Cast Net Use on California Fish and Game Commission Agenda

Group considering expanding live bait-catching tactic to southern California due to high prices and low supply availability.

cast net in Florida
An angler in Florida catches live bait using a cast net, which is restricted on the West Coast. The Sportfishing Conservancy will propose expanding cast net use to southern California waters at a June 22 meeting of the California Fish and Game CommissionCourtesy The Sportfishing Conservancy

The Sportfishing Conservancy plans to ask the California Fish and Game Commission for a regulation change that could make it easier — and more affordable — for southern California private boat anglers to “tank up” with local live bait.

The group plans to present its proposal at the upcoming June 22 commission meeting in Bakersfield to allow the recreational use of cast nets in southern California ocean waters for gathering live bait. Currently, they are only allowed north of Point Conception for specific fish species.

Cast nets, also known as Hawaiian Type Throw Nets, are commonly used by anglers in many other ocean live-bait fisheries. For example, guided and private-boat trips in Florida and Gulf Coast waters typically begin with cast-netting a tank of pilchards, goggle eye and other live baits effective for inshore or offshore gamefish. The same techniques and equipment could be used to catch popular live baits found in southern California waters, and in many instances it would likely be faster and more effective than "jigging" individual baits using hook-and-line.

“This change would help recreational fishermen in several important ways,” said April Wakeman, program director and attorney for The Sportfishing Conservancy. “Last summer, when offshore and island fishing opportunities were both historically great, reliable availability of quality live bait was often an issue that could impact where you fished, when you fished and what you fished for. A simple regulation change like this could help make private boat anglers more self-reliant and provide a faster, better way for them to ‘make bait.’ And given the recent increase in live bait prices from professional bait operations, this ability could also provide some much-needed financial relief for anglers."

Recent live bait cost increases — sardines/anchovies increased to $45 per scoop at Everingham Bros. receivers starting June 1 — were likely driven by rising expenses and seasonal scarcities that make it harder to find and catch enough bait to supply receivers up and down the coast. Giving anglers the ability to use cast nets to supply their own live bait would give fishermen an affordable, expedient and dependable option they don’t currently have.

“This rule change could make it easier and faster for these boaters to do what they’re already doing — and get down to fishing faster,” said Tom Raftican, president of The Sportfishing Conservancy. “Even so, use of cast nets in this way is a well-controlled fishing method that should have minimal impact, and is already legal for use north of Point Conception."

To learn more, contact sportfishingconservancy.org.