Saltwater – Major changes to recreational groundfish (Rockfish) regulations starting January 1

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BY DAVE HURLEY

SACRAMENTO  – The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced anticipated recreational groundfish changes on December 20. The changes will affect recreational fishing seasons, depth limits, and bag limits for a variety of groundfish species.

The regulation changes were anticipated as they were adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) in June and by the California Fish and Game Commission in November. The Department is presenting the changes as increasing some opportunities while decreasing others, depending upon the species.

Groundfish regulations have been fluid over the past several years with ling cod limits varying from 2 to 3 and back to 2 while there was a previous sublimit for black rockfish along with current sub-limits for vermilion, copper, and quillback rockfish. Spear divers and shore-based anglers will continue to have year-round fishing opportunities for groundfish. The following is a summary of the new boat-based regulations for RCG species and lingcod in each management area:

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Southern Management Area between 34°27′ N. latitude (Point Conception) and the U.S./Mexico border:

  1. For nearshore rockfish, cabezon and greenlings: closed Jan. 1 through March 31, open at all depths April 1 through Sept. 15, closed Sept. 16 through Dec. 31.
  2. For all other rockfish (shelf and slope species) and lingcod: closed Jan. 1 through March 31, open at all depths April 1 through Sept. 15. From Sept. 16 through Dec. 31, take of shelf and slope rockfish and lingcod is open seaward of the 50 fathom RCA line. Take is prohibited shoreward of the 50 fathom RCA line.
  3. Additional regulations still apply within the Cowcod Conservation Areas.

Central Management Area between 37°11′ N. latitude (Pigeon Point) and 34°27′ N. latitude (Point Conception):

  1. For nearshore rockfish, cabezon and greenlings: closed Jan. 1 through April 30, open at all depths May 1 through Sept. 30, closed Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.
  2. For all other rockfish (shelf and slope species) and lingcod: closed Jan. 1 through April 30, open at all depths May 1 through Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, take of shelf and slope rockfish and lingcod is open seaward of the 50 fathom RCA line. Take is prohibited shoreward of the 50 fathom RCA line.

San Francisco Management Area between 38°57.5′ N. latitude (Point Arena) and 37°11′ N. latitude (Pigeon Point):

  1. For nearshore rockfish, cabezon and greenlings: closed Jan. 1 through July 15, open at all depths July 16 through Dec. 31.
  2. For all other rockfish (shelf and slope species) and lingcod: closed Jan. 1 through May 14. From May 15 through July 15, take of shelf and slope rockfish and lingcod is open seaward of the 50 fathom RCA line. Take is prohibited shoreward of the 50 fathom RCA line. From July 16 through Dec. 31, open at all depths.

Mendocino Management Area between 40°10′ N. latitude (near Cape Mendocino) and 38°57.5′ N. latitude (Point Arena):

  1. For nearshore rockfish, cabezon and greenlings: closed Jan. 1 through July 15, open at all depths July 16 through Dec. 31.
  2. For all other rockfish (shelf and slope species) and lingcod: closed Jan. 1 through May 14. From May 15 through July 15, take of shelf and slope rockfish and lingcod is open seaward of the 50 fathom RCA line. Take is prohibited shoreward of the 50 fathom RCA line. From July 16 through Dec. 31, open at all depths.

Northern Management Area between the California/Oregon state line and 40°10′ N. latitude (near Cape Mendocino):

  1. For rockfish, cabezon, greenlings and lingcod: closed Jan. 1 through May 14, open at all depths May 15 through Oct. 15, closed Oct. 16 through Dec. 31.

The changes will have the greatest impact on the Northern Management area where the popular rockfish/crab combinations will not be able to be offered due to the groundfish closure after October 16. Fort Bragg and Shelter Cove will be able to offer rockfish/crab combinations as the rockfish season is open at all depths from July 16th to the end of the season.

The same is true for the ports of Bodega Bay, San Francisco Bay, and Half Moon Bay, but the local reefs less than 300 feet will be off-limits from May 15 through July 15, and after this date, the rockfish season is open at all depths until December 31.

Similarly in Santa Cruz and Monterey, during the crab/rockfish combo season, all rockfishing after October 1 must take place in water seaward of the 50-Fathom Rockfish Conservation Area. The local reefs will be off-limits in many cases after certain dates, and anglers will have to be intimately aware of the specific regulations.

The Department offers several different PDF’s identifying nearshore, shelf, slope, vermilion, copper, and quillback rockfish, and it is incumbent on individual anglers to download these pictures and laminate them along with the regulations similar to maps of MPA’s and other restricted areas.

Identification of species PDFs are available here: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Marine/Groundfish/Nearshore-Shelf-And-Slope

A summary of 2023 rockfish regulations is available here: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Groundfish-Summary

RECREATIONAL GROUNDFISH MAP – Major changes are coming to rockfish regulations in 2023, and it is incumbent upon anglers to be intimately aware of changes within the specific zones.
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