Beginning December 31, California's rockfish season closes for two months in the Southern Groundfish Management Area where I fish, and that is probably a good thing. It gives these deep-dwelling species a respite from angling pressure. The season re-opens on March 1, 2012.
What is not good, in my opinion, are the complicated and ever-changing state regulations governing the scores of "groundfish." Included in this category are 57 varieties of rockfish. Species such as cabezon, lingcod, California sheephead and ocean whitefish are also counted as groundfish, and that just adds to the complexity of the regulations.
California's Southern Groundfish Management Area, which stretches from Point Conception to the Mexican border, is just one of six management areas administered by a combination of state and federal agencies. Each area has regulations for seasonal closures, species restrictions and depth limitations.
In addition, new state-mandated Marine Protected Areas with year-around fishing closures for all fish were scheduled to go into effect in southern California in 2012, in addition to the MPAs already in effect for California coastal waters and the Channel Islands.
Where you can fish for rockfish, there a maximum depth limit of 360 feet. There are also daily bag and size limits, with sub-limits for certain species. For example, while you can keep 10 rockfish in combination for the day, you can only take two bocaccio, and each of these must be at least 10 inches long. Also, there is a year-around prohibition on taking any canary, cowcod, bronzespotted and yelloweye rockfish.
I won't go into any more detail, except to say the regs get even more complex in Cowcod Conversation Areas that allow the take of a very limited number of groundfish species, but only in depths less than 120 feet. Besides, as frequently as the regs change, anything I write might be out of date by the time you read this.
It's incumbent on recreational anglers to study and know the current regs. How do you do that? Go to the Internet, fellow anglers. To stay current, I go the California Department of Fish and Game website about once a month, print out the latest updates, study them and to keep them in the boat.
To do otherwise is risking a hefty fine, because, as the cops say, ignorance of the law is no excuse. These day, so too is lack of Internet access.
For the most up-to-date regulations and closures - as well as guides to identifying the 57 colorful varieties of rockfish and other groundfish - visit the California Department of Fish and Game website at dfg.ca.gov/marine.