Is It OK to Take Someone Else’s Fish?

Carrie Wilson, a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, answers questions sent in by outdoorsmen on a wide range of hunting and fishing topics. This question comes from an angler who wants to know if it is legal for a captain to end a trip early and make others share their catch.

Q: If I purchase a one-day fishing license for a day of deep-sea fishing, shouldn’t it entitle me to catch my own fish? I ask because while fishing on a party boat recently, some people got their limits early but kept fishing, and some of us were never able to get our limits. The captain knew some people kept fishing after getting their limits and that some people (like me) had caught only a fraction of their limit. Nevertheless, the captain halted all fishing early and headed the boat back to the dock with many unhappy people. He then told the people with over-limits to take extra fish out of their bags to give to those people who hadn’t caught much.

Does the captain of the boat have the authority to let some people catch more than their share and then require the people who had not caught limits to take these other people’s extra fish and call them their own just to fool the wardens if they board the boat for an inspection?

When I go fishing, I want to catch my own fish. If I run out of time without getting my limit, I can understand not being able to catch my quota. But when the captain of the boat orders me to stop fishing and take fish caught by others, I think that stinks.

Doesn’t sound right or feel right to me, but that’s what happened. What’s your opinion, or better yet, what does the law say? — Jeffrey C.

A: Unfortunately, although this seems like an illegal practice, it is not. When fishing on the ocean, boat limits apply (California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 195(e)). A boat limit for a species or species group is equal to the number of passengers aboard the vessel that are licensed or otherwise authorized to sport fish in ocean waters off California multiplied by the individual daily bag limit authorized for a species or species group.

This means that each boat must stop fishing once they have the number of fish on board that collectively equals the number of licensed fishermen on the boat, multiplied by the individual limits. For example, on a boat with 20 licensed fishermen, if the bag limit is 10 fish per person, the boat cannot carry more than 200 fish regardless of who caught them. Each person cannot leave the boat with more than an individual bag limit. That’s why the captain told you to fill the remainder of your bag limit with extra fish caught by other anglers.

Although this is legal under California law, it may not seem satisfying for people expecting to catch and keep only those fish they catch themselves. All I can recommend for next time is to check with the boat captain ahead of time to see if this will be their practice and if you may not be able to catch all of your own fish. If so, you may decide to check around for another boat and captain.

If you have a question you’d like to send to the DFG, visit or email it to [email protected].

Carrie Wilson
Carrie Wilson is a 30-year CDFW veteran and an avid outdoor enthusiast, angler and hunter. She is a marine biologist with a strong background of profe...