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Outdoors Q&A: Is It Legal to Remove Legs Before Releasing Crabs?

The Department Fish & Game answers that question and others about regulations on fishing and hunting.

Question: I often see people removing the legs from Dungeness crabs and rock crabs and then releasing them. They say that they take only one pincher and some of the legs, and that this is OK because they will just grow back. Is this legal? Does the size of crab or the leg/pincher matter? It just doesn’t sound like a very humane way of treating these animals. (Tommy J., San Mateo)

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Carrie Wilson
Answer: It is neither humane nor legal to remove the chelipeds (pincers) from crabs before throwing them back. While it’s true that most crustaceans do have some regenerative abilities to regrow lost appendages (if they don’t get eaten first), it’s questionable how long a crab will survive after having their walking legs and pincers removed. Crabs rely on their pincers for feeding and defending themselves against predators.

The practice is also illegal for a couple of reasons. Dungeness and rock crabs have size limits, and measurements must be taken across the top of the carapace. By removing the legs and the pincers before tossing the rest of the crab back, the person is making it impossible to determine if the crab was of legal size.

“It is unlawful to possess on any boat or to bring ashore any fish upon which a size or weight limit is prescribed in such a condition that its size or weight cannot be determined (FGC Section 5508).” In addition, “it is unlawful to cause or permit any deterioration or waste of any fish taken in the waters of this state (CCR Section 1.87).”

Question: Is it true that Hot Creek Hatchery was dumping trout eggs recently? If so, was it because of the recent lawsuit prohibiting stocking in so many of the state’s lakes and streams? Were these eggs now surplus? Does this action indicate that the Department of Fish & Game now will be producing less hatchery fish in anticipation of lower trout planting levels in 2009? (Bill K.)

Answer: According to senior hatchery supervisor Gary Williams, Hot Creek Hatchery staff did discard some trout eggs recently that would not be utilized, but it had nothing to do with the recent lawsuit. It is standard practice in our trout hatcheries to carry fish over each year to become future broodstock when ready. We don’t usually start spawning the broodstock females until they are ready, which is age 3. The 2-year-olds also will produce eggs, but their eggs are usually not viable.

In addition, while some 2-year-old fish will reabsorb their unused eggs, others will die if they are not stripped of their nonviable eggs. As a precaution, the staff routinely strips these young fish of their eggs to reduce the mortality for this age class and ensure they will survive to successfully spawn as broodstock the next year. This is a routine practice at the hatcheries carried out in good years and in bad to ensure that broodstock will be available for the following year.

Question: I live near the Northern California coast and have five acres of pasture for horses and cattle. A few years ago, a flock of as many as 80 Canada geese showed up and have taken up residency all year long, and my neighbor has half again as many on his property. Besides fouling the watering troughs, they also consume a lot of pasture grass. The soccer fields at my grandkids’ schools where they play are littered with droppings. What can I do about these nuisance geese? Can I shoot them? (Tom E.)

Answer: Yuck! Unfortunately, since these are migratory birds protected by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, control methods are limited or allowed only under permit in certain instances.

According to our waterfowl specialist Dan Yparraguirre, you are allowed to scare the geese away with nonlethal means at any time. If you want to control their numbers through nest and egg destruction, that is now allowable. (An amendment to Title 14 Section 503 pertaining to nuisance Canada geese now allows this with certain requirements. Check for these before doing so.)

To reduce the number of adult geese, if hazing doesn’t work, you also have the option of hunting them during the open hunting season as long as you have the proper hunting licenses and duck stamps. This is allowed provided you live far enough away from your neighbors (150 yards) and you check to make sure there are no local ordinances prohibiting the discharge of firearms in your area.

Question: Is it illegal to continue fishing from a public pier after dark? Someone told me we will get a ticket from the game warden if we keep fishing at night. Is this true? (Mateo G.)

Answer: No. Night fishing in ocean waters is legal.

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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