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Outdoors Q&A: Is It Legal to Shoot Sharks?

Read on for answers to that question and more about California regulations on hunting and fishing.

Question: A friend of mine went thresher shark fishing off Newport Beach in his small boat, but didn’t catch any. I asked him what he would if he hooked one because it would be too big for him to safely land it. He said he would bring it up to his boat, shoot it and drag it home. Is shooting a shark legal? Is it legal to have guns on a boat? What about using a bang stick? I know the laws on traveling with a firearm and safe storage of a gun and all that jazz, but I’ve never heard of laws pertaining to possession on a boat on the ocean. What’s the law on this? (Mark S.)

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Carrie Wilson
Answer: Sport fishermen may take sharks by hand, hook and line, spearfishing, spear, harpoon or bow and arrow (reference sections 28.65, 28.90 and 28.95).

Firearms are not a legal method of take for sharks, so a gun can’t be used to assist in the taking or landing of a shark. A bang stick would be considered a firearm in this case, and therefore would not be a legal method either. However, if a shark is already in the person’s possession (in the boat), the Department of Fish & Game does not regulate how it is killed.

In regard to the legality of shooting a firearm from a boat, it would depend on the location, the county/city and how far offshore. In general, no city allows a firearm to be discharged in its jurisdiction. A person would have to contact the city/county law enforcement office that has jurisdiction over the area in which they are fishing to determine how far offshore they would need to be.

Question: I encounter rattlesnakes every couple of days on the roads I travel and am wondering if it is legal to carry a .410 “snake charmer” gun with me to kill them? The snakes are usually on the side of the road and I collect their rattles. I keep the gun unloaded at all times, but I know most of the surrounding property owners and they don’t want the rattlesnakes on their ranches either. Is what I’ve been doing legal? (Brian)

Answer: Rattlesnakes may be taken by any method, and the daily bag and possession limit for them is two (reference CCR, Title 14, Section 5.60a).

Regarding your “snake charmer,” you must be off the road/highway to discharge it. If you shoot a firearm from or on a public road or highway, you would be guilty of a misdemeanor (reference Penal Code Section 374c). It also is unlawful to intentionally discharge any firearm over or across any public road or way open to the public, in an unsafe manner (reference Fish & Game Code, Section 3004b).

Trespassing on private property that is fenced and posted (with signs three per mile and at entry points) or under cultivation is against the law unless you have written permission from the property owner (reference Fish & Game Code, Section 2016). There could be additional regulations within your county regarding the discharge of firearms, so contact the local sheriff’s department.

Question: I’ve followed the issue of the spreading quagga with great interest. I understand the diligence needed to curb this spread but wonder about migrant birds that fly from lake, to aqueduct, to lake to stream. Is there a logical way in which a marine biologist could address this issue? (Mike S., Simi Valley)

Answer: While it is biologically possible for the transmission of quagga or Zebra mussel propagules by wildlife or birds, such translocation is not considered significant. Breck McAlexander, invasive mussel control coordinator, says he isn’t aware of any way that could eliminate this type of movement. However, he says transmission from wildlife and birds is considered a much lower risk of an eventual new infestation than the greater potential for human-caused spread of invasive Eurasian mussels. He said this has occurred and can occur in the future from contaminated watercraft or water deliveries. Fortunately, we do have some control over those. Education and vigilance are paramount to prevent this from happening throughout the western United States, McAlexander said.

Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. Her DFG-related question-and-answer column appears weekly at She can be reached at [email protected]

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