Q: While surf fishing for the first time this past November near Santa Monica, my son caught a fish he thought was a flounder. It was still alive and in a bucket of salt water when a wildlife officer saw it, identified it as a halibut, said it was undersize and released it back into the ocean. We were unaware of species size restrictions so he gave us a handbook. The regulation booklet is a long, dense read, to say the least, and complicated unless you fish more actively and are more knowledgeable than we are.
Even though this was a first offense and the fish was still alive, the officer cited my son. He said it would be like a driving violation and we would receive a bail amount notification by mail. That did not happen, and now we see the violation states we must appear this next Wednesday at court in Santa Monica. When we purchased our licenses, nothing was said about regulations or restrictions so we were blindsided by the violation. We expected to pay a fine, but does he need to appear in court?
A: Your son may have a few options. He may call the court at the number listed on the citation to see if the court has a system in place to allow him to “forfeit bail” (pay the fine). He may also be able to look at the court’s website and determine if the court allows for fines to be paid online. He may choose to appear in court and explain his circumstances to the judge. Judges have discretion in these matters and can assess the full fine, reduce or suspend the fine or dismiss the charge altogether. If the court is not set up for either of those first two options, or your son wishes to speak to a judge, he needs to appear in court at the date and time listed on the citation.
We commend you and your son for taking up fishing as a new hobby, and despite your unfortunate identification mistake, we hope you will continue. As with any new angler, we recommend you keep a copy of applicable California Sport Fishing Regulations with you while fishing, and perhaps an identification guide that is available in many bait shops or online to assist with learning proper fish ID and the regulations. We recommend the same for new hunters, too.
Q: You provided an answer to a question awhile back about donating sport-caught fish. I know people who go on long-range boats out of Southern California often donate their fish when they return to port and get a receipt they can use for a tax deduction. I’m not sure how it works, but I think it’s something like they can deduct the costs incurred in catching the fish they donate, not a deduction for the market value of the fish. The answer to that question could really impact the decisions of long-range fishermen on how they deal with their catch, so it might not be a bad idea to look into that question a little further to see if any clarification is needed. I sent a copy of your email to my accountant, who also handles the accounts of several Southern California boats, to see if he has any input. If I get a response, I’ll let you know. I think it’s worth checking into for sure.
A: You are correct that sport-caught fish may be donated but no monetary value may be placed on sport-caught fish. It would violate Fish and Game Code, section 7121. As far as claiming any other tax benefits, you are on the right track in asking an accountant, as those decisions would need to be made by the Internal Revenue Service and Franchise Tax Board.
Q: Someone told me that when a sturgeon reaches a certain size, it will become a female. Is this true?
A: No, not true.
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.