Sport Fishing Licenses and Report Cards

Q: Who needs a sport fishing license?

A: Any person who is 16 years of age or older must possess a valid sport fishing license when taking any fish, shell fish, reptile, or amphibian in California (Fish and Game Code Section 7145). Fish and Game Code Section 86 defines take as: hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill.

Q: Where can I purchase a sport fishing license?

A: Fishing licenses may be purchased ONLINE or at any license agent or CDFW license sales office.

Q: How long is an annual sport fishing license valid?

A: Licenses are valid for a calendar year (January 1 through December 31) or for the remainder of the calendar year if purchased after January 1.

Q: Do I have to wear my fishing license?

A: No, but your sport fishing license must be in your immediate possession while fishing, except when diving as provided in Fish and Game Code Section 7145.

Q: I noticed some of my license items this year were printed on green paper. For the last few years the licenses have been blue. Is a license printed on the green paper valid?

A: Yes – the green license you received is printed on official license stock. Both blue and green licenses are valid for the dates specified on the license.

Q: How do I replace a lost or destroyed fishing license?

A: Go to any License Agent or CDFW License Sales Office and pay the appropriate fee for a duplicate sport fishing license. A small fee is charged for each duplicate validation.

If you lose your Abalone Report Card or Sturgeon Fishing Report Card you can obtain a duplicate from CDFW license sales offices only. You must complete an Abalone Report Card Affidavit (PDF Form) and pay the duplicate fee to replace an Abalone Report Card. You must complete a Sturgeon Fishing Report Card Affidavit (PDF Form) and pay the duplicate fee to replace a Sturgeon Fishing Report Card. Duplicate fees are located on the license description page.

Q: Can I laminate my license?

A: No. Licenses should never be heat laminated as this will destroy the license. If exposed to extreme heat, licenses will darken and become discolored. However, a discolored license is still valid as long as the text and signature are readable.

Q: Can I get a refund of my fishing license fee?

A: No. Fishing licenses are considered valid and in use from the time of purchase and the fees cannot be refunded.

Q: Can I purchase a fishing license for my friend?

A: You can if you have all the required information to issue a license to your friend. If you do not have all the information required to purchase a license for your friend, you can purchase a gift voucher that your friend can redeem at any License Agent or CDFW License Sales Office for a sport fishing license.

Q: Can I purchase a Lifetime Fishing License?

A: Yes. California residents may purchase lifetime fishing licenses.

Q: Why do fees for fishing licenses, stamps and cards increase in price every year?

A: California law establishes fishing and hunting license fees each year for the CDFW. The base fee for sport fishing licenses established in Fish and Game Code Section 7149.05 and the fees for validations and most report cards are established in other sections of the FGC or Title 14, of the California Code of Regulations.

The Fish and Game Code, Section 713,requires license fees adjust in response to increases (or decreases) in costs of goods and services using an index called the Implicit Price Deflator. This index is a gauge of the change in the cost of goods and services from year to year.

For example, as hatchery, law enforcement and wildlife management costs have increased, license fees needed to increase to keep pace with these rising costs. Essentially, license fees adjust up and down to compensate for inflation or deflation. If license fees did not adjust for inflation, then funding for fish and wildlife management and protection would actually decrease because the buying power of a dollar has declined over the years.

Generally, the cost of goods and services increases at a fairly steady, slow rate. About two to three percent per year is common. In recent years, some costs have increased dramatically, particularly the cost of fuel. Because of this, the cost of goods and services jumped approximately 6.19% and 2009 license fees increased accordingly. If the cost of goods and services were to decrease, then license fees would actually decrease the same percentage.

Although fishing and hunting license fees have increased throughout the years, the increase ensures that the CDFW has adequate funding to manage California’s diverse fish and wildlife resources and provide the public with enjoyable fishing and hunting experiences.

Q: Is a fishing license required while fishing from a public fishing pier in ocean waters?

A: No, but it must be a public fishing pier. A Sturgeon Fishing Report Card is required to take sturgeon from a public pier in ocean waters. A Spiny Lobster Report Card is required to take spiny lobster from a public pier in ocean waters.

Fish and Game Code, Section 7153

(a) A sport fishing license is not required to take fish for any purpose other than profit by means of angling from a public pier in the ocean waters of the state.

(b) For purposes of this section, ocean waters include, but are not limited to, the open waters adjacent to the ocean and any island; the waters of any open or enclosed bay contiguous to the ocean; the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, with any tidal bay belonging thereto; and any slough or estuary, if found between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge.

A public pier is defined in the sport fishing regulations as a publicly owned man-made structure that has the following characteristics: is connected, above the mean high tide, to the main coastline or to the land mass of a named and charted natural island; has unrestricted free access for the general public; and has been built or currently functions for the primary purpose of allowing angling access to ocean waters (California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 1.88)

Additionally, publicly owned jetties or breakwaters that are connected to land, as described above, that have free unrestricted access for the general public and whose purpose it is to form the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor are public piers. Jetties, breakwaters, promenades, sea walls, moles, docks, linings, barriers and other structures that are not the most seaward protective boundary of an ocean harbor, are not public piers.

Even though licenses and validations are not required while fishing from a public pier, all other regulations apply (including minimum size, bag limits, seasons and report card requirements).

Q: What kind of validations or report cards do I need?

A: In addition to your fishing license, you may need one or more of the following:

  • Ocean Enhancement Validation is required to fish in the ocean south of Point Arguello (Santa Barbara County) (not required with a One or Two-Day Sport Fishing License);
  • A Second-Rod Validation is required to fish with two rods or lines in inland waters (two rods or lines may not be used in inland waters in which only artificial lures or barbless hooks may be used);
  • A North Coast Salmon Report Card is required by every person* fishing for salmon in the Smith, Klamath and Trinity River systems;
  • ASteelhead Report Card is required for every person* fishing for steelhead in inland waters.
  • An Abalone Report Card is required by every person* taking abalone from ocean waters between the center of the mouth of the San Francisco Bay and the California-Oregon border;
  • A Sturgeon Fishing Report Card is required by every person* fishing for sturgeon in all California waters; and
  • A Spiny Lobster Report Card is required by every person* taking spiny lobsters in California ocean waters.

* Every person must have the appropriate report card(s) in possession while fishing; including those who are not required to have a sport fishing license, such as individuals under 16 years of age, persons fishing or diving on free fishing days, and anglers fishing from a public pier in ocean waters.

Q: Do I need a Colorado River Special Use Validation to fish in the Colorado River?

A: No. The Colorado River Special Use Validation was discontinued after 2013. If you have a valid California sport fishing license or a valid Arizona sport fishing license, you can fish from either shore of the portion of the Colorado River that makes up the California-Arizona boundary.

Q: Are children required to purchase report cards?

A: Yes, children are required to purchase report cards if they fish for salmon in the Smith and Klamath-Trinity River Systems, abalone, steelhead, sturgeon or spiny lobster.

Q: Can a child who is under 16 years of age use two rods while fishing in inland waters?

A: A child under age 16 may fish with two rods in inland waters, except for those waters where only artificial lures or barbless hooks may be used.

Q: I fish from a public pier in ocean waters and I’m not required to purchase a sport fishing license. Am I required to purchase a report card?

A: Yes. Report cards are required even when a fishing license is not required. While fishing from a public pier for spiny lobster, you must have a spiny lobster report card. While fishing for sturgeon from a public pier in the ocean, you must have a sturgeon fishing report card.

Q: I heard that we are required fill out a report card for abalone and tag them. Can you briefly explain how this works?

A: The Abalone Report Card comes with 18 tags attached to the bottom. Each time you take an abalone, you must make an entry on the report card and on one tag. Immediately upon exiting the water or immediately upon boarding a vessel, whichever occurs first, fill in the month, day, time of catch, and fishing location on the abalone tag, remove and completely detach the tag from the card, and affix it to the shell of the abalone by running a string, line or zip tie through the tag and through a siphon hole of the abalone shell. Carefully read and follow the instructions on the report card as the data collected will be used for fisheries management and to enforce bag limits. You must report your harvest online or return your report card to the address listed on the report card by January 31 of the following year.

More abalone FAQs.

Q: Can you briefly explain the Sturgeon Fishing Report Card and tags?

A: The Sturgeon Fishing Report Card comes with three tags. You must record each sturgeon that you keep or release on your Sturgeon Fishing Report Card. When you keep a sturgeon, you also must complete and attach a sturgeon tag to the sturgeon. Carefully read and follow the instructions on the report card as the data collected will be used for fisheries management and to enforce bag limits. You must report your harvest online or return your report card to the address listed on the report card by January 31 of the following year.

Q: Where is the North Coast Salmon Report Card required?

A: The North Coast Salmon Report Card is required to fish for salmon in the Smith, Klamath and Trinity Rivers and all of their tributaries. It is not required to fish for salmon in the ocean or other river systems.

Q: Can you briefly explain the Spiny Lobster Report Card Non-Reporting Fee?

A: Any person who does not return their Spiny Lobster Report Card by April 30 following the spiny lobster season will be required to pay a $21.60 non-return fee when they purchase their Spiny Lobster Report Card in the following season. Individuals may alternatively choose not to fish for spiny lobster and would then be eligible to purchase a report card after sitting out one lobster season.

Q: When and where should I return my report cards?

A: All report cards must be reported by January 31 of the following year, except the spiny lobster report card which is due by April 30. You can either report your harvest online or return your report card to the address listed below:

  • Abalone Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, 32330 N. Harbor Drive, Fort Bragg, CA 95437;
  • North Coast Salmon Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Klamath River Project, 5341 Ericson Way, Arcata, CA 95521;
  • Spiny Lobster Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Lobster Report Card, 3883 Ruffin Road, San Diego, CA 92123;
  • Steelhead Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Steelhead Fishing Report and Restoration Card, PO Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244; and the
  • Sturgeon Fishing Report Card must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sturgeon Fishing Report Card, PO Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244. 

Q: There are often in-season regulation changes for groundfish. How can I find out about these changes if I do not have a computer?

A: To assist anglers without internet access, the CDFW has developed and implemented the Recreational Groundfish Fishing Regulations Hotline at (831) 649-2801. Using a touch tone keypad, anglers can now get the latest regulations information over the phone; with a cell phone, it’s even possible to get this information while at sea.

Q: Where can I ask questions about marine sport fishing?

A: If you cannot find the answer to your marine sport fishing question on the CDFW’s Marine FAQs website, you may contact askmarine@wildlife.ca.gov.

Q: Why does CDFW attach tags to fish?

A: Biologists tag fish for many reasons, including:

  1. To follow fish movement over time and to ascertain migration patterns.
  2. To discover habitat preferences for fish at different ages, or reproductive stage.
  3. To determine how fast fish grow.
  4. To get information on fish mortality and population size.

Each species has a unique life history so researchers must tag individuals of the species in which they are interested. Since the return rate for most fish tagging projects is 5% or less, many fish must be tagged in order to gather meaningful information.

Q: What should I do with the tag found on the fish I caught?

A: The CDFW asks that you follow the instuctions found on our Fresh Water Fish Tagging Information website or the Marine FAQs.

Q: How do I find out when the next good low tide is or how low the tide will be?

A: Most boating and tackle stores have inexpensive or free tide-books. You can check the tide predictions in the daily newspaper for the area you are interested in or check online.

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