Vermilion Rockfish Limit Cut in Half in California Waters

Fishery managers slashed the daily sub-limit to two vermilion rockfish for 2024 season throughout much of the ocean waters of the Golden State.
anglers with vermilion rockfish
Anglers in the Golden State will likely face reduced bag limits on vermilion rockfish this coming season. Jim Hendricks

No species is more closely associated with California rockfishing than the popular vermilion (aka red) rockfish. But with the 2024 season about to get underway (on April 1 in the state’s southern waters), anglers in much of the Golden State are learning that they can keep far fewer of these popular ocean bottom fish.

Fishery regulators have slashed the daily sub-limit for vermilion rockfish to just two per day in four of California’s five Groundfish Management Areas. In those four areas, the new limit represents a 50 percent cut from the 2023 season and 80 percent cut from the 2022 season. In the Northern Groundfish Management Area, the sub-limit remains at four.

Rockfish are part of the federally managed groundfish species that include rockfish, cabezon and greenling. The Pacific Fisheries Management Council establishes the seasonal regs, and California’s Fish and Game Commission follows suit to ensure uniform codes. In other words, the decision to cut the vermilion sub-limit in much California’s ocean waters was made at the federal level.

Anglers Perplexed Over Reduced Limits

But many anglers stand puzzled. “There are so many reds out there on deep stones, it’s hard not to catch them,” says Joey Engel, an avid angler and professional deck hand on sportfishing boats based in Dana Point Harbor, which lies within California’s Southern Groundfish Management Area. “I don’t understand the reasoning behind this.”

The PFMC made it recommendations based on the “best scientific information available” or BSIA—an acronym used a lot in fishery regulatory meetings and processes. But some leaders in the California sportfishing community point out that relying on BSIA can lead to poor decision making.

“In this case, there really isn’t enough solid data in the BSIA to inform the models on the stock assessment side,” says Wayne Kotow, executive director for the Coastal Conservation Association of California. “While BSIA seems harmless, there are times when that means little data or incomplete data is available, then statistics are used to extrapolate what the number could be.

“While the math may be right, reality could be completely different,” Kotow adds “These models and decisions have real world impacts to fisheries, fishermen, families, businesses and communities. What’s worse is being forced into a management action because of due process when everyone knows that the data is incomplete. CCA Cal and others are all working hard to fix the many issues that got us here.”

Similar Species Under Same Bag Limit

comparison of sunset and vermilion rockfish
Sunset and vermilion rockfish are very similar in appearance. Courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife

To help forestall issues with species identification, sunset rockfish (which look very much like vermilion rockfish) will count as vermilions for the purposes of a daily bag sub-limit. In other words, you can keep two vermilions or two sunsets or one vermilion and one sunset. In addition, the daily sub-limit for copper rockfish—another other popular species among anglers—remains at just one fish, same as last year. Also beginning with the 2024 groundfish season, all boats are required to carry descending devices when fishing for rockfish. Enjoying protected (no-take) status for 2024 are bronzespotted rockfish, cowcod, quillback rockfish, and yelloweye rockfish.

To learn more about the season, take and depth regulations for 2024, you can read the proposed language here or visit the webpage for California’s Summary of Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulations once the regs are approved and effective on April 1, 2024.