Pelagic Fisheries

photo collage: fishing boats at sea, man working in a lab, commercial fishermen bringing in nets on boat, school of fish underwater

Coastal Pelagic Species

Pacific Sardine | Northern Anchovy | Pacific Mackerel | Jack Mackerel | Market Squid

Pacific Sardine

Green and silver sardine with dots in the middle

Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax caerulea) are small pelagic fish found throughout the Pacific Ocean. Sardine eat various forms of plankton such as fish larvae and crustaceans. Landings of sardine have historically fluctuated due to changing environmental conditions. Pacific Sardine are primarily caught in commercial fisheries but are also used as recreational bait.

Northern Anchovy

Northern anchovy

Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax) are small, short-lived pelagic fish found across the eastern Pacific Ocean. Anchovy eat various types of plankton and play an important role as common prey for many species of birds, mammals, and fish. Northern Anchovy are primarily caught in commercial fisheries but are also used as recreational bait.

Pacific Mackerel

Green and silver Pacific mackerel

Pacific Mackerel (Scomber japonicus) are a temperate and subtropical schooling fish found throughout the eastern Pacific Ocean. They are one of the most abundant sport-caught fish off California, and support an important commercial fishery as well.

Jack Mackerel

Green and silver jack mackerel

Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus) are a long-lived fish found throughout the northeastern Pacific Ocean. They are active predators of copepods, squid, anchovy, and other fishes. Jack Mackerel are prey for larger tuna, billfish, and marine mammals. They are occasionally caught in both recreational and commercial fisheries.

Market Squid

white market squid

Market Squid (Doryteuthis opalescens), range from southeastern Alaska to Baja California, Mexico. The Market Squid commercial fishery is consistently one of California's largest in both volume and revenue. Market squid are harvested for human consumption and as bait.

Highly Migratory Species

Tunas | Sharks | Billfishes


Silver and blue bigeye tuna

Tuna are large fish from the family Scombridae, mostly in the genus Thunnus. They are fast swimmers, with some species capable of swimming 43 miles per hour or more. Some larger tuna species, such as Pacific Bluefin Tuna, display warm-blooded adaptations and can raise their body temperature above water temperature by means of muscular activity. This enables them to survive in cooler waters and inhabit a wider range of ocean environments than other types of fish. Tuna are regularly caught in both recreational and commercial fisheries.

For additional life history information, click on one of the tuna species below:


Thresher shark underwater

Pelagic (open ocean) sharks caught off California include Shortfin Mako, thresher, and Blue sharks. All sharks are cartilaginous, meaning their skeletal structure is composed of cartilage rather than bone. Sharks are long-lived, take a long time to mature, and generally have very few offspring; thus conservation is very important in management of the fishery. Sharks are regularly caught in both commercial and recreational fisheries.

For additional life history information, click on one of the shark species below:


Swordfish off Long Beach, CA

photo by M. Curtis

The term "billfish" is applied to a number of different large, predatory fish characterized by their long, sword-like bills. Billfish do not spear their prey; rather, they use their bills to stun prey. They are important apex predators feeding on a wide variety of smaller fish and squid. Billfish are found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters, but Swordfish are sometimes found in cooler waters as well. Billfish found off California are Striped Marlin and Swordfish. Both species are caught in recreational fisheries however Striped Marlin cannot be commercially landed.

For additional life history information, click on one of the billfish species below:

Learn More About Recreational Fishing

CPFV Party Boat Fishing

Recent Recreational Catch on Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessels (CPFVs)

Annual Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel catch (fish kept) of select highly migratory species and coastal pelagic species from 1980-2022. To protect confidentiality, catch is excluded in years where less than three vessels reported kept catch of a particular species for that year.

Joint State and Federal Fisheries Management

The Pelagic Fisheries and Ecosystems Program monitors and manages fisheries subject to joint state and federal management.

I want to fish commercially for Pacific Bluefin Tuna. What are the regulations and required permits?

Primary management decisions regarding commercial fishing for Pacific Bluefin Tuna occur at the international level through the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), of which the United States is a member. The IATTC periodically adopts resolutions which, among other things, establish each country’s catch limit. National Marine Fisheries Service (in consultation with the Pacific Fishery Management Council) then implements domestic regulations that satisfy the requirements of the relevant IATTC resolutions. In addition to these federal regulations, CDFW may enact additional regulations (such as a daily bag limit) to maintain consistency with federal management of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna fishery.

Current restrictions on commercial fishing for Pacific Bluefin Tuna include:

All commercial fishing for Pacific Bluefin Tuna in California, regardless of the gear used or amount of fish landed, requires both state and federal permits. Therefore, even small landings with hook and line gear are subject to these requirements. At a minimum, individuals must possess a California Commercial Fishing License and a federal Highly Migratory Species permit, and be fishing from a boat with a California Commercial Vessel Registration. Should individuals wish to target Pacific Bluefin Tuna with purse seine gear in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (east of the 150 degree longitude line), they must also be listed on the IATTC purse seine vessel registry.

In terms of catch reporting to the IATTC, Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV) landings are considered recreational catch, and therefore are not deducted from commercial catch limits or subject to commercial trip limits. However CPFVs, both larger “party boats” and smaller chartered vessels, must possess appropriate state and federal permits (including but not limited to a federal HMS permit). Additionally, the recreational catch limit of two Pacific Bluefin Tuna per angler per 24-hour period (with a possession limit of six) applies to all individuals aboard the vessel.

For more information about state permits, please contact the CDFW License and Revenue Branch. For more information about federal permits, please contact the NMFS West Coast Region Highly Migratory Species Branch.

Do I need a permit to fish for market squid commercially?

Yes, there are two types of market squid permits: a brail permit and a vessel permit. Both of these permits are limited entry.

Recreational Tuna Fillet-at-Sea Regulations and Pacific Bluefin Tuna Bag Limit

Tuna Fillet-at-Sea Regulations

Effective July 30, 2015, the following tuna fillet regulations apply for all tuna species (yellowfin, bluefin, albacore, bigeye, and skipjack).

SOUTH of Point Conception (Santa Barbara County)

Note: Pacific bonito (Sarda chiliensis), Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus), and other mackerels and jacks are NOT considered tuna and the following fillet-at-sea regulations are not applicable to these species.

Subsection 27.65(b)(11) - FILLETING OF FISH ON VESSELS.

(b) Fish That May be Filleted: No person shall fillet on any boat or bring ashore as fillets any fish, except in accordance with the following requirements: ...

(11) For all species of tuna filleted on any boat or brought ashore as fillets south of a line running due west true from Point Conception, Santa Barbara County (34° 27' N. lat.) each fish must be individually bagged as follows:

(A) The bag must be marked with the species' common name.

(B) The fish must be cut into six pieces with all skin attached. These pieces are the four loins, the collar removed as one piece with both pectoral fins attached and intact, and the belly fillet cut to include the vent and with both pelvic fins attached and intact.

View an illustration of the South of Point Conception tuna fillet requirements (PDF) or watch a video of the fillet process, provided by Sportfishing Association of California.

NORTH of Point Conception (Santa Barbara County)

Subsection 27.65(b)(12) - FILLETING OF FISH ON VESSELS.

(b) Fish That May be Filleted: No person shall fillet on any boat or bring ashore as fillets any fish, except in accordance with the following requirements: ...

(12) . . . Each fillet shall bear intact a one-inch square patch of skin. The fillets may be of any size.

Bluefin Tuna Bag Limit Regulations

Subsection 28.38(b) – TUNAS

The following daily bag limits apply:

(b) Bluefin tuna - The special limit for bluefin tuna is 2, which may be taken or possessed in addition to the overall general daily bag limit of 20 finfish specified in subsection 27.60(a). This limit applies to all bluefin tuna possessed, regardless of where taken.

For additional information regarding ocean sport fishing regulations, including bag limits for other tuna species, please visit the CDFW Marine Region’s Ocean Sportfishing Regulations web page.

Highly Migratory Species

Coastal Pelagic Species

Market Squid

Live Bait Fishery

California's live bait fishery for CPS began in 1910 to provide the rapidly expanding sport fishing industry with live fish for bait or chum. Before their decline in the early 1950s, Pacific Sardine comprised up to 15-20 percent of the live bait catch; from 1957 until the reappearance of Pacific Sardine in the 1980s, Northern Anchovy made up nearly all of the live bait catch. Since the early to mid-1990s, prevalence of Pacific Sardine and Northern Anchovy in the live bait fishery has fluctuated.

If you have additional questions, contact Kirk Lynn at

Pelagic Fishery-Dependent Research and Monitoring

The Pelagic Fisheries and Ecosystems Program is responsible for monitoring Coastal Pelagic and Highly Migratory fisheries that land in California ports. Program staff collect and analyze biological samples from monitored fisheries, compile and analyze State logbook records, fishery survey data, and landing receipt information. In addition to contributing to stock assessments for pelagic fisheries and monitoring landings to comply with catch limits and other regulations, fisheries data collected by the program are used to determine the effectiveness of current management goals and regulations.

Coastal Pelagic Species and Market Squid Fisheries

California Wetfish and Market Squid commercial fisheries monitoring is based on a stratified random sampling plan that has been in place since 1996. Wetfish sampling includes collection of biological samples for weight, length, sex, maturity and age data. Otoliths are used to determine year classes for Pacific Sardine, Pacific Mackerel, and Northern Anchovy. Field sampling is conducted primarily in Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles counties where the majority of wetfish landings occur. Landings are monitored throughout the season to track progress toward catch limits.

Highly Migratory Species

Field monitoring efforts for commercial landings of Highly Migratory Species have focused on Pacific Bluefin Tuna since 2015. Sampling efforts occur primarily in southern California ports including Los Angeles and San Diego. The primary purpose of this monitoring is to track progress toward the annual commercial catch limit, and to enhance biological data collection in coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Lengths, weight and maturity, as well as genetic sampling are collected for Pacific Bluefin Tuna and other species.

market squid on conveyor belt
Pacific bluefin tuna being offloaded
Pacific sardine otolith

Opportunities to Assist with Pelagic Fisheries Research

If you are a recreational or commercial fisherman, you can assist with ongoing research projects by donating some or all of your Pacific Bluefin Tuna, Thresher Shark or Mako Shark carcass. You can also assist by reporting interactions with Basking Sharks and tagged Pacific Bluefin Tuna.

CDFW Pelagic Research Collaborations

The Pelagic Fisheries and Ecosystems Program participates in a number of research initiatives to further our understanding of stock status, dynamic ecosystem linkages, and essential fishery information for Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) and Highly Migratory Species (HMS).

California Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

The California Coastal Pelagic Species Survey (CCPSS) is a collaborative research effort by CDFW and the California Wetfish Producers Association which aims to improve understanding of the amount and distribution of coastal pelagic finfish stocks along the California coast. Learn more about the survey.

Aerial survey plane
Purse seine wrapping anchovies
School of Pacific Sardine off Santa Monica


Along with National Marine Fisheries Service and the UC San Diego Scripps Institute of Oceanography, CDFW is a key partner in the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI). Formed in 1949 to study the ecological underpinnings of the sardine population crash off of California, the focus of CalCOFI has shifted over time towards enhancing our understanding of the pelagic ecosystem of the California current (particularly in Southern and Central California) Learn more about CalCOFI.

Pacific Fishery Management Council Ecosystem Workgroup

CDFW is actively engaged in incorporating ecosystem-level considerations into fishery management decisions through the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) Ecosystem Workgroup (EWG). This effort has included increased protections for unfished, unmanaged forage species and a review of ecosystem indicators in the PFMC Annual State of the California Current Ecosystem Report. The current EWG initiative will consider climate change impacts on the California Current ecosystem and fishing-dependent communities in PFMC management and decision-making. Learn more about the Council’s ecosystem-based management approach (PDF).