Groundfish

Vermilion rockfish swimming between boulders
CDFW photo by A. Maguire

Overview

CDFW works with NOAA Fisheries Service, the states of Oregon and Washington and the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to manage groundfish fisheries on a sustainable basis.

More than 90 species of bottom-dwelling marine finfish are included in the federal Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (GFMP) implemented by the PFMC in 1982. Species and species groups managed under the GFMP include all rockfishes (about 60 species), sablefish, thornyheads, lingcod, Dover sole and other flatfishes (not including halibut), Pacific whiting, and some sharks and skates. Since then, these species have been managed under the joint jurisdiction of the state and the federal government.

The Nearshore Fishery Management Plan (NFMP), mandated by the Marine Life Management Act in 1998, provides the basis for managing California's nearshore finfish fisheries. Nineteen finfish species are included in the NFMP; sixteen of them also occur in the GFMP.

Many groundfish species are important to commercial and/or recreational fisheries. In addition, they are important to scuba divers for their observational value and to the general public for their intrinsic value. The commercial and recreational groundfish fisheries are managed to ensure long-term resource sustainability and economic, recreational, cultural and social benefits.

Groundfish News

Recreational Fishing

For current recreational groundfish regulations, see CDFW’s Summary of Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulations 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.


Ocean Sport Fishing Interactive Map

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find the current groundfish regulations?

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.

Why are current seasons focusing on offshore (seaward of 50 fathom) and inshore of the 20 fathom boundary line?

Groundfish are federally managed through a number of harvest limits and management measures recommended by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) and implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) works with interested stakeholders, the public and other state and federal entities through the Council process to maximize fishing opportunity for recreational anglers while remaining within federal harvest limits for all groundfish species.  

Current seasons, bag limits and depths were crafted to provide fishing opportunities while avoiding critical habitats of species of concern like quillback rockfish and yelloweye rockfish. The 20 fathom (fm) boundary line was established in state regulation to provide inshore fishing opportunities and minimize encounters with quillback rockfish as they are primarily caught between 20 fm to 50 fm. Fishing effort can be directed inshore (towards land) or offshore (away from land) of boundary lines. Anglers should always check groundfish regulations before going out fishing.  

What is happening with quillback rockfish?

Using the best scientific information available from the most recent population (or stock) assessment, the consensus among the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is that the population status of quillback rockfish (Sebastes maliger) throughout California is in severe decline. As a result of the stock assessment, reduced harvest limits were established resulting in significant inseason actions to reduce quillback rockfish mortality in recent years. The NMFS declared quillback rockfish off the coast of California overfished on December 14, 2023, prompting the Council to develop a Rebuilding Plan that will be implemented in the 2025-26 biennial seasons. The Draft California Quillback Rockfish Rebuilding Plan Analysis projects how long the stock will need to rebuild, socioeconomic needs of fishing communities. The rebuilding plan will influence future groundfish regulations in a manner that allows the population to recover while minimizing adverse socioeconomic impacts to the extent possible.   

Anglers can do their part in the quillback rebuilding efforts by using best fishing practices when out on the water. Anglers should always check CDFW’s Summary of Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulations web page before their fishing trip to be aware of the most up to date groundfish regulations. It is always great practice to freshen up on groundfish identification before going fishing to properly identify quillback rockfish, yelloweye rockfish and other prohibited species from similar looking rockfish species. If you are out on the water and catch quillback rockfish, yelloweye rockfish, other prohibited species or have caught your limit for species with a sub-bag limit, the best fishing practice is to return the fish using a descending device which reduces the effects of barotrauma.  Another best practice is to relocate to a different area and continue fishing if you encountered prohibited species. Anglers can also help in quillback rockfish rebuilding by participating in the California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS) Interview when returning to shore. Data from CRFS interviews are an important component to federal groundfish management decisions.   

Is it ok to transit through a closed area, anchor overnight, or fish for invertebrates in a closed area with groundfish onboard?

§27.20 (b)(1)(A) Anchoring, drifting, or transiting in closed areas: In waters where groundfish species or species groups are closed to take or possession but authorized for take or possession in other areas, those species or species groups may be possessed aboard a vessel that is anchored, drifting, or transiting in or through that closed area. While anchoring, drifting, or transiting through an area closed to take and/ or possession of these groundfish species or species groups, no gear may be deployed other than for the take of crustaceans with hoop nets used pursuant to subsection 29.80(b), Dungeness crab traps used pursuant to subsection 29.80(c), and dip nets used pursuant to Section 28.80. (§29.80(b), §29.80(c), §28.80). 

Always remember that when transiting through closed areas, the groundfish species or species groups you have aboard must be allowed for take or possession at the time of transit. For example, if you were participating in the 50 fm offshore only fishery, you would be allowed to transit through a closed area with shelf rockfish, slope rockfish, and lingcod aboard. During an offshore only fishery in a Groundfish Management Area (GMA), nearshore rockfish, cabezon and greenling cannot be possessed onboard a vessel anywhere in that GMA, including during transit from a GMA that allows their take. Anglers should always check CDFW’s Summary of Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulations web page before their fishing trip to be aware of the most up to date groundfish regulations. 

What if I want to target a non-groundfish species like California halibut, or white seabass, and rockfish on the same trip? Can I do that?

 

If anglers would like to target non-groundfish species and rockfish on the same trip, they would have to prioritize their focus based on the more restrictive regulations.  

During the offshore groundfish season, only shelf rockfish, slope rockfish, and lingcod can be possessed seaward (offshore, away from land) from the 50 fathom (fm) RCA Boundary line. The angler would need to target the non-groundfish species first, and then travel seaward of the 50 fm RCA boundary line to target shelf rockfish, slope rockfish, and lingcod. Once the angler is finished with their rockfish targets, anglers may transit waters shoreward of the 50 fm RCA line with offshore fishery species (shelf, slope rockfish and lingcod) on board as long as no gear is deployed in the water. There is no retention at any time of nearshore rockfishes, cabezon, or greenling (RCG) during the offshore fishery. 

During one of the inshore only fisheries (defined either by a 20 fm boundary line or the 50 fm RCA boundary line), rockfish, cabezon, and greenling can only be taken or possessed shoreward (inshore, towards land) of the defined line. If anglers intended to participate in a non-groundfish fishery past the 20 fm boundary line or 50 fm RCA boundary line, they would have to target the non-groundfish species first, as RCG species and lingcod are closed seaward of the respective boundary lines. Additionally, anglers would need to fish shoreward of the respective boundary line before targeting RCG species or lingcod. 

What are the regulations for California sheephead and ocean whitefish?

Seasons for California sheephead and ocean whitefish will no longer align with groundfish seasons, and regulations for these species can be found on CDFW’s Ocean sport fishing "spotlight" page.   

What is a Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) boundary line and how is that boundary line used for depth regulations?

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 series of GPS coordinates that are intended to approximate depth contours. Note that these boundaries are not necessarily equal to the depths they represent; fishing may be prohibited seaward or shoreward of the boundary, even when the ocean depth differs. RCA boundaries will be used in to avoid interactions with certain groundfish species of concern. 

Recreational regulations can direct anglers to fish shoreward (towards land, inshore) or seaward (away from land, offshore) of different boundary lines. These inshore and offshore fisheries established by RCA and other boundary lines provides anglers access to recreational groundfish fishing while lowering encounters with species of concern. An interactive map displaying the RCA lines and the 20 fathom boundary line can be found here: Map Viewer

Did the Cowcod Conservation Areas get removed?

In January 2024, the Cowcod Conservation Areas (CCAs) in California’s Southern Management Area were repealed for recreational groundfish fisheries and non-trawl commercial groundfish fisheries and replaced with eight new and smaller closed areas called Groundfish Exclusion Areas (GEAs). The CCAs were implemented to reduce bycatch of overfished Cowcod, which were declared rebuilt in 2019. The replacement of the smaller GEAs opened up approximately 4,663 sq mi (12,077 sq km) to those two sectors. The CCAs still remain in place for groundfish trawl fisheries. To learn more about GEA definitions, locations, and regulations, visit CDFW’s Cowcod Protection webpage

Why are changes made to the groundfish regulations?

Changes made to groundfish regulations are designed to meet but not exceed harvest limits for groundfish species. For groundfish species, a stock assessment is conducted to help determine how much/what volume of fish can be sustainably caught. Based on those stock assessments, management measures are proposed and discussed through the Pacific Fishery Management Council process and are implemented for a two-year period. Throughout that two-year period, many variable factors contributing to fishery performance may require inseason regulatory adjustments such as reduced bag or sub-bag limits, depth boundary/Rockfish Conservation Area lines and season date modifications. These inseason actions may occur quickly to prevent harvest overages.    

How are groundfish regulations decided?

Groundfish regulations operate on a biennial cycle with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to meet management goals. Stock assessments are conducted to help determine how much/what volume of fish can be sustainably caught. From these stock assessments, the Council develops harvest limits and management measures (season dates/ size limits, bag limits, depth restrictions, etc.) that are proposed and discussed through a series of Council meetings and then implemented for a two-year period. Through the Council process, CDFW works cooperatively with fishing representatives on the Council’s Groundfish Advisory Panel to develop fishing season alternatives and regulations. Proposed regulations represented in the Council process are developed with the goal of maximizing groundfish season lengths and fishing opportunities in all areas of the state while staying within federal harvest limits of groundfish species.  

Impacts on proposed management measures will be analyzed and evaluated by the Groundfish Management Team (GMT), NMFS, and/or Council staff to determine harvest, economic, and community impacts. Once all analyses are reviewed by the Council and public comment is received, the Council will make a final recommendation on the proposed regulations in federal waters (3-200 nautical miles). Once the seasons are decided for Federal waters the California Fish and Game Commission typically adopts similar/conforming regulations for state waters (0-3 nautical miles). To learn more about federal groundfish management and the Council process, check out the Council’s Groundfish webpage

Commercial Fishing

20-Fathom Boundary Line off California

What is the 20-fm Boundary Line?

The 20-fathom boundary line is defined by connecting a series of latitude and longitude coordinates, which generally approximate the depth contour. The 20-fathom boundary line is defined along the mainland coast, as well as separate and individually around the Channel Islands off California. The boundary line may be used to prohibit or restrict certain groundfish fishing activities in the commercial and/or recreational fishery between itself and another defined boundary. Regulations may vary by geographic area and by fishery. Please check current regulations for the area and fishery in which you intend to participate to determine applicability of the 20-fathom boundary line. See also: Commercial Groundfish Regulations in State Waters and Summary of Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulations(opens in new tab).

Download the coordinates for the 20-fm Boundary Lines

CDFW has formatted the worksheet in this file so that the data may be more easily used in mapping software. Coordinates delineating the 20-fathom boundaries are given in CSV format (comma-delimited ASCII text format). CSV format presents data in a basic format, allowing for easier transitions to different software. CSV files can be opened with Microsoft Excel or imported into a text file.

This file contains all of the latitude and longitude coordinates representing a the 20-fathom boundary lines off California, including along the mainland coast and around the Channel Islands. To find boundaries for specific sections of the coast, open the file and scroll through the coordinates until the appropriate section of the coast is reached.

Any discrepancies between the CSV coordinate file provided here and the coordinates published in the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 35.00(opens in new tab) will be resolved in favor of the California Code of Regulations.

DOWNLOAD 20-fm Boundary Waypoint file(.csv)

Coordinates delineating the Federal Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) lines and other groundfish closures can be downloaded at NOAA Fisheries West Coast Groundfish Closed Area webpage.

CSV File Worksheet Column Header Key

  • id_area = unique identifying number for a particular coordinate within a particular line
  • area_name = identifying name for a particular line at a particular depth contour, primarily distinguishes between coastwide lines and lines around islands
  • lat_dd = latitude for a particular coordinate, given in decimal degrees
  • lon_dd = longitude for a particular coordinate, given in decimal degrees
  • lat_deg = degrees latitude for a particular coordinate
  • lat_min = decimal minutes for a particular coordinate, associated with the degrees latitude for that coordinate
  • lat_dir = latitude direction (N = North)
  • lon_deg = degrees longitude for a particular coordinate
  • lon_min = decimal minutes for a particular coordinate, associated with the degrees longitude for that coordinate
  • lon_dir = longitude direction (W = West)

Map Viewer

This map displays the 20-fathom groundfish boundary line and the 50-fathom rockfish conservation area line along the mainland coast and those around the Channel Islands for reference. Users are encouraged to check regulations pertaining to the fishery and area in which they intend to fish to determine applicability of the 20-fathom groundfish boundary line and the 50-fathom rockfish conservation area line.

Groundfish Identification

Groundfish Resources

Groundfish Management

Marine Region (Region 7)
Regional Manager: Dr. Craig Shuman
Main Office: 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, Monterey, CA  93940
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