California Outdoors Q&As

Photographing No-Take Species

Question: I fish in Southern California and have a question about black sea bass. I know they are illegal to keep when caught. However, when they are caught while targeting other species, what is the regulation for releasing them? After the hook is removed and swim bladder punctured, may a picture be taken with the fish out of the water before it is released? I am under the impression they may not be removed from the water. I ask because a friend of mine accidentally caught a small black sea bass (about 30 lbs.) and after removing the hook and puncturing the swim bladder, he held it up and posed for a quick picture with the fish. I told him I didn’t think that was legal and he argued it was. He did release the fish immediately after the photo was taken, and the fish swam off, apparently unharmed. I’ve searched the website for clarification, but have found nothing. Can you please clarify this issue for me? We are very conscientious fisherman. (Dave L.)

Answer: Giant (black) sea bass and other no-take species cannot be retained and must be released immediately. Therefore, holding the fish out of the water for a picture is unlawful. The best case scenario for the fish would be to cut the line while it is still in the water.

The definition of “take” is to “hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill” an animal, or to attempt to do so (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 1.80). So, by catching the fish, reeling it in, taking it off the hook and holding it up for a picture, your friend has “taken” a prohibited species. He also did not release it immediately as required.

Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Associate Marine Biologist Ed Roberts published a great article on best practices for releasing rockfish, giant sea bass and other fish with swim bladders that inflate at the surface, thus preventing them from descending successfully following capture. The article was published in the January/February 2005 issue of Outdoor California magazine, available online at

Needles and sharp objects should never be used to deflate a fish’s swim bladder. Even though the fish may be able to ascend below the surface following a puncture, many will still die due to internal damage and/or the introduction of bacteria caused by the needles.

** Underwater video of giant sea bass online at: **

Buying wild game to feed pets

Question: We have two new puppies and want to start them out right. Many commercial feeds are full of fillers and additives but while looking online I read about the natural hormone-free “prey model” diet. It’s based on a natural wild game diet like Mother Nature’s been feeding wild carnivores for generations. Physiologically, our housepets are virtually identical to wild wolves and small wild cats. Their teeth, stomachs and digestive tracts have been designed by nature to consume natural wild prey. This diet calls for an 80/10/10 ratio of raw meat, bone and organs. I’m considering switching my dogs to this diet but will need a good source of wild game meat. It’s pretty readily available on the Internet from private parties but I’m not sure it’s legal to purchase this way. Can you help? (Kelly B., La Crescenta)

Answer: As far as the nutritional merits of this particular pet food diet, it’s the opinion of DFG Wildlife Veterinarian Ben Gonzales to be very cautious. Today’s dogs and cats are not the same as yesterday’s dogs and cats. For example, unlike their ancestors, many cannot eat and process bones as part of their regular diets. Bones with sharp points (such as T-bones) and bones that the dog can shatter (such as rib bones and chicken bones) can fatally perforate the intestine. Surgery for relieving intestinal obstruction resulting from ingestion of bones is a common procedure in small animal practice. In addition, exposure to tapeworm from various species, trichinosis from bear meat and bacterial intestinal infections from improperly kept raw meat are all risks. These problems may occur once in a while, but when they happen to your pet friend, they can be very serious.

And from the legal standpoint, attempting to buy, sell or trade wild game meat, bones or organs in California and over the Internet is illegal, with a few exceptions.

Pheasant hunting along the railroad tracks?

Question: When we were young we use to walk along the railroad tracks and hunt pheasant. Is that still legal? (Brad L.)

Answer: Hunting along the railroad right-of-way is not specifically prohibited in Fish and Game law, but railroad property is private property. According to DFG retired Captain Phil Nelms, Fish and Game law prohibits entering posted or fenced private property to take game or discharge a firearm without written permission from the land owner. In addition, the California Penal Code prohibits trespassing on private property.


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