Vermilion rockfish swimming between boulders
CDFW photo by A. Maguire


The California Department of Fish and Wildlife 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are there new closures to protect quillback rockfish?

The combined recreational and commercial take of quillback rockfish has exceeded the harvest limits specified in federal regulation for 2023. The shift to an offshore-only fishery will help to prevent further exceeding the federal quota for quillback rockfish, one of 13 nearshore rockfish species(opens in new tab). Read the Quillback Rockfish Inseason Informational Briefing document for in-depth information.

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 were quillback rockfish sub-bag limits changed to prohibited retention state-wide in 2023?

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.

What does this mean for anglers who target groundfish?

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.

Is it ok to transit between different Groundfish Management Areas (GMA) while fishing?

This can be a complicated question. Ultimately it depends on the time of year, which GMA you are leaving from and which GMA you will be fishing in. Anglers are advised to check the groundfish regulations in both GMAs before they transit or fish across GMAs. A recent CDFW press release provides some useful information and examples on transiting between GMAs. For more information, please review CDFW’s  San Francisco and Mendocino California Recreational Groundfish ‘Offshore-Only’ Season and Northern ‘All-Depth’ Seasons Opens May 15 Press Release.

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 General Ocean Fishing Regulations for Finfish web 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 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.

What are the Cowcod Conservation Area recreational groundfish seasons and depth limits this year?

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.

Why are changes made to the groundfish regulations?

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.

How are new groundfish regulations decided?

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.

Recreational Fishing