California Bans Sturgeon Fishing

By Nick Carter

If catching the continent’s largest freshwater game fish was on your bucket list, you won’t be doing it in California… at least for the time being.

In a meeting last week, the California Fish and Game Commission (CFG) temporarily shut down all fishing for white sturgeon while fisheries experts consider protecting the species under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The review process for potential listing of white sturgeon as a threatened species is expected to take up to a year.

White sturgeon can live up to 100 years, reaching lengths up to 20 feet and weights well heavier than 1,000 pounds. They are native to the Pacific Coast of North America, from northern Mexico to southern Alaska, where they inhabit coastal estuaries and make spawning runs up large coastal rivers.
Fishing is still allowed for the species in Washington and Oregon, where complicated regulations make it primarily a target for catch-and-release anglers with some limited opportunities for harvest.

In California, the move toward stronger protections came with the CFG’s acceptance of a petition collected by a coalition of conservation groups that asked for white sturgeon be listed as threatened. White sturgeon are not currently protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and up until last year California had some of the most lenient harvest regulations for the species. Previously, anglers in the Golden State were allowed to keep three per year between 40 and 60 inches. In November 2023, emergency regulations were enacted that reduced the harvest limit to just one fish per angler within a 42- to 48-inch slot limit. A long-term decline in populations and harmful algae blooms were given as reasons for the emergency regs.

In the summer of 2022, harmful algae blooms in San Francisco and San Pablo bays killed at least 864 sturgeon, and that’s just the number researchers were able to count. It is likely thousands more green and white sturgeon died during these events. Green sturgeon are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, while white sturgeon are not.

California’s water management policies are being blamed as the primary threat to sturgeon, with water diversions for agriculture and drinking water reducing freshwater flow to the bays and releases from municipal water treatment facilities providing the nutrient-rich conditions for harmful algae blooms.
Angler groups have come out both in favor of and against the fishing ban. The petition that sparked the shutdown of the fishery did not ask for a total fishing ban. It recommended that recreational fishing be limited to catch-and-release only. Commercial fishing for sturgeon in California was banned in 1917.

Read the petition here.

Fishing Magazine, Coastal Angler & The Angler Magazine is your leading source for freshwater fishing and saltwater fishing videos, fishing photos, saltwater fishing.