For current recreational groundfish regulations, see CDFW’s Summary of Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulations web page. Make sure to check this page for the current seasons, depths, bag limits, and size limits in your management area. As a reminder, groundfish seasons may be subject to in-season changes if catch limits are projected to be exceeded by the end of each year.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced retention of quillback rockfish (Sebastes maliger) will be prohibited statewide in both the recreational and commercial fisheries on August 7, 2023. CDFW projected the combined recreational and commercial take of quillback rockfish would exceed the harvest limits specified in federal regulation for 2023 and inseason action had to occur to reduce the risk of overfishing.
For more information please see the recent quillback rockfish no retention press release.
While groundfish seasons will be shorter in nearshore waters, the new opportunities to fish in deeper water in certain months will allow anglers to target healthy populations of shelf and slope rockfish, like schooling mid-water widow and yellowtail rockfish, or bottom-dwelling blackgill rockfish. Access to these previously closed depths means new experiences for anglers as they explore new fishing locations, and new target species like Mexican, redstripe, and chillipepper rockfish. Additionally, the sport fishing seasons for some other federally managed groundfish species like sablefish (“blackcod”) and California scorpionfish (“sculpin”) will be open year-round with no depth limit.
Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) are closed areas for west coast groundfish fisheries and for some fisheries that may incidentally take groundfish as bycatch. The RCA boundary line is a connection of a series of GPS coordinates that are intended to approximate underwater depth contours. Note that these boundaries are not necessarily equal to the depths they represent; fishing may be prohibited inside the boundary, even when the ocean depth differs. RCA boundaries will be used in the upcoming seasons to avoid interactions with certain groundfish species of concern.
Historically, the recreational take of groundfish was prohibited seaward (away from land) of the RCA boundary line. In 2023 it will be reversed. During the offshore fishing season described in the FAQs above, fishing will only occur seaward of the RCA boundary line. The “offshore-only” fishing season is needed to reduce impacts on sensitive copper and quillback rockfish stocks, which are found in nearshore depths.
Nearshore rockfish, shelf rockfish, lingcod, cabezon and greenlings are open April 1 through September 15 shoreward (towards land) of the 40 fathom (240 feet) RCA boundary line, and are closed January 1 through March 31, and September 16 through December 31. California scorpionfish, petrale sole, starry flounder, Pacific sanddabs and “Other Flatfish” are open year-round, with no depth limit. Slope rockfish, leopard shark, and “Other Federal Groundfish” may not be taken at any time.
The changes are designed to reduce harvest of sensitive rockfish species in 2023, including copper and quillback rockfish.
For many groundfish species, a stock assessment is conducted to help determine how many fish can be sustainably caught. Using the best scientific information available from stock assessments conducted in 2021, the consensus among CDFW, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is that the population of copper and quillback rockfishes throughout California are in severe decline.
CDFW worked cooperatively with fishing representatives on the Groundfish Advisory Panel (GAP) of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop proposed fishing season alternatives. Regulations were developed that maximize groundfish season lengths and opportunities in all areas of the state while reducing take of copper and quillback rockfishes and ensuring that California fisheries stay within federal limits for overfished yelloweye rockfish. In response to public input on the alternatives, CDFW staff worked diligently with GAP members to provide new offshore and year-round groundfish opportunities that minimize economic impacts in each management area to the extent possible.