We all are aware, or maybe not, that the CA fishery has undergone massive changes in 2023. To start the Salmon season was completely shut down. Then the rock fishery had numerous changes never before seen with varieties being split up between depth zoning and anglers being held responsible to know what varieties could be retained and could not. On top of that the Rockfish season was delayed and to add to that, the state threw in limited periods of time when the depths of the season would change. It felt like the goal of the state was to completely discourage the fishing community from fishing because why else complicate things to such a troubling degree right?
Well the answer is not simple. It so happens we live along one of the most amazing ocean coasts in the world filled with a diverse amount of fish species and varieties. There is a constant battle between our obligations as good stewards to sustain the environment and our fishery while also having the rights to meet our own needs for survival whether it be the commercial fisherman or putting food on the table we catch. A controversy this article is not about, but a simple point to exemplify why these complicated regulations need to be forced upon the public who we know abuses our dwindling resources and will continue to into extinction if it wasn't for regulations and oversight.
Now to the point of this article... CDFW has broken the rockfish landscape for lack of a better term, into 3 areas of where the varieties can be found/caught. These areas are Near Shore, Shelf and Slope. Within each of these areas CDFW has determined specific varieties that are designated to be found within these areas based on decades of research. It doesn't mean that varieties of Near Shore cannot be caught in the other two areas, it just means those varieties are most likely caught in the area of Near Shore. What makes this year of regulations difficult to navigate is the fact that we have sections of the seasons where we cannot fish in the ocean waters designated as 50 fathoms shore-ward (shore-ward is towards land while seaward is away from land) nor keep those varieties of rock fish caught by boat from those waters either. CDFW has provided a boundary line along the entire coast that all anglers fishing by boat must fish beyond called the "50 Fathom Seaward Line". This line averages about 300 feet deep, but because it's an average depth, it varies, so you cannot just randomly go out to 300 ft and fish. There is actual coordinates you must adhere to. There was a recent blog that covers the 50 Fathom boundary. The fish caught in those waters are varieties that are declared and defined by CDFW as Shelf and Slope Rockfish varieties.
Now for a little scenario. Your fishing and you catch a rockfish variety classified as a "Near Shore" variety, but you are well beyond the 50 fathom line when you caught it. Are you allowed to keep it? The answer is NO. CDFW set these defined classifications up as anyone could claim they caught any of the species out of the designated zones and there would be no way for them to confirm it. The proper way to return a fish you cannot keep is with a tool called a descender that is specifically for lowering the fish to a depth that allows the fish to properly re-adjust to the barometric pressure at depth to survive and the device is designed to release the fish with a few firm tugs of the rod.
Below are three links where you can find the list of specific rock fish varieties for each area. For the 50 Fathom Seaward allowed varieties, the Shelf and Slope varieties are the only ones that are allowed to be kept, but you do need to refer to the regulations as there are specific varietal restrictions you need to adhere to. Also be aware that regulations are constantly changing, so by the time you read this article, there may very well be changes that have taken place. Make sure that if you do go fishing on a boat, you carry a descending device and you learn how to properly use it prior to needing to use it. Here are the links for you to reference for the areas and varieties of rockfish. Note, fishing from shore and pier has different regulations than from boat, so check your official regulations for your area to verify what those are.
3 Areas of Rockfish: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Marine/Groundfish/Nearshore-Shelf-And-Slope (Main Lists)
Near Shore Rockfish (Include Pictures) https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=36305&inline
Shelf Rockfish (Include Pictures) https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=36552&inline
Slope Rockfish (Include Pictures)
I hope this article has helped shed some light on understanding the complexities of the current regulations and how to navigate them. One thing I can add, is that if you have any doubt in finding answers within the CDFW handbook of regulations, you can call the CDFW department and speak with a warden. If no answer leave a message and they will call you back. It may take a day or two, so be patient, but they do return emails and calls. Be safe and be a responsible steward by only taking what catch you need, so that we can maintain a healthy fishery and prevent these closures. Thanks for reading!