Category Archives: Invertebrates

How to Determine if a Black Bear Has a Cub Nearby?

During hunting season, black bear sows may have dependent cubs nearby. If you have any doubts, don't take the shot (Photo courtesy of Pat Matthews, ODFW)

During hunting season, black bear sows may have dependent cubs nearby. If you have any doubts, don’t take the bear (Photo courtesy of Pat Matthews, ODFW)

Question: When hunting bears, how can you be certain that the adult you are stalking does not have a cub nearby? And what should be done if after the harvesting of a bear, you determine or find out that it had a cub hidden from sight (like up a tree)? (Dwight H.)

Answer: As you track the bear and do not encounter smaller bear-like tracks in close proximity, it may indicate you are not stalking a family unit but instead an individual adult or sub-adult. If possible, from a distance try to observe the bear with binoculars to further verify that it is not accompanied by cubs.

According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife Bear Program Coordinator Jesse Garcia, black bear young are born around the first of February while the sow is hibernating. The newborn cubs weigh less than a pound at birth and continue developing while suckling. They emerge with the sow from their dens in April or May at around five to seven pounds.

Cubs are dependent on their mother’s milk for 30 weeks (birth through early September), transitioning to solid food after their teeth have erupted, and will reach independence at 16–18 months. Cubs approaching their first birthday will be denning with their mother and learn aspects about hibernating.

Cubs of the year will be dependent upon and remain with their mother throughout the entire bear season while they are less than a year old. Sows with yearlings (one year plus) will have separated by the time the first bear season opens in early August. The percentage of sows with cubs of the year during bear season can change from one year to the next based on various factors.

Keep in mind that all bear harvesting requires immediate reporting. Therefore, the inadvertent take of a sow with a hidden cub would also need to be reported for follow-up enforcement action. If there is any doubt at all, do not take the bear.


Dungeness crab buoy identification with GO ID?
Question: I enjoy sport fishing for crabs and am wondering if I have two buoys on each crab trap, am I required to mark both buoys with my GO ID number? Do you have a recommended method of marking the buoy with the GO ID number? I am assuming this number changes with each year’s new license? If yes, then writing the number on the buoy will look bad after a couple years.

My buddy and I share six traps. Sometimes he takes them on his boat, sometimes I take them on mine, but we don’t always fish together. Do you have any suggestions for whose GO ID number should be on the buoys? Are we required to change the GO ID number depending on who is using the traps, assuming we are not fishing together? (Steve W.)

Answer: Crab traps are required to be marked with a buoy, and “each buoy shall be legibly marked to identify the operator’s GO ID number” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.80). At least one crab trap buoy must be marked with the operator’s GO ID number. Your GO ID is tied to you and is your individual identifying number for all fishing/hunting license and tag transactions you may make over your lifetime. It remains the same over the years and will not change. The number must be marked in a permanent manner on your buoys. It may be applied via burning, painting, permanent marker, etc. Just make sure the number is legible and will not wear off or become unreadable.

If two fishermen are sharing traps, the buoys should be marked with both GO ID numbers. That way, whichever person is working the traps on a given day has his number on the buoys. Keep in mind that if any of these traps are found to be in violation (such as set in an MPA), both fishermen could potentially be cited.


Fishing in isolated ponds
Question: As our creeks dry up, ponds are formed, some of which appear at the road culverts. Is it legal to fish these ponds with a pole, by hand or a dip net? (Jeanne G., Portola)

Answer: In intermittent streams like you describe, what appear to be ponds are actually isolated pools. Although not apparent during the dry season, water may still be flowing out of sight, under the streambed surface. This is often called “intragravel flow.” Because a creek is still a stream and not actually a pond or lake, the stream regulations still apply. Fish can only be taken from these waters under the regulations currently applicable for that stream, including seasons, limits, methods of take, etc. Current California Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations can be found online or you can pick up a copy of the booklet wherever fishing licenses are sold.

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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.

Using a Dinosaur Blind for Waterfowl Hunting?

(Creative Commons photo)

(Creative Commons photo)

Question: I realize this may sound like a really dumb question or a joke, but I’m honestly being serious. Can I make a plywood cutout of a dinosaur to hide behind so that I can better sneak up on waterfowl? I recently heard about using a plywood cutout of a cow as a way to approach ducks and geese. However, I then saw that this is illegal in California because hunters are not allowed to use something that looks like a mammal to approach waterfowl. Dinosaurs aren’t mammals though so I don’t see why this wouldn’t work, but I just wanted to ask. (Sydney M.)

Answer: Fish and Game Code, section 3502, which is derived from a provision of the Penal Code dating to 1909, prohibits using “any mammal (except a dog) or an imitation of a mammal as a blind in approaching or taking game birds.” Since dinosaurs are not mammals, you will be ok as long as your blind can’t be confused with a mammal.


Is a SUP considered a vessel?
Question: Is a stand-up-paddle (SUP) board considered a vessel when used in the taking of abalone? I ask because I’m wondering if I have to fill out my abalone tag on my SUP before coming to shore. (Jonathan W.)

Answer: No, you may wait until you come ashore to tag and fill out your abalone report card. Although California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.16(b)(1) requires that people taking abalone “shall tag any red abalone either immediately upon exiting the water or immediately upon boarding a vessel, whichever occurs first,” it also provides that people “who dive from a non-motorized vessel such as a kayak that is in the water may wait until immediately after disembarking from the non-motorized vessel to tag and record any abalone in possession.”


Still confused about antibiotics in stocked fish
Question: I just read with interest in the Modesto Bee your answer to the question about antibiotics in stocked fish. The answer doesn’t make sense to me. First, you say that hatchery fish are treated with antibiotics when necessary to save their lives and it is done on an as-needed basis. Knowing that hatchery fish number in the tens of thousands, and no individual fish would be pulled out and antibiotics delivered to just those fish, you must be saying, yes, they are treated, right? And then you finish the answer with “none of the stocked fish have antibiotics.” Huh? (Barbara S.)

Answer: Sorry for any confusion. When the fish need to be treated with antibiotics, then they are treated as a group since most ailments would be ones that would affect them all. Antibiotics are only used when necessary to save lives, and there is a good chance that none of the fish raised during a growing cycle were ever treated with antibiotics at all.

Prior to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approving (registering) any antibiotics for use in food fish, they set withdrawal times to ensure public safely. Withdrawal times are meant to guarantee that residual antibiotics are either non-detectable, or lower than the FDA’s acceptable limits, prior to the fish being released.

Once all treatments are finished, the fish are held for the required time for the chemicals to work their way out of their bodies. Only after this time can those fish finally be planted and available for human consumption.

Some other agricultural industries have been criticized for using antibiotics as a growth aid. We don’t do that for the fish we supply to our anglers.


Sport fishing on a commercial crab boat?
Question: Can commercial boats sport fish for Dungeness crab during the sport season when the commercial season is closed? (Anonymous)

Answer: Yes, if the commercial vessel is not engaged in any commercial activity (FGC, section 7856(f)), the commercial vessel does not hold a Dungeness crab vessel permit (CCR Title 14, section 132.1(a)), and everyone taking crab or fishing onboard has a sport fishing license and is following sport fishing regulations.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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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.

Why So Many Blacktail “Stags”?

Stags are male deer that most notably exhibit antler abnormalities, often due to hormonal changes resulting from testicular damage or caused by a birth defect known as “cryptorchidism.” (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

Stags are male deer that most notably exhibit antler abnormalities. Often this is due to hormonal changes resulting from testicular damage or caused by a birth defect known as “cryptorchidism.” (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

Question: While looking through our trail cameras in a particular area this year, we’ve observed that roughly a third of the blacktail bucks are actually stags. I’ve been told that a parasite causes this and so I am curious what the cause might be. I am also concerned with the prevalence of this condition in this herd. Is this something that can take over a herd? Also, are there any exceptions for taking a mature buck that will never grow a fork? (Ian S.)

Answer: By definition, stags are male deer that most notably exhibit antler abnormalities. This is often due to hormonal changes resulting from testicular damage or caused by a birth defect known as “cryptorchidism.” When the normal production of testosterone is altered or diminished, the antler characteristics may morph to look significantly different from those of normal bucks and the animals’ behavior may never change to take them into the seasonal rut. Stags may remain in velvet and not shed their antlers, or the antlers may become misshapen and grow many points. Some stags never grow any points at all.

We are aware of this occurrence and have been taking reports of bucks with underdeveloped or atrophied testicles, primarily from the northwest region of the state. Our wildlife veterinarians are collecting and analyzing samples when they get them, but the cause is still undetermined. We really doubt that it’s due to a parasite but our research continues as a definitive cause has yet to be found.

As far as exceptions for the take of one of these stags without a fork, there are none. Regulations require bucks to have a forked horn or better, and there are no exceptions when filling a buck tag.


Miss Peep is still in my pool and won’t leave
Question: I live in Riverside and rent a house with a pool that a mommy duck and her three ducklings have also been enjoying. I left them alone to do their own thing so that they would hopefully move on when ready. Unfortunately, one disappeared and one drowned even though I put a ramp at the steps of the pool. One duckling (Miss Peep) has survived and grown a lot. Mother duck flew away about two weeks ago but Miss Peep is still hanging out.

My dilemma is the owner of the house is opposed to her staying here and so has instructed the pool guy to “add something” to the water that the pool guy said will make her sink, or possibly drown. I’m very upset by this but am not certain she can fly away yet. She’s about 10-11 weeks old and I’ve never even seen her try. I really want to see her survive and fly away as she is intended. Food is plentiful, with an abundance of crickets in my yard.

Is it illegal to use something in the pool that can harm the duck? We have told the pool guy that she is a protected animal and to not disturb her. Last week my son saw him spraying pool water at her, perhaps as a joke, but it isn’t funny to me. What can I do to protect this little duck and get her off on the right feathered flight? (Dawn F., Riverside)

Answer: The little duck should be nearly ready to fly. The general rule is around 60 days to flight. If the little duck feels safe in your yard with the pool and it has plenty of food, it may not be motivated to fly off right away. Your best course of action would probably be to contact a nearby wildlife rehabilitator near you to ask for assistance.

For a list of approved and licensed rehab facilities, please go to http://www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/laboratories/wildlife-investigations/rehab/facilities. Good luck with Miss Peep!


Octopus fishing with PVC tubes?
Question: I’m curious about octopus fishing. I know they are considered mollusks without shells and the only permitted methods of take listed are hook and line and by hand. Are there any other more detailed restrictions I should be aware of regarding octopus? Is the use of scuba permitted? I’ve read about setting out sections of PVC tubes in sandy areas between reefs as a sort of trap. Would it be legal to set these out and then either freedive or scuba down and grab the octopus out of them by hand? (Michael S.)

Answer: You may either freedive or use scuba to take octopus by hand. However, don’t set out any PVC tubes. These would be considered a trap and cannot be used to take octopus.

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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.

Bowfishing for Bullfrogs?

Bullfrogs can be taken by bow and arrow (CDFW photo by Dave Feliz)

Bullfrogs can be taken by bow and arrow (CDFW photo by Dave Feliz)

Question: In the regulations it says it’s legal to use bow and arrow to take bullfrogs. Does this mean we are also allowed to take them using compound bows? (J. Riggs)

Answer: Yes, compound bows are legal for taking bullfrogs as long as the arrow shaft or the point, or both, are attached by a line to the bow or to a fishing reel (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 1.23). Bow fishing for bullfrogs will also require you to have a California sport fishing license. Amphibians may be taken only by hand, hand-held dip net, or hook and line, except bullfrogs may also be taken by lights, spears, gigs, grabs, paddles, bow and arrow or fishing tackle (CCR Title 14, section 5.05(e)). Since there are some protected frog species that may coexist with bullfrogs, please be sure you are correctly identifying your frog as a bullfrog, Rana (Lithobates) cataesbeiana, before releasing your arrow!


Lead ammo on Native American reservations?
Question: I have a relative with land that borders a Native American reservation. For the past 40 years I have hunted doves and quail on his ranch. I talked to a tribal member next to the ranch and he said they still use lead shot and bullets when they hunt, and if they lease the part of the ranch where I hunt, I could still use lead shot there because they are a sovereign nation. He also said I did not need a California hunting license, stamps or tags except from the tribal government. I always love to read your column. Please advise me if this information is correct. (Jay S.)

Answer: Non -tribal members (you), even if given permission by a tribe to hunt within the tribe’s reservation or on its lands, may still be required to have a valid California hunting license, stamps and tags and comply with California hunting laws. Check with a California Wildlife Officer to confirm whether you will need. A non-tribal member may also be required to comply with tribal hunting and fishing regulations within a tribe’s reservation. Also, federal law prohibits entering tribal lands without permission for the purpose of hunting and transporting wildlife taken in violation of tribal law, so hunters are encouraged to contact the tribe before hunting within a tribe’s reservation or on tribal lands.

Tribal members within their own reservation, with very limited exceptions, are subject to federal and tribal fish and wildlife laws, rather than state laws. The lead ammo ban would not apply to them within their own reservation (Fish and Game Code, section 12300, 16 US Code sections 3372 and 18 US Code section 1165).


Rotten cotton?
Question: I am trying to make my crab traps compliant with the new “rotten cotton” regulations that require escape features must be threaded with single strand untreated cotton of no greater than size 120. My traps are tied with multi strand cotton. I cannot find single strand cotton cord. All the places that sell replacement cord seem to carry only multi strand. I was thinking of untwisting the multi strand cord and using the single strands. Any suggestions? (Walter)d-crab-trap-1

Answer: Twine size is based on the diameter of the line, which is based on established size reference tables. You must use a single strand of untreated cotton twine size 120 or less. “Single strand” in the regulations refers to one strand of whatever cotton twine (legal size) that a person may choose to use. It does not refer to the number of strands that make up the single strand of cotton twine. Commercial crab fishermen have been required to include escape openings using this “rotten cotton” for many years without problems. If you’re having trouble finding it, check fisherman supply warehouses or businesses that sell commercial fishing supplies.d-crab-trap-5

“Starting Aug. 1, 2016, crab traps shall contain at least one destruct device of a single strand of untreated cotton twine size No. 120 or less that creates an unobstructed escape opening in the top or upper half of the trap of at least five inches in diameter when the destruct attachment material corrodes or fails” (CCR Title 14, section 29.80(c)(2)).

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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.

New Dungeness Crab Trap Regulations in Place

Dungeness crabs from the San Francisco Bay Area (photo by Carrie Wilson)

Dungeness crabs from the San Francisco Bay Area (photo by Carrie Wilson)

Question: Are there new regulations for Dungeness crab traps? I heard traps must be marked with the “GO ID” number. Is this something I need to get to put on my traps? When does the season open and are there any other new regulations? (Peter G., Bodega Bay)

Answer: The recreational Dungeness crab season will open statewide on Sat., Nov. 5. However, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has issued a warning to recreational anglers not to consume the viscera (internal organs) of Dungeness crab caught in coastal waters north of Point Reyes due to the sporadic detection of elevated levels of domoic acid in the viscera of Dungeness crabs caught off the northern California coast. Recreational crabbers should consult the CDPH biotoxin information line at (800) 553-4133 or CDPH’s Domoic Acid health information webpage for more information.

Several new regulations became effective on Aug. 1, 2016 and are available beginning on page 50 in the Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations book. Some of these include:

Crab trap buoys must display the “GO ID” number of the operator of the trap.

This is the unique 10-digit identifier assigned by the Automated License Data System to your profile. It will appear on your fishing license and all documents purchased through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Crab traps must possess a buoy and each buoy must be legibly marked with the trap operator’s GO ID number as stated on his or her sport fishing license. This regulation will help to ensure that crab traps are being used by the designated operator of the trap in order to prevent others from unlawfully disturbing or removing crab from crab traps. This regulation does not apply to traps deployed from commercial passenger fishing vessels (i.e. charter and party boats) or hoop nets.

Crab traps must contain at least one destruct device made from a single strand of untreated cotton twine size No. 120 or less that creates an unobstructed opening anywhere in the top or upper half of the trap that is at least five inches in diameter when this material corrodes or fails.

Destruct devices prevent “ghost fishing” (the continuous trapping of organisms in lost or abandoned trap gear). The cotton twine must be a single strand and untreated in order for the material to corrode relatively quickly on lost or abandoned gear, and to keep the twine from snagging on itself once it comes apart. The smaller the size of cotton twine used, the faster the material will corrode in lost or abandoned trap gear. The opening must be located in the top or upper half of the trap in case the trap becomes silted in over time. Try using untreated cotton twine attached between the metal or plastic hook and the rubber strap that keeps the top of the trap lid (or trap side) closed. The cotton twine should be attached with a single loop to aid the destruct process (see illustrations).

Crab traps must not be deployed or fished less than seven days prior to the opening of the Dungeness crab season.

New this season, crab traps used to take either Dungeness crab or rock crab can’t be used or deployed in state waters from Oct. 29 until the Dungeness crab fishery opens at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 5. Any crab traps found in ocean waters prior to this seven-day period should be removed from the water by Oct. 28. This is to prevent the unlawful take of Dungeness crab before the season starts. “Take” is defined as hunting, catching, capturing or killing of fish, amphibians, reptiles, mollusks, crustaceans or invertebrates, or attempting to do so.

New this year: In an effort to help recreational crabbers when deploying crab trap gear to reduce surface lines and entanglements with animals (especially marine mammals and sea turtles) and other vessels, CDFW created the Best Practices Guide available online. Please check it out. And although there is no time limit for the checking of crab trap gear (as there is for hoop nets), frequent visits will ensure that traps are in good working condition and that crab captured in the trap are not held for too long.

Regulations remaining in place include: Every crab trap must be outfitted with two rigid circular escape openings that are a minimum of 4¼ inches in diameter and located so that the lowest portion is, at the most, five inches from the top of the trap. This is to allow small crabs to easily escape from the trap. Crab traps can only be used in state waters north of Point Arguello, Santa Barbara County. There is no limit to the number of crab traps that can be used by recreational crabbers, except the limit is 60 when operating under authority of a commercial passenger fishing vessel license. The daily bag and possession limit for Dungeness crab remains the same at 10 crabs per day with the minimum size limit 5¾ inches (measured by the shortest distance through the body from the edges of the shell directly in front of and excluding the points/lateral spines).

Dungeness crab can be taken in all ocean waters of the state where they occur, excluding San Francisco and San Pablo bays. They can be taken using hoop nets, crab traps and/or crab loop traps, also known as crab snares, or skin and scuba divers may take them by hand. Dungeness crab can be taken in freshwater areas of the state between Del Norte and Sonoma counties only by hand or hoop net during the open season, and the same daily bag and size limits apply.

For the latest crab fishing information, please visit the CDFW website.

Examples of 5-inch diameter destruct devices using single strand No. 120 untreated cotton twine.

d-crab-trap-1

Box trap with single strand No. 120 untreated cotton twine attached to 4 1/4-inch escape ring. (CDFW photo by J. Langell and J. Hendricks)

Escape ring removed. Corners of attachment points to the escape ring are bent down to achieve 5-inch diameter destruct device. photo by J. Langell and J. Hendricks

Escape ring removed. Corners of attachment points to the escape ring are bent down to achieve 5-inch diameter destruct device. (Photo by J. Langell and J. Hendricks)

d-crab-trap-3

Box trap using rubber strap, single strand No. 120 untreated cotton twine, and hook to secure side of trap. (CDFW photo by J. Langell and J. Hendricks)

d-crab-trap-4

When No. 120 untreated cotton twine deteriorates on the box trap, the open side of the trap meets the minimum 5-inch diameter destruct device requirement. (CDFW photo by J. Langell and J. Hendricks)

d-crab-trap-5

Round trap (or “pot”) using rubber strap, single strand No. 120 untreated cotton twine and hook to secure lid of the trap. When No. 120 untreated cotton twine deteriorates, the lid of the trap opens and meets the minimum 5-inch diameter destruct device requirement.

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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.

Kite Fishing

(CDFW photo by Sabrina Bell)

(CDFW photo by Sabrina Bell)

Question: Can you tell me the regulations regarding using a fishing kite from shore or a pier to catch fish? We use these specially modified kites to help us get our lines out farther than the distance we could normally cast them. (Jenny C.)

Answer: There are no specific regulations prohibiting the use of a kite or other windborne device (a helium-filled balloon, for example) to help you get your line out to where the fish are. However, please be mindful of the environment and remember that any items or materials discarded or abandoned could be considered litter. If, for instance, an angler used a balloon to catch a fish and then released the balloon when the fish was hooked — or when the line reached the desired distance from shore — the angler could be subject to citation.

Also, there may be city or county ordinances that pertain to this, so please check with local authorities.


What to do about raccoons visiting my backyard
Question: I live in a residential area and raccoons have begun visiting my backyard at night. They are using my yard as a rest stop in their nightly urban foraging. Our backyard is landscaped including a grass lawn. I am looking for anything short of cages to discourage them. Is there any non-toxic substance I can spread near their entrance/exit point to discourage their visits? They do not appear to be eating or digging up anywhere in the yard, but they’ve adopted my yard as their restroom. I would appreciate any insight or suggestions you may have. (John W., Elk Grove)

Answer: We see an upsurge in raccoon sightings and reports this time of year because youngsters born in the spring are now independent of their moms and the adults are building up their fat reserves for the winter.

According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Wildlife Biologist Jeff Cann, you should first remove all attractants from your yard such as pet food, dropped fruit, old garden vegetables, and securely close all garbage cans and compost heap containers. Even water can be an attractant this time of year, so if you have a fountain or fish pond, try to make it off limits (e.g. electric fence or dry it out). If the raccoons are coming in through holes in the fence, block those entry points with wire, wood or some other barrier.

Keep in mind that raccoons are excellent climbers and are capable of gaining access to yards by climbing fences or using overhanging limbs to bypass fences altogether. Cutting overhanging limbs may help to keep them from dropping in. If the raccoons are climbing over your fence, one deterrent could be to line the top with spikes or sharp tack strips. An easy way to do this is via carpet tack strips which are essentially a lot of little nails anchored in wood that carpet installers use to stretch carpet over. If you completely line the top of the fence with these then the raccoons will not use the top board as a transit way either. A “hot wire” from an electric fence charger at the top of the fence will greatly increase the effectiveness of a fence for excluding raccoons but you’ll need to find a way to properly ground it.

While these may all seem like extreme measures, the point here is to make your yard less hospitable than your neighbors so the pesky critters will move on.

If you’re looking for chemical detractors, one option you could try is Capsaicin (a chile pepper extract). It’s registered as a repellent for raccoons and may be useful in deterring trash-raiding raccoons.

A great place for more information on all of this is the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program page on raccoons. Good luck!


Is licorice legal bait?
Question: My brother and I have two burning questions we have been wondering about. Is it legal to use licorice to fish with as bait? Also, we observed a man with a syringe injecting air into his bait worms so they would float off the bottom. Is this legal? (Marcus O.)

Answer: Processed food, such as licorice, are legal under bait regulations for inland waters where bait is legal (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 4.00). It is also legal to inject air into a fishing worm and many such kits are found at sporting goods outlets. This method can be a very effective way to keep a worm off the bottom of lakes with heavy bottom vegetation.


Can you lure a lobster with a sardine?
Question: Are you allowed to lure lobsters out of a hole with a piece of sardine in your hand? (David C.)

Answer: Sure, you can give it a try, but I don’t know how successful you’ll be. The law says that skin and SCUBA divers may take crustaceans by the use of the hands only and may not possess any hooked device while diving or attempting to dive for them (CCR Title 14, section 29.80). There is no prohibition against waving snacks in front of them.

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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 Nov. 20, 2008.

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.