BC Fishing Regulations: 6 Things You Need to Know Before Saltwater Fishing

A Complete Overview of BC Fishing Regulations on the Ocean

The west coast of Canada is a fishing enthusiast’s paradise, and we all want to keep it that way. That’s why BC fishing regulations are designed to ensure that the resident species can be fished without being depleted too quickly. 

While fishing regulations may seem inconvenient to some, they act as on-paper stewardship for the marine ecosystem, ensuring fish populations remain strong for generations to come.

Read on to learn 6 things you should know before saltwater fishing on the west coast, including the saltwater fishing regulations BC enforces, licensing rules and the types of fish found in British Columbia’s coastal waters.

6 Things to Know About Saltwater Fishing in BC 

Even frequent anglers can’t be expected to remember all the fishing regulations for British Columbia. So, it’s always good to refresh your knowledge before going out on a fishing trip, especially for a species with which you are less familiar. 

As a starting point, here are five things you should know about before saltwater fishing in BC.

1. BC Saltwater Fish Species

BC’s coastal waters are home to a wide variety of saltwater fish species, including some considered “anadromous,” meaning that they spend part of their lifecycle in the ocean and in freshwater.

While fishing species like halibut, ling cod, albacore tuna and any of the 5 types of salmon are among the most popular to fish, there are many species that anglers are likely to come into contact with in the oceans off BC’s west coast.

This Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish identifier list for the Pacific region details the fish found in the area and how to identify them.

2. Fishing Licensing Rules in BC

By law, anyone who wishes to go fishing in British Columbia must have the correct license. To catch any species of shellfish or finfish, you will need a BC Tidal Waters Sport Fishing License. 

It is useful to know the following regulations connected to the use of a BC Tidal Waters Sport Fishing license:

  • The license is not transferable.
  • The license must be carried when fishing and produced on request by conservation officers, fishery officers or guardians. 
  • All retained halibut and chinook caught in a Management Area must be recorded on the license.
  • All retained ling cod caught in waters off the eastern coast and southern tip of Vancouver Island (Management areas 12-19 plus 20-5 to 20-7, and 29-5) must be recorded on the license.
  • BC salmon fishing regulations state that anyone intending to catch and retain any species of Salmon must have a Salmon Conservation Stamp in addition to their BC Tidal Waters Sport Fishing License. However, the stamp is optional if the angler intends to release all Salmon caught.

3. License Types and Fees

There are various saltwater fishing license options available depending on how often you plan to go ocean fishing. You must choose a non-resident license if you are not a resident of Canada. 

You can find details of the types of licenses available, their associated fee and an online license application here.

Note: Although children under 16 require a tidal water fishing license, it is free.

4. Saltwater Fishing Gear Restrictions

Since saltwater fishing often goes beyond the simple fishing rod and hook gear selection, there are regulations in place to specify and restrict how much and what kind of gear may be used in catching saltwater fish.

Looking for a new fishing boat? Read more about the best boats for fishing.


Below is a quick breakdown of the restrictions and allowances surrounding using particular gear.


  • Gear restrictions and allowances are subject to change mid-season.
  • You can use multiple rods in coastal tidal waters, but only one rod is allowed when fishing in BC’s tidal rivers.
  • You may not use a sinker weighing more than 1 kg unless you use a downrigger line. In this case, the fishing line must be attached to the downrigger with a release clip.
  • A gillnet for smelt fishing may be at most 7.5 meters, with a mesh size between 25 mm and 50 mm.
  • Only one gillnet may be used at one time and must have a buoy with the owner’s details clearly marked on it.
  • If you use a dipnet to catch mackerel, smelt, sand lance, sardines or anchovies, it must measure at most 90 cm, with a bag no longer than 1.5 times that measurement.


  • Barbed hooks, including triple-barbed hooks, may be used for all finfish except salmon and trout.
  • Barbless hooks must be used when fishing in the tidal waters of BC rivers.
  • Your line may only have one hook except for:
    • Multiple hooks may attach a piece of bait to the line, provided they aren’t intended to catch more than one fish.
    • Multiple hooks may catch mackerel, herring, anchovy, Pacific Sand Lance or Pacific Sardine.

Using Fish as Bait

  • Fish suitable for human consumption may not be used as bait in sport fishing.
  • Fish offal, mackerel, sardines, or herring may be used when baiting traps.

5. Be Aware of Daily Catch Limits

Catch limits protect local fish populations while allowing anglers to retain something from their catch. Because some fish species have healthier populations than others, daily limits for saltwater fishing in BC vary according to the species and the Management Area you are fishing in.

Always research daily catch limits for the area you are fishing in before setting off and remember to record all halibut, chinook and lingcod catches on your license.

6. Reporting Your Catch

To monitor the impact of recreational fishing on the species found in BCs oceans, DFO requires any BC Tidal Water Sports Fishing licence holder aged over 16 to report their complete catch, whether retained or not, for a fixed period.

For example, an annual license holder will be asked to report all catches for one specific month, indicated on their licence.

Participation in this recreational monitoring program is mandatory and a condition of being granted a license. 

Get On the Water and Catch the Big One

Now you know the regulations and licensing requirements, it’s time to get out onto the beautiful west coast ocean and get fishing!

You can easily access the world’s best sports fishing from your southern Vancouver Island base at Van Isle Marina.

Do you need a new fishing boat to get you out to the best fishing spots? Our yacht sales team can help you find the perfect vessel. Contact us today to find out more.