Slot limits are a fact of life for anglers in coastal states around the country, with one glaring exception. Federal and state fisheries management agencies widely use this regulatory fishery management tool to protect fish of certain sizes identified as most important to the spawning success of their species. Slot limits are designed primarily to protect smaller fish so that they can mature to become sexually reproductive and larger fish that are already the most productive. One such success story exists in Florida, where the application of a slot limit placed on red drum caused them to rebound past stated goals.
Yet there is one state in which slot limits do not exist–California. The only exception is for white sturgeon but there are no state slot regulations for popular species such as calico bass, California halibut, white sea bass, California yellowtail, lingcod or rockfish. Why not?
CDFW manages California’s marine fisheries based on specific biomass estimates determined through stock assessments, Ugoretz says. Those assessments show that reductions in bag limits are more effective at maintaining fishery mortality rates. “Slot limits provide some reduction in total ‘take,’” Ugoretz explains., “But it’s often not enough to allow for healthy fisheries.”
For example, California has one recreationally prized croaker—the white seabass—which is similar in biology to black drum, which are regulated in other states through slot limits. However, in California, the white sea bass is managed based on a stock assessment and optimum yield. White seabass stock status and management is reviewed annually to ensure continued sustainability.
Deep Water Fisheries
Another reason California doesn’t use slots is that many of its species live in deeper water, which is closer to shore in the state than in most other U.S. waters. Rockfishes, for example, suffer significant release mortality when their gas bladders expand. Descending devices can be used to release fish, but these devices are not always used properly, leaving release mortality a critical concern for the species. Ugoretz says that in cases where a fish’s biology plays a role in release mortality, the CDFW believes it is better that anglers keep the fish they catch until they reach the daily bag limit, rather than keeping some fish and releasing others that have a strong chance of dying after being released.
TIP: When fishing for deepwater species, if you have taken your bag limit in one location and continue to catch the same species in that spot, move to another spot and target a different species. This reduces the need to release fish beyond your bag limit that may have a poor chance of survival.
When it comes to pelagic species in California waters ( tunas, yellowtail), the CDFW eschews slots so that more anglers can bring trophy sized fish back to the dock. Commercial passenger fishing vessels (CPFVs or party boats) often keep anglers excited and engaged with the possibilities of jackpots for whoever catches the largest fish of the day. An end-of-the-day party boat weigh-in is an exciting part of the day’s trip—and a great way for captains to show off their catches at the wharf. Slot limits could prohibit such activities, and Ugoretz says the CDFW prefers not to limit things that support local economies and keep anglers invested in the sport.
Of course, the CDFW has considered recommendations for marine fish slot limits in California in the past. In fact, for a very brief time slot limits were implemented for lingcod. In that case, Ugoretz says, slots created far too many enforcement problems and accidental violations, and so the policy was discontinued. In addition, research indicated that while the large female lingcod protected by the slots survived release, their eggs did not always fare as well, and so the limits were dropped.
Ultimately, the CDFW considers both science and impact on local fishing cultures and economies to determine its regulatory policies. While other coastal states’ fisheries management agencies do the same, California remains somewhat anomalous in its approach to slot limits. What’s your take on California’s approach?