Category Archives: Saltwater Fishing

Casting with a Potato Gun-Style Launcher

(CDFW photo by Sabrina Bell)

(CDFW photo by Sabrina Bell)

Question: Is it legal to use the “Sandblaster Baitcaster” in California? This device is supposed to be great for surf fishing from the beach. It uses compressed air to cast your bait up to 300 yards from shore. See it at their website, www.bunkerupfishin.com/. (Victor H.)

Answer: This line launching device is really just another form of the old “potato guns” that were popular for a while until they were outlawed in public areas. According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Lt. Dennis McKiver, potato guns are legal under federal law. Under state law, potato guns that use combustion (instead of compressed air) to launch the projectile are “firearms,” and one with a bore of over 0.5 inches is a destructive device.

Pneumatic potato guns like this one use compressed air and are legal as long as they are not used like a weapon (e.g. shot at a person, etc.), so this line launching device would be legal under state and federal laws. However, you should check for local city and county ordinances because some local governments prohibit use of any devices that propel projectiles, and if you intend to use this line launching device on any state beach, you may also want to consult State Parks.

As far as using it to cast a fishing line, nothing in the Fish and Game Code or its implementing regulations prohibit using this compressed air launcher as long as the fishing line is attached to a rod and reel, or a person is brave enough to hold the other end of line in their hands!


What to do when catching invasive fish species?
Question: What should we do when we catch invasive fish in local lakes? Specifically, Balboa Lake in the San Fernando Valley remains warm enough in winter to support some tropical fish. Certain aquarium fishes breed as well as survive in these waters. The problem now are Plecostomus (commonly found in home fish tanks to eat the algae) that have taken over the lake and the Los Angeles River.

A couple of us have caught over 200 since February in one little cove while fishing for carp. We were told by park personnel to kill them (seemed reasonable) but I wanted to make sure they are inedible so that we won’t get into trouble for wasting fish. Please advise. Thanks. (Bill S.)

Answer: From a biological standpoint, CDFW would like to see these invasive fish disposed of (killed) rather then placed back in the system. The law prohibits the waste of any fish taken in waters of the state (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 1.87). This regulation is intended to encourage people to eat any fish they kill, and to avoid needlessly killing fish. But, any lawful use of fish that are legal for sale by an aquarium or pet store would satisfy the requirements of this regulation, including their use as fertilizer for your garden.

Here’s something that might surprise you … Plecostomus are consumed by humans in some of their native Central and South American waters. Jackson Landers, author of “Eating Aliens: One Man’s Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species” includes a recipe for Plecostomus in this book.


Scuba diving for Dungeness crabs?
Question: In a recent column you said that you could not take Dungeness crabs on SCUBA. Did I read that correctly or were you referring to seasons? (Duanne S.)

Answer: I saidwhen Dungeness crab season is open, they may be taken by hand via SCUBA but divers may not possess any hooked device while diving or attempting to dive for them (CCR Title 14, section 29.80(g)).


Sale of pig mount … Is it legal?
Question: My brother harvested a pig about 20 years ago on a private ranch in California and had the head mounted. He wants to sell the mount, but doesn’t want to break the law and can’t get a definitive answer from anyone. Could you help? Thank you as always for your help! (Dave)

Answer: Your brother can give it away but cannot sell or trade it to anyone. With a few exceptions (that don’t apply to your brother), the law prohibits the sale or purchase of any part of a bird or mammal found in the wild in California. (Fish and Game Code, section 3039)


Is there a limit on sand crabs?
Question: Is it legal to catch sand crabs with a fishing license, and if legal, what is the limit? Can sand crabs be taken on all beaches of the state? (Gina N.)

Answer: Yes, it is legal to catch sand crabs with a fishing license statewide wherever fishing is authorized. The limit is 50 crabs per day and in possession (CCR Title 14, section 29.85(d)).

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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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

“Lived to Tell About It!”

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A well camouflaged male cabezon guards his eggs in the nearshore waters off the Mendocino Headlands (Photo by Mark Winscher) Hint: click on the photo for a closer look!

Question: We lived to tell about it! A few weeks ago while surf fishing, I was fortunate to catch a 6 lb. female cabezon off the Mendocino coast. My wife and I poached the meat and the eggs for a sumptuous meal. It tasted great! But then from five to 13 hours afterward we suffered severe vomiting and diarrhea. Unbeknownst to us and all of my fishing friends, the eggs of a cabezon are toxic, no matter how much they are cooked. Even other mammals will not touch the eggs. Eating the meat is okay. We were hospitalized but are now okay, except for a complete future aversion to cabezon eggs! Have you ever heard of this before? A toxicology doctor is writing a paper about us. Thank you so much and I always look forward to reading your column! (Dale J., Oakland)

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Dale J. and his cabezon before he consumed her toxic eggs. (Photo courtesy Dale J.)

Answer: Wow, this was news to me and to most people I mentioned it to. Since receiving your letter, I’ve done some research and found that cabezon eggs are indeed poisonous to humans, as well as many other mammals and birds.

The term for fish roe poisoning is ichthyootoxism. People who have eaten the roe and developed symptoms soon afterwards describe: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, intense thirst, bitter taste, trouble swallowing, cold sweats, rapid irregular weak pulse, dilated pupils, fainting, chest pain, pale skin, tinnitus, etc. Yikes! In severe cases, muscular cramps, convulsions and coma have occurred. Victims usually recover within five days, but deaths have also been reported.

To most of us, cabezon are a popular game fish and delicious dinner fare. They occur statewide and typically hunker down in rugged rocks and kelp beds in shallow waters less than 100 ft. deep, but may range out to 250 ft. Female cabezon lay their eggs in very shallow water, so the evolution of toxic roe is likely one of their clever adaptations to help protect their eggs from would-be predators. Male cabezon then bravely guard the nests and chase away most threats to their incubating offspring. If the eggs are laid in water too low for the protective dad to guard at low tide, they could be preyed upon by a variety of unsuspecting hungry birds and small mammals.

Famed ichthyologist Dr. Carl Hubbs describes in his article, “Toxicity of the roe of the Cabezon, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus” (California Fish and Game 37: 195-196) that in 1923 he and his wife Laura caught a ripe adult female cabezon and cooked it up for dinner. The two of them ate the roe while Laura’s parents and a young child ate the flesh. Those who consumed the flesh suffered no discomfort, but for Hubbs and his wife, it was another story. He described it as “an unhappy gastronomic experience” and said they “awoke in misery about four hours afterward and were violently ill throughout the rest of the night, with rapidly alternating chills and fever and with frequent vomiting and diarrhea. Both were left very weak in the morning but gradually recovered during the day, with no residual or recurrent symptoms.”

In 1949, a large female cabezon loaded with ripe roe was collected at Scripps Institution Reef. Scientists remembering Hubbs’ experience decided to conduct an experiment to test the toxicity of the roe on 12 rats and two guinea pigs. In addition to their regular food, they were given a cocktail containing the roe mixed with water. Four of the rats and one of the guinea pigs died, and all of the animals exhibited diarrhea and nasal discharge.

Now don’t let the horrors of the toxic symptoms you encountered scare you away from cabezon because they are pretty cool fish. They can grow to more than three feet long, weight more than 25 lbs., and they come in brown, red or green with lots of darker mottling to help with camouflage. Females are larger and usually more greenish while the males are more reddish. Females lay large masses of eggs that may be white, pink, red, maroon or blue-green initially but mature to a more olive color. Cabezon also have smooth skin without scales and they are really fun to catch!

Even better, when filleted, their flesh is usually blue or green but then turns white once cooked. People always ask why their skin and flesh is blue or green and Dr. Milton Love, researcher at U.C. Santa Barbara, wrote in his book, Probably More Than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific Coast, “The blue color of cabezon flesh is harmless and disappears when the meat is cooked. The color may come from copper-based compounds in the shellfish they consume.” In addition, archeologists have found cabezon remains are common in Native American middens.

Yep, cabezon are cool … just don’t eat their roe!

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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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

When Wild Turkeys Attack

Turkey strut (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

Turkey strut (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

Question: I have lived in a rural area of Woodside for more than 20 years. Although many different species of wild animals wander through our area searching for food, we have never seen wild turkeys. Never until one day about three years ago when two juvenile turkeys and a male pheasant wandered into our neighborhood scavenging for food.

Well, our neighbors began feeding them, and now there are at least two pairs of wild turkeys and 15 chicks between them. I suspect there are more but these were just on our patio last week. And these turkeys can be mean! Recently, one of our neighbors was putting his garbage can out and was attacked by some large male turkeys! He fell down and broke his wrist trying to get away from them.

What can we do to rid our neighborhood of these pests? Can these turkeys be moved to another area? (Floyd B., Woodside)

Answer: Turkeys are now a part of many suburban neighborhoods in California. During the spring breeding season male turkeys can become aggressive, but this breeding behavior should pass.

Most of the complaints the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) receives regarding turkeys can be traced to someone feeding the birds. The single most important thing people can do to get rid of nuisance wildlife is to remove ALL potential food sources. If possible, discuss the matter with the neighbors who are feeding the birds, too.

Turkeys are habitat generalists and food opportunists, meaning they can thrive in a wide variety of conditions and can eat many types of foods. Adequate food is available to them naturally and so they do not need to be fed. As with many wild animals, people feed them because they like watching them, but this practice puts them at risk. To help persuade the turkeys to move on, you and your neighbors should remove any cat food, dog food and especially spilled birdseed that might be in the area.

CDFW has used turkey relocation as a tool in the past but found the effectiveness limited. It’s very unlikely that all the turkeys in the area will be successfully trapped as turkeys are quite wary, and often there are plenty of other wild turkeys living in close proximity that will move in to fill any void. Once turkeys are trapped, they must be moved to a new location where they may end up just becoming a problem for someone else. These programs also require substantial resources and money for CDFW to maintain.

Generally, CDFW does not move nuisance wildlife for these reasons. As a last resort, you can get a depredation permit for the lethal removal of the birds, though methods may be limited in suburban areas where discharging firearms is prohibited. Many people don’t want to go this route anyway, and so the most important thing to remember when coexisting with turkeys is to not feed them.

For more information, please refer to previous California Outdoors Q&A columns that pertain to and explain the issues surrounding feeding wildlife (http://californiaoutdoorsqas.com/?s=feeding+wildlife) or to CDFW’s Keep Me Wild campaign (https://www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild/turkey.html).


Crab season and whale migration do NOT mix
Question: Is there any way to END crab season for the year due to the early migration of the whales? Recently, there were two whales stuck in crab netting in/near Monterey Bay and it seems absolutely asinine to continue crabbing under these conditions. Whales are a protected species, not humans. We can find something else to eat and the crabs can have an early respite from our carnivorous habits. Can’t something be done to end the crab season earlier? (Deb D., Soquel)

Answer: According to CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Pete Kalvass, who is one of the Dungeness crab fishery managers, “We appreciate your concern regarding marine mammal interactions with crab gear. The federal government via NOAA is responsible for protecting marine mammals, including whales, and we work with them in trying to minimize these types of interactions with our state managed crab fisheries.

Unfortunately, there is presently no way to guarantee zero interactions short of eliminating these fisheries. As it is, when you consider that there are approximately 150,000 commercial Dungeness crab pots set during the height of the fishery in November and December each season, entanglements are indeed quite rare. Closing a fishery prematurely as you suggest is not a simple proposition and would either take legislation or an extraordinary finding of harm to the mammals, and public hearings, before our Director could act.”

For further information, I suggest you contact one of the NOAA offices or check their website at http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/.

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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 CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.