpoons cannot be used to "take" halibut, and landing the fish is an integral part of "take." So just because you get the fish to the surface, it does not mean it has been "taken" until it is secured. Most fish are lost at the surface, so take has not been completed and a harpoon could not be used at this point. Harpoons are only allowed for the actual take of all varieties of skates, rays and sharks — except for white sharks.

While using a harpoon to "take" halibut is not authorized, using a "spear" is legal — but you have to be "a person floating or swimming in the water." Use of a gaff, including a gaff with a detachable hook, is authorized to land the fish as long as it is legal size. So the best option — and the only legal option in California — is a gaff with a detachable hook, sometimes referred to as a flying gaff.

Q: Can rattlesnakes be collected in the wild and kept as pets? I know that no licenses are required to kill them but don't know if they can be legally kept as pets.

Andrew G., Angels Camp

Answer: Yes, except for the red diamond rattlesnake, where no take is allowed — so be sure you can identify your snakes! Before collecting anything, you should first check with your local animal control agency regarding any local laws. Under state law, all pit vipers (except for the five other California native rattlesnakes listed in the rules) are restricted species that cannot be possessed without a permit. Keeping live, native rattlesnakes (except for the red diamond) is not prohibited by Fish and Game laws. No license is required to take or kill other rattlesnakes in California, but the daily bag and possession limit is two.

The take of other species of native reptiles and amphibians requires possession of a sport fishing license. The daily bag and possession limits are provided in CCR, Title 14 section 5.60.

Q: My friends and I are having a discussion about crab regulations. If someone operates a crab fishing charter business in the San Francisco Bay, they are limited to six crabs per person at a minimum size of 6 inches each. Does this mean that anytime they fish — regardless of whether it is for hire/charter or for personal reasons — they can only take six crabs? Or, if they are fishing as a private boater (e.g. not for hire), can they take 10 crab per person instead?


A: If they are fishing as a private boater, and not for hire, they are not subject to the charter restrictions. Since there is always a chance that a warden will check the fishermen on the boat, it is a benefit to everyone if there is a note in your private boat log (if you have one) that reflects that this is not a charter trip, and that the warden is made aware of the circumstances when first contact is made.

Q: My son and I are new to rabbit hunting. For possession limits, will my 16-year-old son and I each be able to have 10 in possession (20 total) as long as we mark which animals each of us harvested?


A: If hunting for brush, cottontail or pygmy rabbits or varying (snowshoe) hares, bag and possession limits (for each of you) of all species is five per day — 10 in possession. Remember, that's no more than five for each of you per day and no more than 10 in possession after two days. No need to mark which animals belong to whom as long as you keep each bag separate. However, if you don't remain together, one person should not have both limits. If hunting for jack, black-tailed or white-tailed rabbits, the season is open all year and there are no limits.

Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Contact her at Cal.Outdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

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