Q: I’ve seen several pictures over the years of anglers hoisting oversized sturgeon out of the water and dragging them back to the dock for pictures. Isn’t it against the law to treat fish that are to be released this way? A: Regulations for sturgeon have become more protective since 2006, so hopefully you were looking at old-time pictures. There are two important issues here – the regulations and doing what is best for the sturgeon. What follows is only about white sturgeon since green sturgeon are a threatened species and thus may not be taken, possessed or removed from the water. If a green sturgeon is caught, it must be released immediately.
Without regard to fish species, the regulations state that all fish “…less than the legal minimum size or greater than the maximum legal size must be returned immediately to the water from which they were taken” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 1.62). Because white sturgeon have a legal minimum size of 40 inches fork length, and a legal maximum size of 60 inches fork length, it is indeed against the law to bring an oversized white sturgeon to a dock (or even into a boat) for pictures. Photographs of oversized white sturgeon may only be taken of fish while still in the water.
Anglers are not prohibited from taking oversized fish out of the water, but the regulations (as part of several special protections for white sturgeon) also state that, “Any white sturgeon greater than 68 inches fork length may not be removed from the water and shall be released immediately” (CCR Title 14, sections 5.80 and 27.90). These sections give anglers essentially an 8-inch margin of error when measuring white sturgeon in the water.
As far as what’s best for any sturgeon that will be released, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) sturgeon expert Marty Gingras, the answer is clear. He recommends: “End the fight quickly and keep the sturgeon’s head in the water. Blood-chemistry studies show sturgeon become stressed from the fight and from being removed from the water, and tissue studies show stressed females that survive are less likely to spawn normally.”
Published: March 12, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 48