Category Archives: Marine Mammals

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.

Sea Lions Are Eating All My Bait!

The increased abundance of pinnipeds has also resulted in a growing number of negative interactions with humans and incidents of property damage (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals have been federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act since 1972. The increased abundance of pinnipeds has also resulted in a growing number of negative interactions with humans and incidents of property damage (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

Question: Is there anything I can do to deter or discourage sea lions from eating all my crabbing bait? I know that seals and sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act but I’ve heard there are exceptions for recreational fishermen to deter them to prevent damage to private property, including gear and catch. What can I legally do to chase off these seals/sea lions or at least prevent them from chewing up my bait cages and hoop nets? Is it legal to shoot them with paintball guns? (Sam L.)

Answer: California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals have been federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act since 1972, and thus harassing, capturing, killing or attempting to do so is prohibited and carries a hefty fine. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in recent years the populations of these animals have increased dramatically and are now considered healthy and robust.

Unfortunately, with the good often comes the bad – the increased abundance of animals has also resulted in a growing number of negative interactions with humans and incidents of property damage. People seeking legal methods for deterring marine mammals in order to protect their property, fishing gear and catch from damage by sea lions and seals can find recommendations and approved methods on NOAA’s website, http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/marine_mammals/deterring_qa.html.


Shooting wrong deer
Question: If you are out hunting and shoot a spike by mistake, what should a person do? What kind of trouble could a hunter get into for that if reported to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)? (Steve C.)

Answer: If you shoot a spike deer by mistake, you should immediately contact your local CDFW office and/or your local wildlife officer to report it and explain what the situation was that caused the mistake. You may still be cited for wrongly harvesting an animal that you are not authorized to take, and if convicted you could lose your deer hunting privileges for the following year in all wildlife violator compact states. If you try to conceal the animal, don’t tag it, take it home or leave it in the field without field dressing it, you may be cited for additional violations that entail higher fines and penalties. And these actions could lead to an extended revocation of your deer hunting privileges in all Wildlife Violator compact states, or may lead to the revocation of all hunting privileges in California and all wildlife violator compact states.


Archery for quail
Question: I am planning on archery hunting for quail this year. Do the same laws from shotgun apply to archery? Does the quail have to be flying before shooting at it? Or if archery hunting, can the quail be standing on the ground or sitting in the trees? (John V.)

Answer: The early archery-only season for quail ended on Sept. 4, but using archery equipment generally allows you to hunt both during the archery-only season (listed under California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 300) and during the general season. Otherwise, the bag and possession limits are the same.

Whether to shoot the birds when flying vs. when they are standing on the ground or roosting in trees is not a legal question but rather an ethical decision that you must make. Under the widely accepted “fair chase” principles that most hunters abide by, shooting upland game birds or waterfowl under conditions other than when they are flying would violate this principal and be considered unethical.


Six months residency requirement
Question: If a taxpayer is considered a California resident for tax purposes and pays about $6000 a year in California income tax, plus California sales tax, but has lived overseas for part of the year, why can’t they purchase a resident fishing license until after they have physically resided in California for six months? Under fishing regs it would be legal to purchase a license in January, leave the country and return in 11 months and the California license is still valid within the same year. What is the point of this rule? (Bob R.)

Answer: While there are many ways the legislature could have defined residency, for purposes of purchasing hunting and fishing licenses, Fish and Game Code section 70 defines a resident as “any person who has resided continuously in the State of California for six months or more immediately prior…” to the date of application for a license or permit. The law also includes specific provisions regarding persons on active duty in the military and persons enrolled in the federal Job Corps. The purpose of this law is to provide criteria to establish residency for the purpose of purchasing hunting and fishing licenses.

According to CDFW License Program Analyst Glenn Underwood, the law does not say that you cannot leave California while you are a resident. However, if you live outside of California, your identification is based outside of California, or you buy resident licenses in another state or country, then you will not be able to purchase a resident California license. Many people attempt to purchase resident licenses in more than one state.

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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.