• Welcome to TONMO, the premier cephalopod interest community. Founded in 2000, we have built a large community of experts, hobbyists and enthusiasts, some of whom come together when we host our biennial conference. To join in on the fun, sign up - it's free! You can also become a Supporter for just $50/year to remove all ads and gain access to our Supporters forum. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more cephy goodness.

California Marine Reserves Collection and Fishing Regulations


TONMO Supporter
Staff member
Mar 8, 2004
well, we were both partially wrong. I'm just glad we got enough clarification that we can give recommendations for people to not get in any trouble.
Sep 25, 2006
I combed through the regulations and statutes before I caught my bimac, and I came to the same conclusion as this thread. I have found, as was found in the thread, that law enforcement people are often incorrect when asked about laws that seldom show up in practice, and tend to say "nope that's illegal" just to be on the safe side (or to discourage activities they wish were illegal). I only use the written law to determine what is legal and what is not. Having done my homework concerning California DFG regs, I'd like to clarify and add a couple of things:

1) While the sale, barter or trade, of octopus is prohibited, it is perfectly legal to give one away for free. This law applies to everything you get with a fishing license, not just octopus, and it is a time honored common practice for fishermen to give some of their catch away to neighbors, friends, family, or whoever. If you make a business out of it, or even trade, like the tropical reef guys trade coral frags, then you are in trouble, but I can catch an octopus, and give it to anybody I want, as long as I don't get anything in return except gratitude.

2) Not only is it legal to take everything except fish away from the ocean alive, but there is a good reason for it. Lobster, muscles, and other shell fish quickly become toxic after they die, which is why it is always recommended to cook them alive. Any law to the contrary would result in food poisoning.

3) There is a specific list in the regulations of what inverts may be taken from "the intertidal zone" (tide pools) which includes octopus, but also most of the other things that you may want from your tank, or use as fresh octo food. All other inverts are protected in tide pools. See section 29.05 (b):

"...tidal invertebrates may not be taken in any tide pool or other areas
between the high tide mark (defined as Mean Higher High Tide) and 1,000 feet seaward and lateral to the low tide mark (defined as Mean Lower Low Water) except as follows:
(1) Except where prohibited within state marine reserves, state marine parks, state marine conservation areas, or other special closures only the following may be taken: red abalone, limpets, moon snails, turban snails, chiones, clams, cockles, mussels, rock scallops, native oysters, octopuses, squid, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, sand dollars, sea urchins and worms..."

There are size and bag limit restriction on some things (lobster, abalone, etc) but all those things may be taken from tide pools.

4) The above regulation: "you can take nothing except..." only applies to tide pools, and 1000 feet seaward. Outside of those areas, the rules are inverted: "you can take ANYTHING except...". That means that if you can find a rocky area that is more than 1000 feet away from any land or rock that is above water at low tide, then you can collect almost anything from it, even things that are not on the list above. That means you can take anemones (like strawberry anemone), sponges, gorgonians, sea stars, etc. You probably want to document where you collected these things, in case you ever need to explain that you didn't get them from the tidepools, but it is legal.

5) you are allowed to take at least 25 lbs of rocks, per person, per day in California, without a permit (except of course from a specifically protected area) That includes rocks from the beach, although any animals or plants growing on the rock are subject to the restrictions I've mentioned above). So it is legal to take cool looking rocks from the beach for your tank. You should look up the actual statute (written for rockhounds, not fishermen) and carry it around too. It's a little more complicated than I've stated here, but you can certainly grab a few bare rocks if you're not in a protected area.

6) You can get in trouble even if you are within the law. Many people feel certain that it is illegal to collect from state parts (wrong) or illegal to collect for your aquarium (wrong), and you may encounter these people when you are at the beach collecting. Some state park rangers, who have the power to give you a ticket, are in this group, so I always carry a copy of the regulations with section 29.05 highlighted, so I can show them, if confronted, that I'm not breaking the law. Additionally, there are a lot of self-righteous eco-zealots in California who will give you vicious verbal abuse and threaten to call the police if you don't stop what you are doing immediately. They might be shut up when shown the law, but more likely they will simply switch from threats of calling the cops to vehement condemnation. Be mentally prepared to be mistreated by these fanatics. I have to deal with one about 25% of the times I collect at the beach.
Sep 30, 2005
There are new rules regarding lobsters and you need to not only buy a license if taking buy hand at tide pools but you need to buy a lobster report card, not to mention there is a season for them too.
Sep 30, 2005
Could you get away with labeling yourself as a teacher, if you homeschooled your kid(s)?

cuttlegirl;129291 said:
When I lived in California, I had a Scientific Collectors' permit, if you need help filling out the paperwork, let me know, it is not that hard.


Never mind, you must be affiliated with a scientific organization, or a teacher...
Sep 25, 2006
lilalancarey;149841 said:
whos really going to catch you doing this ? dont law officials have better things to do than catch cephalopod hobbyists? lol
It is true that there aren't many DFG Game Wardens, and they tend to spend their time in higher traffic areas like boat launch ramps. That being said, I've been approached by game wardens in some extremely remote areas, so you just never know. They keep the fines high ($1000 ?) to make up for the fact that you are unlikely to get caught.
Also, any law enforcement officer can give you a ticket for violating fish and game laws, and that includes park rangers, who are often found at state beaches where you might be tidepooling.
You also need to worry about some angry beachgoer calling the cops on you.

The simple answer is to collect your octopus (or whatever) without breaking the law. Just have a fishing license, stay out of MPA's (Marine Protected Areas) and only collect animals listed as legal in the "invertebrates" section of the DFG Regulations booklet (no fish are legal to take for your aquarium)

I carry a copy of the DFG Regulation booklet with me when I collect, with the relevant parts highlighted, so that I can prove to people who ask that I'm being legal. Only DFG wardens, can be counted on to actually know the law (and maybe not all of them). Many park rangers, cops, and regular people wrongly believe that taking an octopus (among other things) for your tank is illegal, so it pays to be able to show that you are within the law.
Sep 30, 2005

California Department of Fish and Game News Release


Contact: Carrie Wilson, Communications Office, [email protected]

** Photos and all archived columns:http://californiaoutdoors.wordpress.com/**

Question: I need to know if its legal to collect a pair of octopus for a private aquarium. I would like to use scuba to collect them in the Monterey/Santa Cruz area. (Jason K., Santa Cruz)

Answer: Octopus may be collected for a home aquarium and transported live under the authority of a sport fishing license as long as they are exclusively for that person's personal aquarium display. Maintaining live sport-taken octopus in a home aquarium is not considered "public display" and thus does not fall under the provisions of the marine aquaria pet trade (Fish and Game Code, sections 8596 and 8597). Transporting live finfish (as opposed to mollusks and crustaceans) is prohibited (CCR Title 14, Section 1.62).

Invertebrates collected under the authority of a sport fishing license may not be used to establish breeding colonies for sale or trade with other people. Any trading, selling or possession for sale or trade of these animals constitutes commercial marine aquaria pet trade activity and requires all parties to hold marine aquaria collectors permits authorizing this practice. A marine collectors permit is also required for any animals on display for the public.

Octopus may not be taken from places where it is prohibited (for example, in a marine protected area) or via scuba north of Yankee Point (Monterey County), which would rule out the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay area. For a map showing where Yankee Point is located, please see www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/pdfs/central_reference_points.pdf.
Sep 25, 2006
That's the same information, from the same DFG person (Carrie Wilson) that was given in this thread back on Dec 15th 2008 (in post #23).

It is useful to point out that this interpretation of DFG regulations is true for any animal that may be legally taken under a fishing license, not just octopus. Octopus are one of the eighteen invertebrates that you may legally take from tidepools (some of which are subject to size limits, bag limits, etc.) The full list, and other restrictions, can be found in the Invertebrates section of the California DFG oceanSport fishing regulations booklet, Section 29.05, page 52 of the 2010-11 booklet:
"Except where prohibited within state marine reserves, state marine parks, state marine conservation areas, or other special closures only the following may be taken: red abalone, limpets, moon snails, turban snails, chiones, clams, cockles, mussels, rock scallops, native oysters, octopuses, squid, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, sand dollars, sea urchins and worms."

That's from tidepools, which is defined as being within 1000 feet of shore (mean high water line). Farther out than 1000 feet, you may legally take any invert that is not otherwise restricted, or specifically protected (and I haven't found any that are). For example, because bat stars are not one of the 18 species listed as legal to take from tidepools, it is a violation to take a bat star from within 1000 feet of shore. It is not a violation to take one from farther out than that. So it is legal to collect a few interesting tank mates for your octopus, as well as some live food items. Some may be collected close to shore or at low tide (shrimp, muscles, sea urchins, worms, crabs, and some snails or clams) and almost any may be collected farther than 1000 feet from shore (anemones, gorgonians, sea cucumbers, sponges, nudibranchs, zooplankton, etc. (but still no fish)).

It's a good idea to keep records (GPS coordinates?) so that you can explain where and when you collected such animals, in case a judge is ever inclined to assume that you collected it the easy way - at low tide.

Be sure to carefully read and fully understand the DFG regulations for yourself. What I've said above is true in general, but there are a few exceptions that you should be aware of. Just as an example, abalone may only be collected north of San Francisco Bay, only during certain months, and must be at least 7" long. Not knowing little gotchas like that can cost you big in fines, so read the booklet, and don't take any species of invert until you've researched it and are satisfied that it is legal to take with the method, and in the place, time, size and quantity that you are taking.

Latest Posts

Forum statistics

Latest member

Monty Awards

TONMOCON IV (2011): Terri
TONMOCON V (2013): Jean
TONMOCON VI (2015): Taollan
TONMOCON VII (2018): ekocak