'I didn't know' is not an excuse

New fish-and-game regulations are scheduled to take effect March 1, and if one man’s recent predicament with a big catch is any indication, local fishermen should be aware of the fishing laws in California.

On Jan. 3, a man was fishing off the Balboa Pier when he caught a giant black sea bass that was about 5 feet long. The fisherman, who has a fishing license, said he didn’t know what the species was or that it had been protected by the state since 1982.

“Regardless of if they know what the regulations are, they’re responsible to know them,” said Lt. Dan Sforza of the California Department of Fish and Game. “‘I didn’t know what it was’ is not a valid excuse or argument as far as getting out of a ticket.”

The man’s catch was unusual, and has garnered some national attention and possible prosecution. That incident, Sforza said, isn’t what game wardens typically deal with.

Instead, the state’s 300 game wardens usually find fishermen violating rules that are easier to remember than knowing what the protected species of fish are, he said.

The most frequent tickets for fishermen are for violating size regulations on a catch or how many specimens of a fish you can catch.

Sforza said some popular species that fishermen often don’t know have a minimum size to be kept are barracuda and halibut at 22 inches and bass at 12 inches. The fish size correlates to its age, and state regulators want to give fish a chance to go through a few breeding cycles to keep the population a decent size, he said.

Sforza said when giant black sea bass, which have seen their populations decline significantly over the last 80 years, get as big as the one caught last month, they’re at their most fertile and can be about 15 years old.

Fishermen need to be wary through the rest of this month about catching rockfish. They’re prohibited from being caught through February. Local anglers suggest there might be a lot of them in the area if the spike in giant Humboldt squid population is any indication.

“People are required to know the regulations. When wardens go out there, their concern is for the resources,” Sforza said.

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