Sturgeon Report Card

Sturgeon Fishing Report Cards (Cards) are an integral part of Department and legislative efforts to reduce the illegal commercialization of sturgeon. Cards provide critical data on catch and harvest that enable the Department to make informed fisheries management decisions surrounding White Sturgeon and federally threatened Green Sturgeon populations. While Card reporting is legally mandated for all anglers targeting White Sturgeon, it also serves as one of the most important actions anglers can take towards conserving these species.

Fees and information on the Report Card and other California sturgeon fishing regulations may be found on our Regulations page.

white sturgeon under water

Program Overview

The California Sturgeon Report Card program was initiated in 2007 to help CDFW gather good quality data about the White Sturgeon recreational fishery. The Report Card gives us information on things like how many anglers are fishing for sturgeon, how many fish are caught per year, and how many are released vs. kept for the table. This is some of the most useful information we can get, and we use it to help monitor the fishery and determine how much fishing pressure the population is experiencing. Filling in the Report Card completely and returning it on time are some of the most important things anglers can do to help CDFW manage these fish and keep them around forever.

CDFW Biologists tagging a white sturgeon and recording data

Regulations at a glance

Species Restrictions

  • Only White Sturgeon may be targeted.
  • Green Sturgeon are listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act and take is prohibited.

Bag Limits

  • One White Sturgeon may be kept daily. After keeping one fish, the angler must cease fishing for sturgeon that day.
  • Three White Sturgeon may be kept annually.

Size Limits

  • White Sturgeon must be greater than 40 inches or less than 60 inches fork length.
  • Removing a Green Sturgeon, or a White Sturgeon greater than 68 inches fork length, from the water is prohibited

Gear Restrictions

  • One single point, single shank, barbless hook may be used on a line when taking sturgeon.
  • Anglers may use two rods if they are east of Carquinez Bridge and they have a purchased a Second Rod Validation.
  • The sturgeon must voluntarily take the bait or lure inside its mouth. No sturgeon may be taken by trolling, snagging, snares, or by the use of firearms.

Additional information on the Report Card and other freshwater and saltwater California sturgeon fishing regulations may be found at our Fisheries Regulations page.

Areas off-limits to sturgeon fishing

For the most complete and current sturgeon fishing regulations, please check the current state fishing regulations.

Anglers may fish for White Sturgeon throughout the state, all year long, although there are some area closures. Sturgeon fishing is closed all year in the following locations:

  • The upper Sacramento River from Keswick Dam down to the Hwy 162 Bridge .
  • The Yolo Bypass, Toe Drain Canal, and Tule Canal upstream of the Lisbon Weir.
  • North Coast District (Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and Siskiyou counties).

Additionally, sturgeon fishing is closed from January 1 and March 15 in the portion of San Francisco Bay within the following boundaries: A direct line between Pt. Chauncy (National Marine Fisheries Laboratory) and Pt. Richmond, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and a direct line between Pt. Lobos and Pt. Bonita. Map of seasonal closure area

Green Sturgeon may not be taken at any time or location.

Sturgeon Reward Tags

white sturgeon with a CDFW disk tag attached below the dorsal fin
(click to enlarge)

As a highly mobile species with a complex life history, sturgeon are often challenging to study. Effective management requires knowledge about things that effect population health, such as migration, abundance, and fishing pressure. Collecting enough data to make accurate estimates of these population metrics is often beyond the scale that agency resources can support. We rely heavily on angler information through Card reporting to augment data collected from on-going monitoring studies conducted by the Department. One of the most useful pieces of information we can collect from anglers is reward tag data.

Each year between August and October, CDFW biologists survey White Sturgeon in the Delta using large nets fished from boats. All sturgeon caught are counted and measured. Sturgeon that are close to the legal harvest size (40-60 inches) are also tagged (if possible) with a small plastic disk below the base of the dorsal fin (top photo). Reporting disk numbers provides us with critical information about the biology of these fish, such as individual movement patterns and growth rates. With enough tag data, we can also estimate population size and harvest rates. The population size gives us an idea of the number of White Sturgeon currently inhabiting the Delta, while harvest rates tell us how many sturgeon are removed from the system through fishing. These data help inform management decisions surrounding the fishery, such as setting bag limits and length requirements, determining where and when anglers can fish, and implementing gear restrictions. Our goal is to maximize sturgeon fishing opportunities for the public while promoting sustainable management practices that protect these highly sensitive and vulnerable populations.

sturgeon report card with the 'Reward Disk' sections highlighted

If you catch a sturgeon with a disk tag, please clearly write the tag number on your report card in the section of the card that best applies. Tag numbers should begin with two letters followed by a series of numbers. CDFW currently offers rewards of $50, $100 or $150 per disc tag, although older fish with a $20 tag are sometimes caught. See the Purchase and Reporting tab on this page for information on how to return a Reward Tag (under "Returning Reward Tags") and properly report tag data (under "Filling out your Sturgeon Report Card”).

If you have additional questions, please contact Dr. John Kelly (CDFW Sturgeon Coordinator) John.Kelly@wildlife.ca.gov.

Card Purchasing and Reporting

Report Cards may be purchased online or wherever fishing licenses are sold. Just like licenses, they are good for one year, from January 1 to December 31. You must have a Report Card with you if you are fishing for sturgeon, even if you do not plan to keep any. Anglers must return their completed Report Cards, or submit the information online, by January 31 after the Report Card expires. Prior to purchasing your sturgeon report card you must have a valid sport fishing license.

Where to Purchase

Online License Agents CDFW Offices

POSSESION OF A STURGEON REPORT CARD IS REQUIRED OF ANY ANGLER FISHING FOR OR TAKING WHITE STURGEON IN ALL CALIFORNIA WATERS

How to Report

Reporting Period: January 1 - 31
RETURNING YOUR REPORT CARD IS MANDATORY

Report Your Harvest Online (preferred)

Or report your harvest by mail to the address listed on the report card.

Filling out your Sturgeon Report Card

If you caught sturgeon

There are 3 main sections on the Sturgeon Card to write catch information:

  1. Sturgeon retained: White Sturgeon only, 40-60" fork length
  2. Sturgeon released without a reward disk : Green or White
  3. Sturgeon release with a reward disk present: Green or White

If you did not fish OR did not catch any sturgeon--we need to know!

  • For those who did not fish for sturgeon, please mark the 'Did Not Fish' check box
  • For those who fished but did not catch any sturgeon, either leave the card blank or (preferably) make a note of 'No Catch' on the card

EXAMPLE:

sturgeon report card with information filled in according to the example provided

On April 7 you went fishing for sturgeon on the Sacramento River near the Rio Vista Bridge and caught two White Sturgeon that you released. One fish measured 45” fork length and possessed the CDFW disk-tag HH3356, and the untagged fish measured 41” fork length. The next day (April 8) you go sturgeon fishing in Suisun Bay and catch one 55” fork length White Sturgeon that you keep. Per regulations, you cease fishing for sturgeon for the rest of that day. The card represents the correct reporting of this example.

Note: Length reporting for released fish is not mandatory, but the data is useful and encouraged. If you provide length for a released sturgeon, it should be written within the species box that applies to the fish caught.

Returning Reward Tags

CDFW reward disc tags ready to be attached to white sturgeon
(click to enlarge)

Some White Sturgeon in California are carrying reward tags as part of our ongoing efforts to monitor the population. Returned tags help us estimate the size of the population and reveal important trends in the fishery. CDFW currently offers rewards of $50, $100, or $150 per disc tag, although older fish with a $20 tag are sometimes caught.

Tags must be physically returned to CDFW to be claim the reward; photographs of tags will not be accepted. The tags will be returned to the angler upon request if they are desired as a souvenir. Anglers will also receive a commendation card with information about the fish, along with the specified reward amount.

Anglers can submit reward disc tags by filling out CDFW’s sturgeon tag recovery form and mailing it to:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Attn: Sportfish Unit
2109 Arch-Airport Road, Suite 100
Stockton, CA 95206

Please make a note on the form if you would like the tag returned to you.

Report a lost or stolen card

If your Sturgeon Report Card has been lost or stolen, you should download and complete the Sturgeon Fishing Report Card Affidavit (PDF Form). Fill out, from your best recollection, the same information that appears on the report card, including the date, location, and length of any sturgeon kept or released.

If you DO wish to fish for sturgeon again during this license year: Bring or mail the completed form to one of the offices listed below along with the Sturgeon Report Card Replacement fee of $16.48.

If you DO NOT wish to fish for sturgeon again during this license year: Bring or mail the completed form to one of the offices listed below before January 31 of the year after the Report Card expires (e.g. your 2021 card must be received by January 31, 2022).

  • SACRAMENTO - License and Revenue Branch, 1740 N. Market Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95834 (916) 928-5805
  • EUREKA - 619 Second Street, Eureka, CA 95501 (707) 445-6493
  • FAIRFIELD - 2825 Cordelia Road, Suite 100, Fairfield, CA 94534 (707) 428-2002
  • FRESNO - 1234 E. Shaw Avenue, Fresno, CA 93710 (559) 243-4005
  • LOS ALAMITOS - 4665 Lampson Avenue, Suite C, Los Alamitos, CA 90720 (562) 342-7100
  • MONTEREY - 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, Monterey, CA 93940 (831) 649-2870
  • RANCHO CORDOVA - 1701 Nimbus Road, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 (916) 358-2900
  • REDDING - 601 Locust Street, Redding, CA 96001 (530) 225-2300
  • SAN DIEGO - 3883 Ruffin Road, San Diego, CA 92123 (858) 467-4201
  • STOCKTON – 2109 Arch Airport Road, Suite 100, Stockton, CA 95206 (209) 234-3420

Report poaching

Poaching, or illegal harvest, remains a serious concern for California sturgeon. Not only do poachers take more sturgeon than legally permitted, they usually specifically target the largest spawning females in order to produce valuable caviar. When fish grow, they produce exponentially more eggs than smaller fish, so a large, older female may contain many times the eggs of a first-time spawner. The survival of large females is critical in order to reproduce the next generations of sturgeon and maintain the population.

Any suspected illegal activity can be reported confidentially to the CalTIP (Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters) program. Call 1-888-334-CalTIP (888-334-2258) or text anonymously to "CALTIP", followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411).

Anglers may also download the free CALTIP smartphone App for Android or Apple phones.

For more details about CalTIP, visit the CDFW CalTIP page.

Card Data Results

Anglers are required to return Sturgeon Cards in January of the following year (by mail or using the online reporting system; see the "Purchase & Report" tab for more details). After January 31, we compile all Card data from the previous year and produce an annual technical report. The resulting report summarizes data from the previous Card year for comparison with past Card years. This allows us to document trends in sturgeon catch, harvest, and angler participation in the fishery. Visit our Bibliography page for access to the most recent report, as well as past reports.

The following tabs display graphs for various analyses of Card data, along with explanations for each plot.

Annual Sturgeon Card Purchases

Graph of annual sturgeon card purchases

The figure above shows the trend in annual Sturgeon Report Card purchases over time. Sturgeon Cards were issued free of charge at the onset of the program in 2007, evidenced by the increase in card purchases until a $8 fee was implemented in 2013. Since the incorporation of a fee, it is apparent that anglers have become more selective in the additional tags purchased with a fishing license.

Kept vs. Released Sturgeon

Graph of the proportion of sturgeon caught that were either kept or released for each card year

For every sturgeon caught, anglers must record whether or not the fish was kept (and thus harvested) or released. This plot describes the percent of catch reported as ‘kept’ vs ‘released’ as a fraction of the total caught. In other words, this plot answers the questions: “Out of the total number of White Sturgeon caught each year, what portion is kept by anglers? What portion is released?” The lines represent the trend in catch across the two groups over time, and the r2 values are a statistical measure that describes how well the lines fit (or represent) the data. The closer an r2 value is to 1, the better the fit. This helps us easily see the increasing trend in the percent of reported ‘kept’ catch and the decreasing trend in the percent of reported ‘released’ catch. These results indicate that over time, anglers are harvesting more White Sturgeon relative to the total amount caught.

White Sturgeon Catch

Graph of the average percent of sturgeon anglers that catch 0 through 15 or more White Sturgeon

Not all anglers that target White Sturgeon are successful in catching them. This plots shows the average percent of reporting anglers that catch 0- 15+ sturgeon. Calculations were made using data only from anglers that expended fishing effort (i.e., does not include anglers that did not fish). On average, most anglers (73%) fish for sturgeon but do not catch any. One to two fish are caught by an average of 19% of reporting anglers, and even fewer (less than 7.3%) catch three or more sturgeon.

Catch by Harvest Level

Graph of the fraction of reporting anglers per harvest category for each year

Anglers participate in the sturgeon fishery at various harvest levels. The plot above describes the fraction (i.e., proportion) of reporting anglers that keep 0-3 fish (3 being the annual limit) or do not fish at all. The color associated with ‘Kept 0’ takes up most of space within each bar on the plot. This means that each year, the majority of reporting anglers keep 0 fish (on average, 54.5%). The next dominant color block belongs to the ‘No Effort’ category. On average, 33% of reporting anglers do not end up fishing for sturgeon. Those that report keeping one fish make up, on average, 9.2% of all reporting anglers. Some keep two fish (less than 3.2%), and a small percentage of the total reporting anglers keep the annual bag limit of three fish (less than 1%).

Catch by Month

Graph of reported sturgeon catch as a fraction of total caught for each month, averaged across all years

The figure above describes trends in reported catch as a fraction of the total caught (represented as a percent) for each month, averaged across 2007 - 2020. The vertical bars represent the standard deviation of the average value (the points on the plot), which describes the variability in the individual data values compared to the average. A longer bar means a wider range of reported catch values for that month over time, while a shorter bar indicates a smaller range of catch values for that month over time. We see that highest catch of White Sturgeon typically occurs in the late fall through the early spring, while lowest catch occurs in the late spring through the summer. An important caveat to note is that this analysis does not take fishing effort into account. This means that higher catch in the late fall/ early spring could be simply due to anglers fishing more often during those months, and less during late spring/ summer. However, these trends coincide with the timing of sturgeon spawning migrations into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and lower rivers, which could be linked to higher observed reported catch by anglers in the winter and spring.

Sturgeon Identification Tips

Green Sturgeon

  • Olive green with dark stripe on sides and belly
  • Barbels closer to mouth
  • 8-11 sharp dorsal scutes
  • Scutes behind vent
  • Vent between pelvic fins

White Sturgeon

  • Gray with pale belly
  • Barbels closer to tip of snout
  • 11-14 dull dorsal scutes
  • No scutes behind vent
  • Vent behind pelvic fins

white and green sturgeon
Photo credits: NOAA Fisheries

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I continue to fish for sturgeon after I have tagged and kept a fish?

No. Once you have used a tag, you may no longer continue to catch and release fish for sturgeon that same day. You may switch to other tackle and fish for other species, and those that are with you may continue to fish for sturgeon if they have not used their tags.

Can I fish catch and release for sturgeon if I have used all three tags? Or can I buy a second Sturgeon Report Card?

No. Anglers may not continue to fish for sturgeon if they have used all of their tags, and may only purchase one Card per year.

I caught a sturgeon accidentally while fishing for something else, can I keep it?

Sturgeon are usually pretty picky about what bait they’ll take, but occasionally anglers get a very big surprise! If you do not have a current Sturgeon Report Card, you may not keep the fish. You may not buy a Card later, after the fact. Remember that you are also always subject to all current California fishing regulations, and it is your responsibility to be familiar with those rules. For example, White Sturgeon may only be caught using a single point barbless hook, and must take the bait voluntarily in the mouth. If your catch conforms to all regulations and you have a Sturgeon Report Card in your possession, you may harvest a legal fish caught when fishing for other species.

Do I need to return my Sturgeon Report Card if I did not fish or I did not catch any?

Yes! State fishing regulations require that all Report Cards be returned by January 31 after the year they were issued. Reports of “did not fish” and “did not catch” are extremely valuable to fishery scientists as measures of fishing effort and success. The most valuable things anglers can do as stewards of these ancient fish is to follow all fishing regulations and return Report Cards on time.

Can I use two rods to fish for sturgeon?

Anglers who possess a second-rod stamp may use two rods to fish for sturgeon in Suisun Bay and the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and rivers east of the Carquinez Bridge. Anglers on the coast or in San Francisco Bay may only use one rod.

San Francisco Bay is defined as the waters of San Francisco and San Pablo bays plus all their tidal bays, sloughs, estuaries, and tidal portions of their rivers and streams between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge.

I found a fresh sturgeon carcass that had been recently killed by something else. Can I keep it if I have a Sturgeon Report Card?

California fishing regulations state that “the sturgeon must voluntarily take the bait or lure inside its mouth.” Since a carcass cannot voluntarily take bait, it is illegal to possess that fish.

CDFW is currently partnering with a group of universities and federal and state agencies to study causes of death for adult sturgeon in California. Please report any observed carcass to CASturgeonResearch@gmail.com so experts can find and examine it. Include the date, location (smartphone map coordinates preferred), and a common object for size reference. Do not move or disturb the carcass.

Do I need a Sturgeon Report Card on free fishing days?

Yes. In California, two days a year are designated as “free fishing days” when anyone can fish in the state without a fishing license. However, all other fishing regulations, such as bag and size limits, gear restrictions, report card requirements, fishing hours and stream closures remain in effect. Anyone fishing for White Sturgeon at any time must have a current Sturgeon Report Card in their possession.

What are “golden sturgeon”?

Long-time sturgeon anglers occasionally talk about catching “golden sturgeon”. While these fish look very distinctive, they are not a different species. They are an unusual color phase of Green Sturgeon that is bright yellow rather than the usual olive green. Remember that all Green Sturgeon, including the golden ones, are protected by state law. They may not be removed from the water for any reason and must be released immediately.

Are there sturgeon in ________ lake or reservoir?

White Sturgeon do exist in a number of large lakes throughout the state. In most areas, the fish were released on purpose back when it was legal to do so. In Lake Shasta, it is possible that the fish may have been trapped when the large hydropower dams were built, though they may also have been planted on purpose. It is not currently legal to plant White Sturgeon in any state waters. There is no evidence that any of these lake dwelling sturgeon successfully spawn, but given the very long lifespan of White Sturgeon (over 100 years!), they are likely to be there for many more years. Remember, all sturgeon in California are subject to state fishing regulations, including gear restrictions, size limits, and possession of a Sturgeon Report Card,

Does CDFW release hatchery-raised White Sturgeon like you do trout and salmon?

The state does not run a hatchery for White Sturgeon or plant hatchery sturgeon in any California waters, and it is illegal for any other person to do so. There is a thriving, well-regulated, aquaculture industry in the state that produces White Sturgeon caviar and meat, but those fish live entirely in captivity. With the exception of a few reservoirs, all sturgeon in the state were naturally spawned in the wild, and it is the goal of the Department to manage and conserve those wild populations so that hatchery releases of sturgeon are not necessary.

What is the best way to handle a sturgeon that I plan to release?

Sturgeon are remarkably tough fish compared to other species like trout, but they are not invincible. White Sturgeon should be able to live over 100 years, but not if they are handled roughly. Please handle any fish you plan to release very gently, and when possible, do not remove them from the water. Sturgeon skeletons are made of soft cartilage, much like sharks, and are not good at dealing with gravity. Because of this, never dangle a large sturgeon up by its tail or mouth. Also, never hold any sturgeon by its gill plates – this can seriously harm the fish, and any injury to the delicate gills is very serious and may kill the fish. If you want to take a trophy picture before releasing a fish, hold the fish horizontally with a hand under the pectoral fins and one holding the tail. Lastly, dragging a sturgeon around a boat deck or on a muddy bank will remove the important slime coat that protects the fish and expose it to infection. A large net designed for sturgeon, or a sling or small tarp, can be really helpful for landing and safely releasing the fish.

I see or know of someone fishing illegally for sturgeon. What should I do?

Sturgeon are tough, amazing, ancient fish, but their unique life history makes them susceptible to over-fishing and they need to be managed carefully. People taking fish illegally puts the health of our California sturgeon populations at risk. Please report any illegal activity to CalTIP. Reports can be made anonymously and may be eligible for rewards. More information can be found at the CalTIP page.

If you know of a crime that is currently taking place, call: 1-888-334-CalTIP (888-334-2258).

You can also report online but this is only checked during weekday business hours. You can also send non-urgent anonymous tips by cell phone by texting "CALTIP", followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411).