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Fish and Game Q&A: Can I clean halibut while at sea?

October 1, 2009 |  2:34 pm


In support of the California Department of Fish and Game and its effort to keep hunters and anglers informed, Outposts, on Thursday afternoon or Friday, posts marine biologist Carrie Wilson's weekly Q&A column:

Question: Is it true that halibut can be cleaned only once the boat is tied to the dock? If not, can the fillets just be attached to the skeleton upon coming back to the slip, or can fishermen produce the fillets without the skeleton attached? Cleaning and disposing of the halibut innards and skeletons into the water at the harbor create a major bird problem, and the neighboring sailing and pleasure boaters are quite upset with the bird droppings on their vessels. We just want to be sure we’re doing the right thing. Can you please clarify? (George J., Newport Beach)

Answer: Fish for which there is a size or weight limit may not be possessed on a vessel or brought onshore in such a condition that the size, weight or species cannot be determined. The Fish and Game Commission has provided exceptions for some species, including California halibut.

California halibut taken from or possessed aboard a vessel in waters north of Point Arena (Mendocino County) may not be filleted at sea, but halibut taken south of Point Arena may, under certain conditions. The fillets must be a minimum of 16 3/4 inches in length and retain the entire skin intact, and they may not be cut crosswise in half fillets. Fillets may, however, be cut lengthwise in a straight line along the midline of the fillet where the fillet was attached to the vertebra (backbone) of the fish. The two fillet pieces must remain joined along their midline for a length of at least two inches at one end of the fillet (FGC Section 27.65).

Keep in mind that it is difficult to produce a legal fillet (16 3/4 inches) from a barely legal halibut (22 inches total length). Anglers who retain fish that measure between 22 and 23 inches may want to keep them whole and fillet them when they get home. Someone who may not have a lot of skill with a fillet knife or who is trying to fillet a barely legal fish at sea while rolling back and forth might not be able to get a legal-sized fillet.

Q: What are the rules regarding having a nonhunter in my hunting party? Can that person possess a firearm for self-defense? Can it be a rifle? In what ways can he participate in the hunt? If he has a hunting license but no tag, does this change anything? If he wants to hunt coyote, for which he does not need a tag, can he also sit in a stand with a deer hunter just to watch before moving to his hunting area? (David V.)

A: The basic answers to your questions are that California has no general law regarding who can accompany you while you are “taking” fish or game (hunting). However, there are some restrictions relating to special circumstances and/or areas (special hunts, wildlife areas, game refuges, etc.).

According to retired DFG Capt. Phil Nelms, California Fish and Game laws regulate who is required to have a valid license in their possession while taking game. For the purposes of Fish and Game laws, the definition of “take” is “to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill (fish and wildlife).”

This means that while DFG laws would not expressly prohibit a nonhunter from carrying a firearm for self-defense, a nonlicensed person who is carrying a firearm (especially a rifle) while in the company of an active hunter could be cited for taking wildlife without a license.

Any person who accompanies you while you are taking game must have a license if his actions in any way assist you in your efforts. And if a tag is required for the wildlife being pursued, he must also carry his own tag. If the nonhunter does not have a valid license and tag in possession and behaves in any manner that is consistent with a person who is taking wildlife, he probably will be cited.

If your guest wants to hunt coyote (which does not require a tag) and wants to sit in a deer stand with you just to watch before moving to his hunting area, he could be cited for being in possession of a firearm.

Q: I know I can’t transport trout alive in my livewell while trolling, but can we keep live fish on a stringer over the side of the boat? I also fish with my grandsons and am wondering whether it is permissible for two people to use the same stringer or must each person have his own stringer? Thank you for your time and consideration. (Dennis J., Loyalton)

A: You may keep your fish on stringers to keep them fresh, but those fish all must be rendered to your bag (e.g. you cannot throw them back). It is recommended but not required by law that you keep your fish on separate stringers so that it is clear which fish belongs to which angler. In salt water, the members of a fishing party may fish only until the collective “boat limit” has been reached. Boat limits do not apply in fresh water, so each person is individually responsible for his or her own fish.

Photo: Associate DFG marine biologist Ken Oda with a California halibut. Credit: Travis Tanaka / DFG