California Anglers Face Dramatically Shorter Rockfish Seasons

State and federal agencies prepare anglers for drastic changes in 2023.

vermillion rockfish
Seasons for species such as vermillion rockfish in California’s five Groundfish Management Area are expected to start much later in 2023 than in year’s past, resulting in seasons that are no longer than 5 1/2 months next year. Seasons have traditionally lasted between 8 to 10 months. Jim Hendricks

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has warned anglers of significant changes to the state’s bottomfishing regulations beginning next year in response to recent scientific information suggesting some nearshore groundfish species are in decline.

“To reduce pressure on these stocks, fishing seasons will be shorter in nearshore waters, but new opportunities in deeper water are anticipated,” the CDFW states on its website. More than 90 species of bottom-dwelling species will be affected by the new regulations including rockfish (60 varieties), lingcod, California sheephead, ocean whitefish, cabezon, greenling, sablefish, and some sharks and skates.

Shorter Seasons for California Groundfish

In 2022, nearshore groundfish season lengths ranged from 8 to 10 months. But in 2023, they are expected to shrink to no more than 5½ five months in California’s five coastal Groundfish Management Areas, beginning in January.

“These (new regs) were developed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) over the past year and reflect outcomes 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 needs of these communities and industries,” the Department states. California fishing regulations traditionally fall in the line with the PFMC.

Smaller Bag Limits for California Rockfish

window rockfish
A bright spot in the anticipated 2023 regulations for groundfish in California are greater depth limits, which will improve opportunities for targeting deep-dwelling schooling species such as widow rockfish. Jim Hendricks

In addition to shorter seasons, sub-bag limits of one fish each for quillback and copper rockfish, and four fish for vermilion rockfish will continue in 2023 within the 10-fish daily combined rockfish, cabezon and greenling bag limit. These sub-bag limits were established in January 2022 in response to research indicating severe declines in the populations of these species.

On the positive side, the state said that new opportunities to fish in deeper water beginning in 2023 will allow anglers to target healthy populations of schooling widow rockfish and yellowtail rockfish, as well as bottom-dwelling blackgill rockfish. In addition, sport fishing seasons for some other federally managed groundfish species like sablefish (aka black cod) or will be open year-round without depth constraints. The maximum depth limit for bottom fishing along much of the California coast in 2022 was 600 feet.

To stay informed of in-season regulatory changes, anglers can call the Recreational Groundfish Hotline at 831-649-2801 or visit the CDFW’s summary of recreational groundfish fishing regulations.

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