Changing rockfish seasons for the southern sectors

HE CALIFORNIAN fishing full-day out of Ventura Harbor Sportfishing puts anglers on the meat.


SACRAMENTO— New regs on bottom biters came into play on the first. Starting July 1 in the Southern Central and Southern Management Regions we are restricted to waters inshore of the 50-fathom lines listed in Code of Federal Regulations Part 660, subpart D.

These are in the waters from 36 North Latitude near Point Lopez, Big Sur, south to the Mexican border.

In the planning and discussion, only nearshore complex rockfish were to be permitted to be in possession during this 3-month portion of the year – July 1 through September 30.


These are: black, black and yellow, blue, brown, calico, China, copper, gopher, grass, kelp and olive rockfish.

However, in reading the CDFW regulations summary, the other rockfish species in the “slope” and “shelf” complexes are only prohibited from being “taken” from waters seaward of the 50-fathom lines – same as for the “nearshore” complex fish listed above.

Also, in Federal regulations it appears possession of offshore (shelf and slope) species during the nearshore-only season is not excluded.

So, it seems if you catch a deepwater rockfish species inshore of the 50-fathom lines during the inshore-only season you are ok to keep them.

This makes things a lot simpler for the average angler – not needing to know which rockfish are in which complex.

In particular, it allows anglers to retain vermilion caught in shallow waters as was the plan, but without any special exception for the species.

It also eliminates the risk in confusing yellowtail rockfish and olive rockfish, which are members of different depth-based management complexes but known colloquially as johnnybass together, without any distinction.

The new transit regulations allow anglers to be in areas closed to bottom fishing with bottom fish onboard. But if you have rockfish the only fishing gears that can be in the water are traps (north of Point Conception only) hoop nets and the other sport-legal “hand-held dip-net” gear used for squid fishing.

With the old Cowcod Conservation Area now gone, new depth lines were put in regulation, including 50-fathom lines. However, additional lines were only drawn around the offshore islands (Santa Barbara and San Nicolas islands), the Cortes and Tanner banks.

Thus, other offshore highspots that poke above the 50-fathom depth are not included.

Specifically that includes the Osborn, which is closed in the current inshore-only portion of the season.

There is also a requirement to have “a descending device in possession and ready for immediate use” now, and then there is the oft-overlooked requirement to have a landing net, not less than 20 inches in diameter, as well.

Sportboat crews, that means your pass-brail doesn’t qualify and you actually need to have a landing net aboard. Some larger squid brails may qualify however.

For you readers interested in the digging into the weeds of these regulations, the federal rules speak to policy when particular rockfish complexes are closed in general, as noted above.

However, farther down in the regs this year’s rules only note dates particular areas/depths are closed and don’t specifically say any particular rockfish complex is not able to be taken or possessed.

This is in The Code of Federal Regulations Part 660, subpart G. Links to these are embedded within the online CDFW Ocean Fishing regulations summary booklet.

In general State regulations mirror Federal but as we saw earlier this season, the timing of initial implementation can be slightly off due to differing process constraints.

For example, it appears that the descending device regulation is in the State regs already but won’t be in the Federal regulation until next year.

One final note: While these rules and seasons are complex, recreational fishing advocates involved in the rule-making process had to make the case recreational anglers could make them work in order to preserve as much of the season length and rockfish bag limits as possible.

A ‘simple regulations’ alternative would have vastly reduced the rockfish season and the overall bag limit. This would have been just to keep catches of a couple constraining species below their annual federal limits.

The bottomfish bottom line, is if you can’t make heads nor tails of these regs, don’t know one rockfish from another, your best bet is to book a trip with the pros or go with a friend that has put in the effort to learn the fish and rules and plot those 50-fathom and MPA boundary and Groundfish Exclusion Area points in their plotter or phone or tablet.