Q&A with the DFG

The following is a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) brought up by members of the Pier Fishing in California web site and answered by Ed Roberts from the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG). We thank him and the rest of the DFG for their time and effort in putting this together.

Any laws and regulations mentioned on this page are subject to change. Be sure to check the current laws and regulations by going to the California Department of Fish & Game Marine Region web site.
  1. Where and when can I fish in the ocean without a fishing license?
  2. Do I need a Bay-Delta sport fishing enhancement stamp or an ocean enhancement stamp while fishing from a public pier?
  3. While fishing from a public pier without a fishing license, am I allowed to go down onto the beach to land a big fish that I hooked on the pier?
  4. Why is it necessary to display my fishing license at all times?
  5. If I have a limit of salmon in my freezer at home and catch another one, can I legally keep it?
  6. If more than one angler is in a party, can we share limits?
  7. How many rods can I actively use while fishing from a public pier?
  8. How many rods can I actively use while fishing from a public pier inside San Francisco bay?
  9. How many rods can I use while fishing from the shore where a fishing license is required?
  10. How many rods can I actively use while fishing from the shore inside San Francisco bay?
  11. Is it illegal to leave your rod/gear unattended while fishing in the ocean?
  12. If I have two rods and lines in the water on a public pier, can I also put a baited hoop net in the water?
  13. Can I have more than two rods with me while I'm on a public pier?
  14. Can I keep a crab or lobster if I catch it on a hook with bait?
  15. Do I have to use barbless circle hooks while fishing with a lure for salmon in the ocean from a public pier?
  16. Can I use two rods while fishing for salmon in the ocean from a public pier?
  17. Where can I find up-to-date sport fishing regulations online?
  18. What is poaching, and why is it bad?
  19. What should I do if I witness a poaching incident?
  20. In what ways can I personally help the Department of Fish and Game?
  21. How should I handle a situation where I feel I am being given incorrect information or treated unfairly by a Fish and Game Warden?
  22. What are some of the possible consequences for violating the sport fishing regulations?
  23. Where does the money collected in fines for Fish and Game violations go?
  24. Is it considered a waste of fish to release an illegal fish that was injured during capture and will probably die shortly after release?
  25. What is "hi-grading", and is it legal?
  26. Is it legal to use saltwater finfish for bait?
  27. When can I legally take crabs inside San Francisco bay?
  28. Is the monkeyface prickleback (eel) considered rockfish, and included in rockfish seasonal and emergency closures?
  29. Where can I get online help with fish identification?

1. Where and when can I fish in the ocean without a fishing license?

Anyone 16 years and older must have a fishing license displayed so that it is plainly visible above the waist to take any kind of fish, mollusk, invertebrate or crustacean in California, except for persons angling from a public pier for non-commercial purposes in ocean or bay waters. A public pier is defined in the sport fishing regulations as a publicly owned manmade structure that has the following characteristics: is connected, above the mean high tide, to the main coastline or to the landmass of a named and charted natural island; has unrestricted free access for the general public; and has been built or currently functions for the primary purpose of allowing angling access to ocean waters.

Additionally, publicly owned jetties or breakwaters that are connected to land, as described above, that have free unrestricted access for the general public and whose purpose it is to form the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor are public piers. Jetties, breakwaters, promenades, sea walls, moles, docks, linings, barriers and other structures that are not the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor, are not public piers.

Even though a license is not required on a public pier, all other regulations (including minimum size, bag limits and seasons) apply while fishing from a public pier.

If you are in doubt about whether or not a license is needed to fish a particular location, the best way to avoid a potential citation is to purchase a license or find another spot to fish where you are sure that a license is not required.

The Department of Fish and Game offers two "Free Fishing Days" per year (typically one in June and one in September - dates vary each year, so check the regulations or the California Department of Fish & Game Marine Region web site) to encourage new and lapsed anglers to participate in this great outdoor tradition. On these dates, the Department of Fish and Game waives the normal licensing requirements; all other fishing regulations, such as bag and size limits, gear restrictions and fishing hours remain in effect, however.

Top of Page


2. Do I need a Bay-Delta sport fishing enhancement stamp or an ocean enhancement stamp while fishing from a public pier?

No. A Bay-Delta sport fishing enhancement stamp is required when fishing anywhere in the tidal waters of San Francisco Bay east of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Pablo Bay, Carquinez Strait, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where a fishing license is required. An ocean enhancement stamp is required when fishing anywhere in the ocean south of Point Arguello (Santa Barbara county) where a fishing license is required. Neither of these stamps is required to fish from a public pier.

Top of Page


3. While fishing from a public pier without a fishing license, am I allowed to go down onto the beach to land a big fish that I hooked on the pier?

A fishing license is required when fishing everywhere except for a public pier. Even if you hooked the fish on the pier and only came down onto the beach to land the fish, you would need a valid license to avoid a potential citation. Purchasing an annual fishing license will make this a non-issue; or you may want to buy a pier net to help you land bigger fish from the pier.

Top of Page


4. Why is it necessary to display my fishing license at all times?

The sport fishing regulations require that every person, while engaged in taking fish, shall display their valid sport fishing license by attaching it to their outer clothing at or above the waistline so that it is plainly visible. This regulation assists Fish and Game Wardens with enforcing the license requirement. It also acts as a visible reminder to other fishermen who may be fishing the same area that a fishing license is required.

Top of Page


5. If I have a limit of salmon in my freezer at home and catch another one, can I legally keep it?

No more than one daily bag limit of each kind of fish, mollusk or crustacean may be taken or possessed by any one person, regardless of whether they are fresh, frozen or otherwise preserved. If you already have a limit of salmon in your possession at home, you may not target salmon or keep salmon caught incidentally while fishing for other species.

Top of Page


6. If more than one angler is in a party, can we share limits?

No. Daily bag and possession limits apply to individual anglers. Of course you can give any fish that you catch to another person, but those fish will count towards both your and the other person's daily bag and possession limits. The "boat limit" regulations of Section 27.60(e) do not apply to shore-based anglers.

Top of Page


7. How many rods can I actively use while fishing from a public pier?

You may use no more than two rods and lines, two hand lines, or two nets, traps or other appliances used to take crabs. Species-specific gear restrictions (such as rockfish, lingcod and salmon) do apply when fishing from a pier.

Top of Page


8. How many rods can I actively use while fishing from a public pier inside San Francisco bay?

On public piers in San Francisco and San Pablo bays between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge, you may only use two lines, two hand lines, or two nets, traps or other appliances used to take crabs. Species-specific gear restrictions (such as rockfish, lingcod and salmon) do apply when fishing from a pier.

Top of Page


9. How many rods can I use while fishing from the shore where a fishing license is required?

Any number of hooks and lines may be used to take finfish in all ocean waters and bays except in San Francisco and San Pablo bays between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge, where you may only use one line with no more than three hooks. Species-specific gear restrictions (such as rockfish, lingcod and salmon) do apply when fishing from the shore.

Top of Page


10. How many rods can I actively use while fishing from the shore inside San Francisco bay?

While fishing from the shore in San Francisco and San Pablo bays between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge, you may only use one line with no more than three hooks; you may also use an unlimited number of crab traps. Species-specific gear restrictions (such as rockfish, lingcod and salmon) do apply when fishing from the shore.

Top of Page


11. Is it illegal to leave your rod/gear unattended while fishing in the ocean?

The answer to this question depends on what species you are fishing for/have in possession. Several species (most notably salmon and striped bass) may only be taken by "angling", which is defined in Section 1.05 of the sport fishing regulations as "to take fish by hook and line with the line held in the hand, or with the line attached to a pole or rod held in the hand or closely attended..." So, for those species that may only be taken by angling, the pole must be held or closely attended. If the regulations do not specify that a species may only be taken by "angling", then you are not required to hold or closely attend your lines. Remember, though, that the lines must be connected to a rod or the shore - mousetrap gear as defined in Section 28.65(f) is illegal.

Top of Page


12. If I have two rods and lines in the water on a public pier, can I also put a baited hoop net in the water?

No, you may use no more than two rods and lines, two hand lines, or two nets, traps or other appliances used to take crabs.

Top of Page


13. Can I have more than two rods with me while I'm on a public pier?

Yes, as long as you are actively using no more than two rods at any one time.

Top of Page


14. Can I keep a crab or lobster if I catch it on a hook with bait?

No, hook and line is not a legal method of take for crustaceans. Any lobster or crab taken on hook and line shall be returned to the water immediately.

Top of Page


15. Do I have to use barbless circle hooks while fishing with a lure for salmon in the ocean from a public pier?

Yes and no. Hooks attached to lures must be barbless, but they do not have to be circle hooks. You must use barbless circle hooks when fishing with bait in the ocean from a public pier for salmon.

Top of Page


16. Can I use two rods while fishing for salmon in the ocean from a public pier?

No. Salmon may be taken by angling with no more than one rod in ocean waters north of Point Conception.

Top of Page


17. Where can I find up-to-date sport fishing regulations online?

Make the California Department of Fish & Game Marine Region web site your source for the latest fisheries regulations, marine management news and public meeting information. You'll find the current sport fishing regulation booklet available as an Adobe PDF (Adobe Reader required), as well as the latest supplements and information on seasonal closures. Also, be sure to check out our "clickable" fishing map - simply click on the portion of the coast that you intend to fish, and you'll be taken to a summary of current sport fishing opportunities in an easy-to-understand format.

Top of Page


18. What is poaching, and why is it bad?

Poaching is the illegal taking of fish and wildlife, either intentionally or through ignorance of the law. It may be taking deer out of season; it may be catching and keeping an overlimit of trout; it may be keeping a short halibut.

The living resources of the state belong to the citizens of California, and the Department of Fish and Game manages those resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public. Sport fishing regulations exist to provide for a rewarding recreational experience for anglers and at the same time to ensure the continued existence of the resource upon which anglers depend. An individual that knowingly or unknowingly violates those regulations is jeopardizing the health of the resource and doing a disservice to us all. Poaching is an insult to the vast majority of hunters and anglers who obey the rules.

Because poaching is a crime of secrecy and stealth, its full impact in California is impossible to quantify. Enough poaching has been documented to realize that it exacts a very heavy toll on California's natural resources.

Top of Page


19. What should I do if I witness a poaching incident?

Fish and Game Wardens do all they can to combat poaching. But there are only a few hundred Wardens spread throughout California. To successfully fight poaching they must have help from all Californians. Please call the Department of Fish and Game's toll-free poaching hotline at 1-888-DFG-CALTIP (1-888-334-2258) and report the incident. Call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can remain anonymous, and may be eligible to receive a cash reward for your assistance. You may be asked to provide a description of the individuals, vehicles or boats involved, or asked if a Fish and Game Warden may contact you regarding the incident.

Top of Page


20. In what ways can I personally help the Department of Fish and Game?

There are four things every angler can do to assist the Department of Fish and Game with managing the state's living resources:

  1. Purchase a sport fishing license. Your money will help the Department of Fish and Game to do its job. Also, license purchases help to document the importance of sport fishing to the citizens and the economy of California.

  2. Know and observe the sport fishing regulations. The regulations will help to ensure a healthy resource for future generations.

  3. Report poachers and polluters. Fish and Game Wardens are spread thin throughout the state - it is every hunter's and angler's responsibility to help protect the resources upon which their recreation depends.

  4. Cooperate with Department and associated agency personnel in the field. Whether it's a Warden conducting an investigation or a Biologist collecting important fishery data, your help and cooperation is needed.

Top of Page


21. How should I handle a situation where I feel I am being given incorrect information or treated unfairly by a Fish and Game Warden?

Remember, Fish and Game Wardens are sworn peace officers charged with enforcing state and federal laws, and should be given the same respect that you would give a city police officer, county sheriff's deputy, or state highway patrol officer. If you disagree with or feel you were treated unfairly by a Fish and Game Warden, please contact your local Fish and Game office and ask to speak to a supervisor regarding the incident. See the California Department of Fish & Game Marine Region web site for regional office contact information.

Top of Page


22. What are some of the possible consequences for violating the sport fishing regulations?

The standard result for a common violation is that the individual would receive a citation. The citation would be a promise to appear at the local court in the county where the violation occurred. Depending on the county they may require a mandatory appearance in court or they may allow the fine to be mailed in. Almost all of the violations related to the illegal take of fish & wildlife are misdemeanor violations. Penal Code section 19 states: Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both. Remember that each illegal fish/crab/clam/etc taken counts as a separate misdemeanor violation. The illegal take of some species such as abalone have much higher fines.

Top of Page


23. Where does the money collected in fines for Fish and Game violations go?

Depending on the nature, location and severity of the violation, fine monies may be distributed among the county fish and wildlife advisory commission, the state fish and wildlife preservation fund, and the local court. The county fish and wildlife advisory commission and the state fish and wildlife preservation fund may then use the monies to create new or enhance existing recreational fishing and hunting opportunities.

Top of Page


24. Is it considered a waste of fish to release an illegal fish that was injured during capture and will probably die shortly after release?

No, this would not be considered "waste of fish", as long as the angler takes adequate care in preventing injury to the fish. There is no provision in the sport fishing regulations that allows an angler to keep an illegal fish, even if the fish is dying or already dead upon capture. All illegal fish must be returned to the water immediately, regardless of condition.

If an angler removes a fish from the resource by killing it and does not benefit from its death in some way (such as by eating the fish) or return it to the resource (as in the dead illegal fish example above), then that may be considered a waste of fish. Returning a dead or dying fish to the water that was not intentionally injured or mistreated would not be considered a waste of fish, as other organisms in the marine environment will benefit from the death of the fish.

Using a pier gaff to land a large bat ray from the pier and then throwing it back into the water may be considered a waste of fish. Landing a thornback and letting it bake in the sun on the pier and then kicking it over the side may be considered a waste of fish. Continuing to fish in a location where you are predominantly catching fish that the regulations prohibit you from keeping and are not surviving release may be considered a waste of fish.

Waste of fish is more than just a legal issue, it is an ethical issue that all sport anglers must consider.

Top of Page


25. What is "hi-grading", and is it legal?

"Hi-grading" is the practice of discarding smaller fish as larger fish are caught to round out an individual's daily bag limit with large or trophy fish. Hi-grading can lead to overlimits, as the smaller fish that are subsequently discarded are still counted against the daily bag limit, and this could also be considered a "waste of fish". Hi-grading is illegal.

Top of Page


26. Is it legal to use saltwater finfish for bait?

Yes, provided that the fish was taken legally (meets minimum size requirements, seasons, etc.). This fish that will be used for bait does count towards the individual's daily bag and possession limit for that species. It is illegal to transport live finfish from one area to another, however, and tilapia may never be used or possessed for use as bait in ocean waters.

Top of Page


27. When can I legally take crabs inside San Francisco bay?

All crabs of the Cancer genus except Dungeness crabs, but including: yellow crabs, rock crabs, red crabs and slender crabs (collectively known as "rock crabs") are open all year in all ocean waters, including San Francisco bay. Size limits, bag limits and gear restrictions do apply, however. See the California Department of Fish & Game Marine Region web site for regulation information.

Dungeness crabs are closed year round in San Francisco bay, and may not be taken or possessed while fishing inside the bay. Outside of San Francisco bay, Dungeness crabs may be taken according to season, size limits, bag limits and gear restrictions covered in the sport fishing regulations. See Dungeness Crab of California and Its Close Relatives on the DFG web site for crab identification information.

Top of Page


28. Is the monkeyface prickleback (eel) considered rockfish, and included in rockfish seasonal and emergency closures?

No. The term "rockfish" in the sport fishing regulations refers to members of the genus Sebastes. While the monkeyface prickleback is considered a "nearshore fish stock" under Section 1.90 of the regulations, it is not a nearshore rockfish, or any other kind of rockfish.

Top of Page


29. Where can I get online help with fish identification?

The Department of Fish and Game's Marine Region web site has a lot of fish identification information. See www.dfg.ca.gov/mrd . You may also do an internet search to locate additional sites that may help you to identify your catch.

If you have a digital picture of your fish, you can send it to AskMarine@dfg.ca.gov, where a Marine Biologist will assist you with the identification.

Some helpful hints for taking digital pictures that are useful for identification purposes:

  • Make the fish fill up the entire picture frame
  • Point the head of the fish to the left, and close the mouth.
  • Make the fins stand erect (except the pectoral - make it lay flat against the body) and fan out the caudal (tail) fin.
  • Take several pictures, both with the flash and without the flash
  • Have something in the frame to provide scale, such as a ruler, coin or pencil
  • Lay the fish flat, and choose a background that will contrast with the fish

Last updated: July 12, 2004