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Outdoors Q&A: Scuba Diving Through MPAs With Lobsters

Spear throwers illegal for hunting game in California

Diver holds up California spiny lobster.
Diver holds up California spiny lobster. (Derek Stein / CDFW )

Question: If a scuba diver legally enters an area for lobster, proceeds to catch lobster in that area but then is unable to exit the water safely, could they surface, swim through a Marine Protected Area (MPA) zone with their catch and exit legally? (Tom)

Answer: Yes, the diver can swim through but should make sure he/she is clearly not actively hunting for lobsters.

For example, if when kicking in on the surface and are right in close to the rocks, the diver then stops and shine lights into holes or reaches into holes, he/she may appear to be hunting for lobsters.

If a diver has lobsters in his or her possession and a warden determines the diver is attempting to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill any lobster, that person may be issued a citation for fishing in an MPA.

“Spear fishermen with or without catch shall be allowed to transit through MPAs and MMAs.

"While transiting MPAs and MMAs that prohibit spearfishing or while in possession of species not identified as allowed for take in the MPA or MMA being transited, spearfishing gear shall be in an unloaded condition, not carried in hand, and the diver shall remain at the surface.”

— California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 632(a)(8).

Hunting with an Atlatl (spear thrower)?

Q: Is it legal to use an Atlatl, or spear thrower, to hunt game animals in California? If it is legal, what are the regulations for their use? (Charlie)

A: No, a spear thrower is not legal to use.

Only methods defined in the 2016-2017 California Mammal Hunting Regulations booklet for the take of small game (CCR Title 14, section 311, page 26) and for big game (CCR Title 14, section 353, beginning on page 27) may be used.

Personal limits vs. boat limits?

Q: When on a boat with a group of fishermen, does the bag limit apply to the boat (as I believe I’ve read in the statutes and have seen on party boats) or does it mean that anyone catching his/her limit must stop fishing altogether?

I ask because we were ordered off the water when some wardens told us one of our friends could no longer be out there with us since his gear was still in the boat and he was considered to still be fishing. He was the only one with a limit.

Also, since freshwater and saltwater regulations are slightly different, where in your regs are the lines of demarcation for San Francisco Bay? (Jerry Z.)

A: Boat limits apply to anyone fishing aboard a boat in ocean waters off California or in the San Francisco Bay (CCR Title 14, section 27.60(c)). Boat limits allow fishing by all licensed persons aboard until boat limits of finfish are taken and possessed aboard the vessel. Boat limits do not apply to sturgeon, shellfish or when fishing in inland waters.

“The San Francisco Bay is the waters of San Francisco and San Pablo bays, plus all their tidal bays, sloughs, estuaries and tidal portions of their rivers and streams between the Golden Gate Bridge and the west Carquinez Bridge.

"For purposes of this section, waters downstream of the Trancas Bridge on the Napa River, downstream of Highway 121 Bridge on Sonoma Creek and downstream of the Payran Street Bridge on the Petaluma River are tidal portions of the Napa River, Sonoma Creek and Petaluma River, respectively.” (CCR Title 14, section 27.00).

“Inland waters are all the fresh, brackish and inland saline waters of the state, including lagoons and tidewaters upstream from the mouths of coastal rivers and streams.

"Inland waters exclude the waters of San Francisco Bay and the waters of Elkhorn Slough, west of Elkhorn Road between Castroville and Watsonville.” (CCR Title 14, section 1.53).

When fishing in inland waters, bag limits apply to each individual angler, not to the boat as a whole.

Bear skin rug and Alaskan whale bone carving for sale

Q: I have a bear skin rug, along with the head, that was the property of my mother-in-law. We also have a whale bone carving from an Alaskan artist. These are not things we wish to hold on to.

Is there any way to sell these items in another state (outside of California) even though we live in California? What are the other options? (Kathy S.)

A: Regarding your bear skin rug, it is “unlawful to sell or purchase, or possess for sale, the meat, skin, hide, teeth, claws or other parts of any bear in this state (Fish and Game Code, section 4758).

As far as the whale bone carving, “it is unlawful to sell or purchase a bird or mammal found in the wild in California” (FGC, section 3039). So, if your carving comes from a whale that occurs in California waters, it may not be sold in the state.

While neither of these laws applies to transactions taking place entirely outside California, you are encouraged to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if any federal laws may apply.

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. She can be reached at [email protected].

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