Returning Fish and Wildlife Back to the Wild

CDFW staff releasing waterfowl after health inspection (CDFW photo)

CDFW Waterfowl Biologist Melanie Weaver releasing a male pintail following a routine health examination (CDFW photo)

Question: If I want to release fish and other shellfishes that I got from the local market into California waters, how do I get permission or a permit? Also, what about birds? Do I need a permit? (Stella T.)

Answer: It is not legal to move and plant live finfish in any waters of California. Same goes for birds or mammals, regardless of where they came from. In addition to the fact that to do so is illegal, it is also not a compassionate gesture to relocate fish and wildlife to new waters or habitats where they are not accustomed or to environments they are not familiar with or already adapted to. Most fish and wildlife will probably not survive under these conditions, and you run the risk of spreading parasites and diseases to healthy ecosystems that may then endanger the health and well-being of native fish and wildlife living in their natural environments.

“It is unlawful to place, or cause to be placed or planted, in any of the waters of this State, any live fish, any fresh or salt water animal, or any aquatic plant, whether taken without or within the State without first submitting it for inspection to, and securing the written permission of, the department” (Fish and Game Code, section 6400). The law also states that no person having possession or control over any wild animal under this chapter shall intentionally free, or knowingly permit the escape, or release of such an animal, except in accordance with the regulations of the Fish and Game Commission (FGC, section 2121).

Many of the live fish and shellfish found in the local markets are imported into California from other states or countries under an importer’s permit. Besides being illegal, the release of these exotic species into our state waters could devastate the native species with disease or unnatural competition for food or predation. The same would apply to birds and other wildlife.


Turning deceased animals into taxidermy art?
Question: I have a question in regards to acquiring animal remains. If an animal is a legal species to possess and is found as road kill, or is decomposed to bone by nature, how can one go about obtaining the remains legally to use for taxidermy and art? I know this is a sensitive subject since there is no way to prove one “found” an animal, and ethics come into play. But I’m connected to a lot of groups on Facebook from outside of California that have laws allowing people to obtain animal remains that are not from protected species. These pieces are then used and sold as art.

Before continuing with my endeavors though, I want to make sure I can ethically source remains and legal specimens. Or if I can’t just as a citizen, what permits would I need in order to do so? I find it really hard to believe that state laws in Florida vs. California can differ so vastly. And it’s almost impossible to find reliable information on the Internet, so I figured I’d go straight to the source. (Christina G.)

Answer: First of all, any wild bird or mammal (or part thereof) found in California may not be sold (FGC, section 3039). Animals that have been legally taken under the authority of a hunting or fishing license in this state may be preserved through taxidermy consistent with California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recordkeeping requirements, but they may not be sold or purchased (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 695). Road-killed animals generally may not be possessed, with some exceptions for scientific and educational purposes.


Harvesting sea anemone for food?
Question: While eating sea anemone probably seems strange to most Americans they are eaten throughout the world, most notably in Asian countries. When chopped, tossed with flour and fried (think clam strip), it tastes like a cross between crab and clams. Is it legal to harvest sea anemone for food in California? (Brent A., Fort Bragg)

Answer: Sea anemone may not be harvested in the area between the high tide mark and 1,000 feet seaward and lateral to the low tide mark (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.05). In fact, only the following marine invertebrates may be taken in this area:

“Except where prohibited within state marine reserves, state marine parks, state marine conservation areas, or other special closures only the following may be taken: red abalone, limpets, moon snails, turban snails, chiones, clams, cockles, mussels, rock scallops, native oysters, octopuses, squid, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, sand dollars, sea urchins and worms except that no worms may be taken in any mussel bed, unless taken incidental to the harvesting of mussels” (CCR Title 14, section 29.05(b)(1)).

It would be perfectly legal, however, to take 35 sea anemone outside the 1,000 foot intertidal zone, and sea anemone do live outside that zone. A shore picker would have difficulty doing this though unless it was a zone where the intertidal area is very flat.


Any restrictions on crab bait components?
Question: Are there any restrictions on what you can use for crab bait in non-commercial crab traps? (Al and Karen B.)

Answer: No. As long as the bait sources are legal for you to possess, there are no restrictions on what you may use.

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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.

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