Making sense of bait regulations

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redear sunfish

Question: Is it legal to catch sunfish and use them as live bait for bigger fish? What kind of live bait can you use in freshwater? (Anonymous)

Answer: Those are seemingly simple questions, but the answers are complicated and detailed. The basic answer is: it depends. It depends on the California Sport Fishing District where you will be fishing, the individual body of water you plan to fish and the species of live bait you intend to use. For starters, review the “Bait Regulations for Inland Waters” published in the 2017-2018 California Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations. On page 2 of the regulations booklet, you’ll find a map of the seven different California Sport Fishing Districts. Each sport fishing district will have its own additional regulations on what kind of live bait is allowed along with water-specific, area-specific and bait-specific regulations. There are variables between districts to authorize or prohibit movement of live fish from the location where captured so pay close attention. In the Valley Sport Fishing District, for example, which covers all or parts of 25 counties in the middle part of the state, live or dead fin fish (which includes sunfish) generally cannot be used as bait (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 4.20). However, there are exceptions to the general prohibition, and certain waters where live fin fish lawfully caught can be used for live bait in the waters where they were caught (CCR Title 14, section 4.20(a)-(f)). In the Southern Sport Fishing District, by contrast, which covers all or part of seven Southern California counties, sunfish may never be used as live bait though some other fish species may be used (CCR Title 14, section 4.10). So it’s imperative to check the Bait Fish Use regulations in the sport fishing district you plan to fish before using any live bait. All of these regulations are available in the 2017-2018 California Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.

Catching Grass Shrimp for Bait?

Question: My friend and I recently found out how to catch grass shrimp for bait, and we are wondering what the regulations are. I see on the CDFW website that the limit is five pounds. Does that mean we can take five pounds of grass shrimp home alive? I also saw a commercial license for harvest of grass shrimp. Would we need that as well? We don’t plan on selling them. We just want to use them for fishing as they are larger than store-bought ones and native to the area. (Pean S.)

Answer: Congratulations on your new skill. Catching and fishing with your own bait, where legal to do so, adds yet another dimension to the fishing experience. Grass shrimp – also known as bay shrimp – are an effective and popular bait in some areas. One of the reasons why they can be so effective when used in the area where caught is that they are most likely a natural food preference of the target fish.

Grass shrimp are crustaceans, and a sport fishing license is required of any person who is 16 or older to take any kind of crustacean in California, except when taken from a public pier in ocean or bay waters. You do not need a commercial fishing license or shrimp permit since the grass shrimp are for your own recreational use. You are correct in that the sport fishing limit is five pounds per angler (CCR Title 14, section 29.86). Grass shrimp may be kept and used alive or dead as the law makes no distinction.

Please note that there are several restrictions and regulations on the gear and methods that can be used to take grass shrimp and other crustaceans (CCR Title 14, section 29.80). These regulations can be found on pages 36-37 of the 2017-2018 California Saltwater Sport Fishing Regulations booklet. We wish you the best of luck and encourage you to teach others the skills you have developed to share a more holistic fishing experience.

What is a “resident?”

Question: I just bought a fishing license. How do the regulations define who a “resident” is in reference to buying a fishing license? (Michael)

Answer: Section 70 of the Fish and Game Code defines “resident” as any person who has resided continuously in the State of California for six months or more immediately prior to the date of his application for a license or permit, any person on active military duty with the Armed Forces of the United States or auxiliary branch thereof, or any person enrolled in the Job Corps established pursuant to section 2883 of Title 29 of the United States Code.

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