State/National/WorldFish Rap

Big Changes Coming in 2023 For Sport Groundfish Regulations

On July 28, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced upcoming changes to California’s groundfish sport fishing regulations expected to start next year. These changes are in response to recent scientific information implying some nearshore groundfish species are in decline. As a result, fishing seasons will be shorter in nearshore waters to reduce pressure on these stocks. However, new opportunities in deeper water are foreseen.


The Pacific Fishery Management Council designed the upcoming changes over the past year. They reflected the results of a public decision-making process where the CDFW worked with fishing industry representatives, non-governmental organizations, and state, federal, and tribal governments to balance the need for fishing season closures in nearshore waters with the necessities of these communities and industries. The PFMC approved the recommendations for 2023 and 2024 at its June meeting.


Based on these recommendations, the National Marine Fisheries Service has begun amending federal regulations, which are predicted to take effect in January 2023. In addition, the California Fish and Game Commission is considering identical changes to ocean sport fishing regulations for state waters.


California’s sport groundfish regulations separate the state into five “Groundfish Management Areas,” where the fishing seasons, Rockfish Conservation Areas or depth constraints, and bag limits may vary. In 2022, the nearshore groundfish fishing season ranged from eight to 10 months, but in 2023, they are expected to shrink to less than five and a half months in all areas.


The 10-fish daily limit for rockfish, cabezon, and greenling, with sub bag limits of one fish each of quillback and copper rockfish, and four vermilion rockfish will hold in 2023. These sub-bag limits have been in effect since January 2022 and were critical because the information presented in 2021 revealed severe declines in quillback and copper rockfish populations off California. In addition, recreational vermilion rockfish catch continued to be more significant than sustainable harvest limits.


The sub-bag limits and shortened fishing seasons are expected to complete necessary reductions in copper, vermilion, and quillback rockfish catch.


While groundfish fishing seasons will be shorter for nearshore waters and some bag limits are reduced, new opportunities to fish in deeper water beginning in 2023 will allow anglers to target healthy populations of shelf and slope rockfish in deeper waters. Opportunities such as mid-water schooling of widow and yellowtail rockfish or bottom-dwelling black gill rockfish will become an option for anglers. Additionally, the sport fishing seasons for some other federally managed groundfish species like sablefish (sometimes called “black cod” or “butterfish”) will be open year-round without depth constraints. Access to these formerly closed depths means access to unknown ventures for anglers as they explore new habitats, new fishing locations, new target species, and new gear configurations to assemble and deploy.


“Next year is expected to bring a momentous shift in the sport groundfish fishery as all but one of the overfished shelf species that drove management decisions for the better part of the past two decades are now healthy,” said CDFW Environmental Program Manager Marci Yaremko in the July 28 press release. “While concerns for quillback and copper rockfish will impact the nearshore fishery in the coming years, there are also a number of new opportunities for anglers, and CDFW looks forward to supporting their development.”


To stay up-to-date on in-season regulatory changes, call the Recreational Groundfish Hotline at (831) 649-2801 or visit CDFW’s summary of recreational groundfish fishing regulations.

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