Q: If I am in need of food for myself and family, would it be a crime to catch fish from the ocean for subsistence without a license, and if so, why? With inland waters, I realize lakes are stocked, policed and maintained, and this service has to be paid for via taxes, licenses and fines. That’s understandable. I am aware of states with coastlines having a mileage limit from shore to international waters, and the area in between is overseen by the Coast Guard. Should it not be a God-given right to fish the oceans and seas without permission from the powers-that-be? Doug P.
A: In California, you can legally fish from public ocean piers without a fishing license. Finfish, crabs and lobsters may be found there in different areas. All regulations must still be followed, but you can fish without a license in these locations only. There are also two free fishing days per year (July 4 and Sept. 5 this year), allowing people to fish in ocean and inland waters without a license. In addition, children can fish without a license and be entitled to legal limits until they turn 16, when a license will be required. Except for the opportunities mentioned above, subsistence fishing without a sport fishing license in ocean or freshwater is not allowed.
California waters extend from the shore (high tide line) out to 3 miles, federal waters stretch from 3 miles to 200 miles, and international waters begin at 200 miles out. All waters out to 200 miles are still patrolled and managed cooperatively with the federal government. Any fish taken outside of 200 miles must still meet all fishing regulations to be brought back into U.S. waters, and all fish landed at California ports must additionally meet all state regulations.
Fisheries in all state and federal waters have regulations, and many have strict management guidelines to properly manage the take of various species and ensure overfishing does not occur, which could collapse those and related fisheries. Regulations and limitations of fishing activities and take is imperative, especially in waters in a state populated by 38 million people.
Q: I belong to a small group of diving enthusiasts, and we recently had a debate with varying opinions on gauging abalone. One portion of the group stated it is perfectly legal to free-dive with an abalone gauge out of season and measure abalone with the intent of coming back during the season to retrieve the abs. I believe this would be pursuing or hunting abalone and would be against the rules. I pointed out that the new 8 a.m. rule specifically states you can enter the water but not “be searching for” abalone before 8 a.m. This leads me to believe if it is illegal to search for abs during a time when “take” is not permitted, then it would be illegal out of season as well. Can you help us settle this debate? Brian M., Antioch
A: Yes, it would be legal to dive with an abalone gauge as long as you don’t dive with an abalone iron or other means to detach abalone. As long as there is no attempt to take the abalone, and it is not handled or detached from the rocks, it would be legal.
Q: My wife and I are outdoors lovers, and we don’t want to break the law. We often drive back roads or dirt roads in and around Butte County armed with only a flashlight and no weapons to view and enjoy wildlife that wouldn’t be possible to enjoy in the daylight. Is this legal? Dan, Oroville
A: Yes, as long as you do not have a method of take with you. You may, however, attract the attention of wildlife officers on the lookout for poachers using spotlights to find game. These officers may pull you over and detain you to inspect your vehicle and ensure you do not have a method of take. There are also vehicle code provisions that prohibit the use of a flashlight or headlight on a public highway if it is shined into oncoming traffic or prevents other vehicles from seeing traffic control devices.
Q: I’m planning to go fishing for halibut and have read that the rig must not exceed two hooks. Can those two hooks be treble hooks?
A: Yes, you are not limited to two hooks so treble hooks may be used (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 28.65).
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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.