Category Archives: Finfish

Scuba Diving through MPAs with Lobsters in Possession

California spiny lobster (CDFW photo by Derek Stein)

California spiny lobster (CDFW photo by Derek Stein)

Question: If a scuba diver legally enters an area for lobster, proceeds to catch lobster in that area but then is unable to exit the water safely, could they surface swim through a Marine Protected Area (MPA) zone with their catch and exit legally? (Tom)

Answer: Yes, the diver can swim through but should make sure they are clearly not actively hunting for lobsters. For example, if when kicking in on the surface and are right in close to the rocks, they then stop and shine their lights into holes or reach into holes, they may appear to be hunting for lobsters. If they have lobsters in their possession and a warden determines they are attempting to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill any lobster, they may be issued a citation for fishing in an MPA.

“Spear fishermen with or without catch shall be allowed to transit through MPAs and MMAs. While transiting MPAs and MMAs that prohibit spearfishing or while in possession of species not identified as allowed for take in the MPA or MMA being transited, spearfishing gear shall be in an unloaded condition, not carried in hand, and the diver shall remain at the surface” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 632(a)(8)).


Hunting with an Atlatl (spear thrower)?
Question: Is it legal to use an Atlatl, or spear thrower, to hunt game animals in California? If it is legal, what are the regulations for their use? (Charlie)

Answer: No, a spear thrower is not legal to use. Only methods defined in the 2016-2017 California Mammal Hunting Regulations booklet for the take of small game (CCR Title 14, section 311, on page 26) and for big game (CCR Title 14, section 353, beginning on page 27) may be used.


Personal limits vs boat limits?
Question: When on a boat with a group of fishermen, does the bag limit apply to the boat (as I believe I’ve read in the statutes and have seen on party boats) or does it mean that anyone catching their limit must stop fishing altogether?

I ask because we were ordered off the water when some wardens told us one of our friends could no longer be out there with us since his gear was still in the boat and he was considered to still be fishing. He was the only one with a limit.

Also, since fresh and saltwater regulations are slightly different, where in your regs are the lines of demarcation for San Francisco Bay? (Jerry Z.)

Answer: Boat limits apply to anyone fishing aboard a boat in ocean waters off California or in the San Francisco Bay (CCR Title 14, section 27.60(c)). Boat limits allow fishing by all licensed persons aboard until boat limits of finfish are taken and possessed aboard the vessel. Boat limits do not apply to sturgeon, shellfish or when fishing in inland waters.

“The San Francisco Bay is the waters of San Francisco and San Pablo bays, plus all their tidal bays, sloughs, estuaries and tidal portions of their rivers and streams between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge. For purposes of this section, waters downstream of the Trancas Bridge on the Napa River, downstream of Highway 121 Bridge on Sonoma Creek and downstream of the Payran Street Bridge on the Petaluma River are tidal portions of the Napa River, Sonoma Creek and Petaluma River, respectively” (CCR Title 14, section 27.00).

“Inland waters are all the fresh, brackish and inland saline waters of the state, including lagoons and tidewaters upstream from the mouths of coastal rivers and streams. Inland waters exclude the waters of San Francisco Bay and the waters of Elkhorn Slough, west of Elkhorn Road between Castroville and Watsonville” (CCR Title 14, section 1.53).

When fishing in inland waters, bag limits apply to each individual angler and not to the boat as a whole.


Bear skin rug and Alaskan whale bone carving for sale
Question: I have a bear skin rug, along with the head, that was the property of my mother-in-law. We also have a whale bone carving from an Alaskan artist. These are not things we wish to hold on to. Is there any way to sell these items in another state (outside of California) even though we live in California? What are the other options? (Kathy S.)

Answer: Regarding your bear skin rug, it is “unlawful to sell or purchase, or possess for sale, the meat, skin, hide, teeth, claws or other parts of any bear in this state (Fish and Game Code, section 4758). And as far as the whale bone carving, “it is unlawful to sell or purchase a bird or mammal found in the wild in California” (FGC, section 3039). So, if your carving comes from a whale that occurs in California waters, it may not be sold in the state. While neither of these laws apply to transactions taking place entirely outside of California, you are encouraged to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if any federal laws may apply.

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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.

“Butterflying” a Legal Alternative to Traditional Filleting?

Only certain ocean fish are allowed to be filleted at sea. Check section 27.65 (c) in the Ocean Fishing Regulations booklet

Only certain ocean fish are allowed to be filleted at sea. Check section 27.65 (c) in the Ocean Fishing Regulations booklet

Question: As an alternative to traditional filleting, some people will do what they call “butterflying.” This is where fish are filleted but the cut is not completed leaving the fillet connected to the skin and the skin attached to the carcass. Is that technique legal for striped bass and sharks? I believe it’s not permissible to fillet greenlings and cabezon at sea. That is where I have seen this done in the past by deckhands that want to be able to make a buck filleting onboard without violating the regs. The patron just pulls the pieces apart when dockside to separate the fillet from the remainder. I just want to see if perhaps further clarification directly to the individual might help them, should they be a deckhand checking to see if there is some means of cutting fish at sea. This might be worth running by a warden to be sure that the butterfly trick is legit. (John B.)

Answer: It is illegal to possess fish on a boat in such condition that the size and species cannot be determined (Fish and Game Code, sections 5508 and 5509). Fillet laws allow for the fillet of certain species as sea (under California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 27.65) consistent with identification requirements specified in the rule (such as retention of attached skin patches or the entire skin of a rockfish). Other than the provisions allowing for the fillet of certain species, no one should jeopardize the ability to identify the species and size of ocean fish. Striped bass, sharks, greenlings and cabezon may not be filleted at sea. So, if the person filleting your fish at sea, while rolling back and forth, makes a mistake and removes the whole piece of skin, you would be in violation. To be safe, the butterflying can occur once the fish are landed.


Determining when and where a gun is considered “loaded”?
Question: Please clarify the definition of “loaded” that you gave in your column: “Live round in the chamber.” Is it okay to have the clip or magazine loaded if there’s no round in the chamber? (Will B., Palmdale)

Answer: This is a classic example of the answer depending on where you are and what activity you are engaged in. Loaded gun laws applying to vehicles on roads open to the public have changed over the years, and there are differences in the definitions of loaded between the Fish and Game Code and the Penal Code. Long guns are considered to be loaded “when there is an unexpended cartridge or shell in the firing chamber but not when the only cartridges or shells are in the magazine” (FGC, section 2006). Under the Penal Code, a firearm is also considered to be loaded if there is a round in the magazine that can be loaded into the firing chamber with the firearm’s action.

So if you are in a vehicle along a public roadway while hunting, the Fish and Game Code does not prohibit rounds in the magazine of the rifle or shotgun, but rounds in the firing chamber would violate Fish and Game Code section 2006. The situation is different when you’re not hunting though. The Penal Code treats a firearm as loaded when a round is in the magazine, and Penal Code section 25850 provides that “a person is guilty of carrying a loaded firearm when the person carries a loaded firearm on the person or in a vehicle while in any public place or on any public street in an incorporated city or in any public place or on any public street in a prohibited area of unincorporated territory.”


Fishing with live minnows purchased at a bait shop?
Question: I know it’s illegal to move live finfish, so how can it be legal to use live minnows purchased from a bait shop for sport fishing in inland waters? (Mike R.)

Answer: It depends upon what area of the state the minnows are purchased in and where they are used. The term “minnow” often refers to many different species of small baitfish, some of which belong to the minnow family. Some lakes no longer allow the use of live bait due to possible water contamination (quagga or zebra mussels) in the water containing the bait fish. Depending upon where in the state you plan to use the minnows and, more specifically, which species of minnow (e.g. longjaw mudsucker, fathead minnow, Mississippi silverside, etc.), you will need to check the appropriate baitfish regulations that apply to the specific waters where you intend to fish. Please check sections 4.00 – 4.30 on pages 16-18 in the 2016-2017 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations handbook for these regulations.

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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.

Waterfowl Hybrid Limits?

Pintail drake (USFWS photo)

Pintail drake (USFWS photo)

Question: When hunting waterfowl in California, how do hybrid ducks and geese count toward species limits? For example, the first duck of the day someone shoots looks like a cross between a pintail and a mallard. Would that hunter be within his/her limit to shoot another two pintail? Another example would be if a hunter was within the Special White Fronted Goose Zone and shot a goose with both Canada goose and White Front features. I’ve heard other hunters claim everything from you can consider it the more restricted species, to it’s an “other” duck on a refuge kill card/entry permit, to it’s the species with fewer restrictions. (Andy D.)

Answer: The bird will count towards your daily bag limit, and if it looks like a pintail, it will count towards your pintail limit. Always consider the most conservative approach to your limit even if you think you might have a hybrid. Your best bet would be to consider it the more restricted species.


Halibut fishing out of Tomales Bay during a groundfish closure?
Question: I want to fish for California halibut from a boat out of Tomales Bay near Bird Rock or Elephant Rock or go out of the Gate. I used to fish for them whenever herring, squid or anchovy would come in to spawn during the winter or spring. The halibut would lay in wait as the forage fish came through, usually from January through April or May.

I haven’t done this kind of fishing for a long time (years in fact) because no one wants to go out there in the wintertime when no one else is fishing and we are absolutely alone at sea. My fishing buddy wants to go but is worried that we would be cited for targeting lingcod or rockfish. I told him that as long as we were not keeping anything except the halibut, we would not be cited. We wouldn’t be doing anything wrong. But he repeated that he was worried that we would have no protection against being cited because we were out there during the closed groundfish season.

Can we be cited for targeting groundfish as long we do not keep any incidentally caught groundfish? Or, how about steelhead or Pacific halibut or canary cod or anything else that you are not allowed to keep? (Jerry Z.)

Answer: Warmer ocean water temperatures have made some interesting adjustments to the ocean and fish distribution in recent years. During the summer months when the water warms, more halibut move into Tomales Bay. You know that the sandy bottoms are where the halibut hang out. You indicated fishing the Bird and Elephant Rock areas, so keep in mind there are a lot of underwater rock croppings there. That’s where the rockfish and lingcod hang out.

According to local California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Lt. Jim Jones, incidental catch is not a violation. However, once you do catch a species that is prohibited, it’s recommended that you leave that area. If you continue to fish and catch fish you are not targeting, you could be cited.

If you are fishing during a closure (such as now) and start catching lingcod and rockfish, even if you are fishing catch and release, you could receive a citation for targeting those fish, depending on the situation.


Van Duzen River pikeminnow fishing regs?
Question: After a short 35-year hiatus, I have decided to return to sport fishing. I live within walking distance of the Van Duzen River and my friends tell me it is “infested” with pikeminnow, a non-native and destructive predator of salmonid eggs in this watershed. I have tried to read the regulations online but am confused as to the restrictions on this fish in my area. (Tony W.)

Answer: Welcome back! Sacramento pike are a California native species, and although they are natural predators of salmonids, they have coexisted in streams for many years.

For regulations on the Sacramento pikeminnow, please check section “5.95. OTHER SPECIES” on page 27 of the 2016-2017 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations handbook. Here it states that other species of fish not included in the species-specific regulations may be taken “in any number and at any time of the year by angling,” except for in the closures and restrictions listed under district special regulations. Specific regulations for the Van Duzen River can be found on page 42 of this regulations booklet (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 7.50(b)(63)(B)). Sacramento pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus grandis) are also referred to by some as Sacramento squawfish.


Selling skulls?
Question: Is it legal to sell skulls and bones from small mammals such as fox, skunk, raccoon, opossum, coyote, badger and bobcats? (Kayla M.)

Answer: No, it is “unlawful to sell or purchase a bird or mammal found in the wild in California” (Fish and Game Code, section 3039). However, “products or handicraft items made from furbearing mammals and nongame mammals lawfully taken under the authority of a trapping license may be purchased or sold at any time.”

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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.

Can a Turkey’s Age be Determined by Beard and Spur?



Monterey Rio Turkeys_186_8661

Rio Grande turkeys from Monterey (photo by Carrie Wilson)

Turkey identification
Question: I am fairly new to turkey hunting and hear everyone always referring to their birds by their beards and spurs. Can wild turkeys be aged based on these trophy characteristics? (Jim C., Modesto)

Answer: Yes and no. There is no absolute standard for identifying a wild turkey’s age, but there are some general guidelines that can be used to provide fairly reliable estimates.

While precisely determining a turkey’s age in years may be difficult, there is a surefire method for distinguishing between adults and juveniles using the last two primary flight feathers. In juvenile birds the feathers will be sharp at the ends. By the time the bird reaches maturity at one year of age, it will molt and the two sharp feathers will be replaced by more rounded ones.

Beyond this, beard and spur length can be used to estimate a bird’s age, but unfortunately, it’s not an exact method. Variables such as subspecies, environmental conditions, and possibly nutrition can alter the length of both the beard and the spur, resulting in a misrepresentation of the bird’s age.

In terms of beards, the general rule of thumb is the longer the beard, the older the bird. But, while a jake (juvenile) will not have a 10-inch beard, a four-year-old turkey may have a short beard due to any number of conditions. If the turkey is in “rough” vegetation, the beard may wear away on the ground more easily when it grows long. If a turkey has long legs, the beard will be able to grow longer before it reaches the ground, where it will naturally face wear and tear. The fact that the beard may have been altered at any time by environmental or circumstantial conditions prevents biologists from using this method as an accurate way of measuring a turkey’s age.

Spur length can also be used to estimate a bird’s age although, like beards, spurs can also wear down. Spur length does tend to be slightly more reliable than beard length, however, because they do not wear as easily.

While both of these methods are not entirely precise, they can provide an approximate age range. These estimates are not reliable for turkeys older than about three or four years though.


Freediving for horseneck (gaper) clams?
Question: I’m an avid free diver and spear fisherman, as well as a frequent clammer. While diving for crabs recently, I noticed a number of enormous clam siphons in the silty mud bottom in 4-8 feet of water. Having previously dug for horseneck clams (Tresus capax) on a number of occasions, it was clear to me that these were horseneck siphons, or “shows”. These clams are all well below the low tide line and would thus be impossible to dig in the traditional way. Would it be legal for me to harvest these clams using a homemade PVC “clam gun” to excavate the mud in which they are encased? Looking at the regulations pertaining to horseneck clams, underwater harvest is neither specifically permitted nor forbidden. (Carter J.)

Answer: Yes, you can take clams underwater using a “clam gun” as long as you are free diving. The use of SCUBA is prohibited for the take of clams north of Yankee Point in Monterey County. SCUBA can be used south of Yankee Point. You don’t say where you plan to dive for clams, but you may like to know that there are gaper clams south of Yankee Point.

Here’s what the regulations say:

Invertebrates
29.05. GENERAL.
(d) In all ocean waters skin and Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) divers may take invertebrates as provided in this article except that in all ocean waters north of Yankee Point (Monterey Co.), SCUBA may be used only to take sea urchins, rock scallops and crabs of the genus Cancer. For the purpose of this section, breathing tubes (snorkels) are not SCUBA.

29.20. CLAMS GENERAL.
(a) Except as provided in this article, there are no closed seasons, bag limits or size limits on saltwater clams.
(b) Fishing hours: One-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
(c) Special gear provisions: Spades, shovels, hoes, rakes or other appliances operated by hand, except spears or gaff hooks, may be used to take clams. No instrument capable of being used to dig clams may be possessed between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise, on any beach of this state, except tools and implements used in the work of cleaning, repairing or maintaining such beach when possessed by a person authorized by appropriate authority to perform such work.


Motorized decoys for doves and upland game
Question: Can motorized decoys, such as Mojo be used on doves or other upland game birds?

Answer: Yes.


Catching live shad for bait using a cast net?
Question: I live in San Joaquin County and have two fishing questions. First, is it legal to fish with live shad? Second, is it legal to use a cast net/bait net to catch shad and minnows? (Justin)

Answer: A casting net or throw net is unlawful to use or possess in inland waters, but dip nets are authorized for taking certain species of fin fish that can be used as bait (see California Code of Regulations Title 14, sections 4.00 – 4.30 in the Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations available online or wherever licenses are sold). Live shad may be used in the Valley and South Central Districts (CCR Title 14, section 4.10) in waters where taken, but they must be taken with a legal dip net under certain provisions.


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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.

Carrie is on vacation. This column was originally published Aug. 9, 2012.

Determining the Sex of Black Bass

Largemouth bass are very difficult to sex unless you catch them in spawning mode (Creative Commons photo)

Largemouth bass are very difficult to sex unless you catch them in spawning mode (Creative Commons photo)

Question: We fish Lake Silverwood most of the time, and usually it’s for bass. Is there a way to determine the sex of a largemouth bass? We are interested primarily in the fish we catch in the spring. Also, are crayfish part of the diet for bass in Lake Silverwood? (Doug T., Hesperia).

Answer: Unfortunately, there is no easy way to sex black bass (including largemouth bass) unless they are in spawning mode. The males move up first into the spawning areas and make the nests. The females then join them when they’re ready. When you see a pair on a nest, the male is usually the smaller of the pair and will be the most aggressive. A single female will mate with more than one male during the spawning season. And regarding their diet, yes, crayfish are part of the black bass diet.


Deer hunting from my house?
Question: I have a house on five acres in northern California and have some really nice bucks on my land. Every day they come within a few feet of my house and graze on my garden and plants. If I purchase an A Zone tag this year, can I legally shoot a deer on my land from my house or porch? My house is situated more than 200 yards from any other property or house and it is outside of the city limits. Thanks. (Brian T.)

Answer: Yes. The safety zone law prohibits shooting within 150 yards of any occupied dwelling without the permission of the occupant. As long as it is otherwise legal to discharge a firearm in this area (e.g. not in the city limits or not prohibited by county ordinance), then go for it!


Landing net size for ocean kayak fishing?
Question: What size opening on a landing net is needed for ocean fishing? I fish from a kayak between San Francisco Bay and the Mexico border, and all points in between. (Jeff K.)

Answer: A landing net is required when fishing from any vessel on the ocean. “No person shall take finfish from any boat or other floating device in ocean waters without having a landing net in possession or available for immediate use to assist in landing undersize fish of species having minimum size limits; the opening of any such landing net shall be not less than eighteen inches in diameter” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, 28.65(d)).

Fishermen are ultimately responsible for being able to determine whether the fish they take are of legal size. When in doubt, your best bet is to consult the California Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.


What license for crabbing via a “crab snare”?
Question: A friend and I would really like to try our hand at getting some crab this year using crab snares (loop traps). I am referring to the types that have a bait cage with a bunch of snares attached and are cast out using a rod and reel. The problem is that I’m not sure if we just need a normal fishing license or something else. Can you please clarify? (Kyle C.)

Answer: Just a normal fishing license is all that is required for crabbing.


Is ocean fishing with a crossbow legal?
Question: Is it legal to take fish in Southern California oceans using a crossbow? I know that using a bow and arrow is legal but I would like to know if crossbows are also legal. I also realize that the usual bag limits, size limits and closures apply. (Rod)

Answer: Spears, harpoons and bow and arrow fishing tackle (including crossbows) may be used for taking all varieties of skates, rays and sharks, except white sharks. Such gear may not be possessed or used within 100 yards of the mouth of any stream in any ocean waters north of Ventura County, nor aboard any vessel on any day or trip when broadbill swordfish or marlin have been taken. Bow and arrow fishing tackle may also be used to take finfish other than giant (black) sea bass, garibaldi, gulf grouper, broomtail grouper, trout, salmon, broadbill swordfish and white shark (CCR Title 14, section 28.95).

For hunting purposes, crossbows are not considered to be archery equipment (see CCR Title 14, section 354). But under the fishing regulations, crossbows qualify as bow and arrow fishing tackle. It does not matter what type of bow or crossbow is used under legal bow and arrow fishing, but a line must be attached to the bow and the arrow/bolt (CCR Title 14, section 1.23). If using a crossbow for shark fishing, be sure of the species and any associated size and/or bag limits before pulling that trigger.

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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.

Spearfishing for White Seabass

Kirby Morejohn and Garo Hachigian_photo by Kirby Morejohn)

Large white seabass taken by spear fishermen Kirby Morejohn and Garo Hachigian (Photo by Kirby Morejohn)

Question: It’s been an ongoing debate among our small spearfishing group and it’s time to ask the authorities. When spearfishing from a boat, if a diver reaches his maximum limit of three white seabass (WSB) for the day and then gifts one of his fish to somebody who does not have a fish, can the person who caught the fish hunt for one more WSB since he now only has two in his possession? (Chester L.)

Answer: No, each spear fisherman (or angler) is allowed to catch and keep up to three white seabass per day, period. If a fisherman chooses to give one away, that’s fine, but they cannot then continue to try to catch another to refill their personal bag limit for the day. That spear fisherman would have to wait until the next day, and if they still had their two WSB in possession, they would only be able to catch one more the next day because three WSB is both the daily bag limit and the possession limit.

There are a couple of exceptions here, though. Anglers/divers who will be out to sea for multiple days can get a multi-day fishing permit that will allow them to keep up to three limits of WSB over three days if they have secured this permit prior to their trip and followed all of the associated regulations under California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 27.15. There is also a one-fish limit between March 15 and June 15 for the take of white seabass south of Point Conception.


Finishing hunt after legal hunting hours?
Question: I hunt with a bow and on some occasions will shoot my game right at sundown and then have to chase my animal sometimes for an hour or more. And then when I find it, I may have to shoot it again. Is it legal to finish off an animal after dark if it was shot during the legal hunting hours? (Geoff M., Camarillo)

Answer: No. Authorized hunting and shooting hours are clearly stated in the regulations as running from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset (CCR Title 14, sections 310, 310.5 and 352). To shoot an animal outside of those authorized hours is illegal.

Whenever possible, try to plan your hunt so that you will not be pushing the envelope right at the end of hunt hours and can leave ample time to track and retrieve the animal during legal hours.


Shooting aggressive ravens?
Question: What are the restrictions on shooting ravens in California? I have personally witnessed ravens killing baby chukar and baby red-tailed hawks. At my home they raid my chickens and steal the eggs. They like to sit on a pole where the remnants of their kill ends up on the ground, including a variety of egg shell bits and baby desert tortoise shells. I have also seen a group of ravens attempting to kill a cat. I know that they became protected at one time, but what is the status now? Can I shoot the ones on and around my property? (David C.)

Answer: No. Ravens, Corvus corax, are protected by both California (Fish and Game Code, section 3513) and federal laws (Title 50-CFR). Ravens may not be taken in California except under the authority of a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). For more information regarding the availability of permits, please check the USFWS Permits website.


Transporting overlimits?
Question: Can I transport an overlimit of fish carcasses to the dump? For example, three peoples’ fish limits are cleaned at a home location. Then, one person pulls the short straw and gets stuck having to take the combined carcasses by vehicle to the dump. I can see how if they were stopped by law enforcement and they had an overlimit of three peoples’ carcasses carried by one person, an explanation stating that person was dumping three legal limits of carcasses may or may not fly with a warden. Can you please provide some clarity? (Trevor L.)

Answer: The department recommends that the person transporting the carcasses have copies of each person’s fishing licenses, or at least their names and contact information in case the transport and disposal of more than one person’s limit comes into question.

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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.

Ultra-lights and Fixed Wing Aircraft Harassing Wildlife

Ultra-light aircraft cannot be flown lower than 500 ft. from the surface (Creative Commons photo)

Ultra-light aircraft may not be operated at an altitude lower that 500 feet or closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel or structure (Creative Commons photo)

Question: We live around the Imperial Wildlife Area (Wister Unit) and over the past two years we’ve seen an influx of ultra-light air craft flying over the Imperial Wildlife Area, sometimes very low. For example, on June 15 we saw three ultra-light crafts fly from a local airport and circle all of the wildlife area where there’s water, sometimes getting as low as 25 feet. This spooked all of the waterfowl and shore birds, and most of the shore birds were nesting and harassed by this.

I know there are harassment laws in place for this (Fish and Game Code, section 3003.5) as I contacted California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) wildlife officers, but all of us were uncertain how or if there are any height restrictions for aircraft flying over state wildlife areas. This has also happened during waterfowl season where the ultra-lights were flying within feet of hunters’ spreads of 2,000 or more snow goose decoys.

Can you please help us determine whether there are any height restriction codes prohibiting such activities over state wildlife areas? I have Googled this and have only found Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) results for federal lands and know now that the FAA doesn’t have state wildlife areas listed. (Richard F.)

Answer: While there is no specific section in the Fish and Game Code regarding these low-flying aircraft, section 2009 may apply. This section

makes it a misdemeanor to willfully interfere with someone who is engaged in the sport of hunting. Given the circumstances you described, this section could be used to prevent these low-flying

aircraft from interfering with hunters on state wildlife areas during the open season.

There are also two regulations that may apply to the actions you describe. “No person shall pursue, drive, herd or take any bird or mammal from any type of motor-driven air or land vehicles, motorboat, airboat, sailboat or snowmobile” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 251). Also, “No person shall harass, herd or drive any game or nongame bird or mammal or furbearing mammal. For the purposes of this section, harass is defined as an intentional act which disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to breeding, feeding or sheltering” (CCR Title 14, section 251.1). These regulations are punishable as misdemeanors.

Low-flying aircraft are regulated by FAA Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) and the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Generally, when flying over other than congested areas (i.e. cities, towns or settlements), they may be operated at an altitude not lower than 500 feet above the surface, except when over open water or sparsely populated areas where they may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle or structure (FARs, CFR Title 14, section 91.119(c)).


Shipping sport-caught fish home
Question: We have chartered a sportfishing party boat for 25 of our out-of-town clients. If they get their daily bag limits and want their fish shipped home via overnight carrier, would each person have to be present at the shipping office with their fish? If so, would each person need to show their fishing license to the clerk at the shipping office? Would each person’s fishing license need to be packed inside the box with the fish being shipped out? Or could someone from our business have each person’s fishing license/ID and just ship everyone’s fish home for them? (Annette T.)

Answer: Each person would need to be present to check their fish into the shipping office because it is unlawful for someone to transport more than one limit of fish (FGC, section 2347). It’s also illegal for someone to ship more than one limit of fish (FGC, section 2346). While each angler will need to be at the shipping office with their fish, they are not legally required to show their fishing license to the shipper, nor do they need to include a copy of their fishing license inside the box containing their fish (but it’s not a bad idea to do so). The carrier may have their own policy on this, but CDFW does not regulate it. The outside of the package containing the fish must clearly and conspicuously indicate the name and address of the shipper, name and address of the consignee and the number and kind of fish inside the package (FGC, section 2348).


Making your own abalone irons
Question: I would like to make my own abalone irons. What are the specifications to do so legally? (Jim B., Oakdale)]

Answer: Abalone irons must be less than 36 inches long, straight or with a curve having a radius of not less than 18 inches, and must not be less than 3/4 inch wide nor less than 1/16 inch thick. All edges must be rounded and free of sharp edges (CCR Title 14, section 29.15[e]).

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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.