Packaging and Transporting Your Catch

Protecting Our Sport Fishery

The mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada includes responsibility for the conservation and the sustainable use of Canada's fishing resources. To support this mandate, regulations are in place to govern the number, size, weight and species of fish recreational fishers may catch. To assist anglers in complying with the law while transporting sport-caught fish, DFO has developed packaging requirements for tidal water species and salmon in freshwater.

In most cases, residents and visitors will transport their sport-caught fish whole. However, if you prefer not to keep your fish whole, these guidelines will help you to prepare and package your catch to preserve the quality and comply with the regulations for sport fishing in British Columbia.

You and the Law

The British Columbia Sport Fish Packaging Guidelines are intended for general information purposes only. Where there is a discrepancy between these guidelines and the Fisheries Act and its regulations, the Fisheries Act and the regulations are the final authority.

Regulations are subject to change from time to time and it is the responsibility of an individual to be informed of the current regulations. If you have any questions concerning changes to the regulations contact your local DFO office.

The Law

Information: Section 36 of the Fishery (General) Regulations

Section 36 of the Fishery (General) Regulations states:

Identify, Count, Weigh and Measure Fish

36. (1) No person shall possess fish that were caught by any person while fishing for recreational or sport purposes and that have been skinned, cut, packed or otherwise dealt with in such a manner that:

(a) the species cannot be readily determined;
(b) the number of fish cannot be readily determined;
(c) where weight is used to determine catch limits, the weight of the fish cannot be readily determined; and
(d) where size limits are applicable, the size of the fish cannot be readily determined.

Your catch may be checked and inspected by either federal or provincial enforcement authorities. Failure to comply with the Fisheries Act and its regulations may result in prosecution. Enforcement authorities must be able to readily determine the species, number, and if applicable, the size and weight of the fish caught, while in transport or at a location other than your ordinary residence.

It is your responsibility to ensure the species, number, size and weight of your catch can be readily determined.

You Must Have a Licence

You must have a tidal waters sport fishing license to harvest fish or shellfish in salt water, including tidal water boundary areas in rivers. In freshwater, you must have a non-tidal angling licence. A Salmon Conservation Stamp is required if you intend to keep salmon caught in either freshwater or tidal water.

Before fishing, be aware of the regulations for the area(s) you intend to fish, including the size, daily and possession limits of fish or shellfish. Please read the Sport Fishing Guide/Freshwater Salmon Supplement, check for regulation updates on the Recreational Fishing site, or contact the nearest DFO office for more information.

When fishing, immediately record retained Chinook salmon and lingcod (where required) on your tidal waters fishing licence in ink. On your non-tidal angling licence, record all adult Chinook retained.

Before you package your fish, always ensure the species, number and if applicable, size and weight of the fish can be readily determined if you are checked by fishery enforcement officers while fishing or transporting your catch. This requirement also applies if you are transporting someone else’s fish.

Canning, smoking, salting, or curing your catch is not allowed other than at a person’s ordinary residence, and at commercial establishments licensed to process sport-caught fish. The business must supply appropriate documentation stating the species and the number of fish canned. Canning of non-tidal species other than salmon is not permitted.

Packaging your Salmon

Chinook, Coho, Pink, Chum, & Sockeye

When packaging your catch, if a maximum size limit applies, the head and tail must remain attached until you prepare and consume your catch, arrive at your ordinary residence, or deliver your catch to a registered processing facility.

Illustration: Properly packaged salmon.The head of your salmon can be removed only if the length with the head off is equal to or greater than the minimum legal size of that species for the waters in which it was caught. Leave the tail attached so species can be determined. For example, if a Chinook salmon is caught where the minimum size limit is 62 cm and it is filleted and packaged for transport, one of the fillets must have the tail attached and be at least 62 cm long. If necessary the fillet can be cut into two pieces; the tail must remain attached to one of the pieces. The fillets should be placed side by side in one bag making it obvious that they represent one fish, and the bag must be clearly labelled with:

  1. the number and species of salmon - e.g., "one Chinook";
  2. the number of fillets - "two fillets";
  3. the number of pieces - "four pieces"; and
  4. the angler's name and fishing licence number.

For example:
"Juanita Smith, licence 230775
One sockeye - two fillets"

Illustration: Drawing of salmon missing adipose fin.The exception to the above requirements is if your coho or chinook salmon is a hatchery fish with a healed scar in place of the adipose fin. Remove heads from hatchery coho and chinook and submit them to a Salmon Head Recovery Depot to provide valuable recreational catch monitoring information to DFO.

Anglers are required to ensure that proof of the healed scar remains clearly distinguishable after packaging by leaving the portion of the fish that contains the scar on the fillet. The healed scar will identify the fish for enforcement officers as a hatchery fish.

Steaking Salmon

Illustration: Drawing of packaged salmon steaks.When steaking a salmon in preparation for transport do not cut all the way through the fish. Leave the steaks connected by a piece of skin and place waxed paper or plastic film between each steak. Similarly, the tail must remain attached to the body of the fish by a piece of skin. The fish can then be wrapped as a whole fish and later steaks can be removed as required without thawing.

Packaging Rockfish and Cod

Illustration: Drawing of properly packaged rockfish.For rockfish and lingcod, packaging and labelling is the same as that described for salmon. An individual may fillet the fish in two pieces (as with salmon). Skin must remain on each fillet for identification purposes. In those cases where a size limit applies, such as 65 cm. (26 in.) for lingcod, the fillets, including the tail, must meet the minimum "head off" size limit of 53 cm. (21 in.).

Packaging Halibut

HalibutNotice - Halibut Limits, Packaging and Closed Areas (PDF)

Packaging for Transport

  • Any halibut that you catch may be left whole, may have the head removed, or may be filleted as noted below.
  • Halibut may be packaged by a registered fish processing establishment. Some lodges are registered and provide this service and most coastal communities have certified establishments that also offer this service.


Halibut that are too large for your cooler may be filleted for transport however some care must be taken to ensure that the fish you possess can be readily measured if inspected by a fishery officer.

  • Once filleted you should have no more than seven pieces from each halibut including the one whole fillet with the tail and pectoral fin attached.
  • To remove the fillets so that you can comply with the maximum length requirement remove the top (dorsal) fillets first.
  • Remove the bottom (ventral) fillet from one side. This leaves you the last remaining fillet still attached, the backbone, tail, and the pectoral fin on the side opposite to where the first ventral fillet was removed.
  • You must retain the pectoral fin and the tail attached to the last fillet. Beginning at the pectoral fin, start to remove the fillet towards the tail as you normally would.
  • Once near the end of the fillet, cut through the spine above the tail being careful to leave the skin facing you at the tail attached.
  • When you have cut through the spine you can cut through the flesh at the end of the fillet down to the skin without cutting it through which then will act like a hinge allowing the tail to be folded under the fillet for transport. This will allow the length of your catch to be readily measured.
  • The dorsal fillets and the fillet without the tail and pectoral fin may each be cut into two pieces for ease of storage until you arrive at your ordinary residence.
  • Keep the pieces of each fillet together in its own bag.
  • The ventral fillet that has the tail and pectoral fin attached must remain in one piece. Should you make a mistake during this procedure on removal of this last fillet, retain the pieces from it and keep them together in a separate bag so that they may be inspected if required.
  • Fillet pieces that are frozen must be frozen separately so that each piece may be measured if required.
  • Avoid cutting fish into smaller pieces. The regulation states that the fish you possess must be readily measureable to determine that it is in compliance where size limits apply. You are responsible to comply with this requirement.


If you have two halibut in your possession you must be able to show that at least one of them is 83 cm or less head-on (63 cm head-off) and the other is 133 cm or less head-on (100 cm head-off). In order to comply with the licence condition, halibut in your possession must be retained in such a manner that their size can be readily determined. Halibut close to the size limits may be left whole with the head on which will allow fishery officers to measure them accurately for compliance with the length requirement.

Labelling Your Container or Cooler

When packaging salmon for guests, lodges and charter operations are to clearly provide the following information on the outside of the transport box.

  1. the name of angler and fishing licence number; only one name per container.
  2. the number of fish by species and number of packages. For example, the label on the outside of the cooler should state, in the case of two packaged Chinook or two packaged halibut:
    "2 Chinook - 2 packages", or "2 halibut - 8 packages"

When individuals are transporting or shipping fish they must package their fish separately and only have one name per package. However, they may share a container. It is recommended that the contents (number of fish, species, and number of packages) be listed on the outside of the container to facilitate inspection.

It is recommended that you store and transport your catch in containers and packages intended for food.

Transporting Crab

When transporting a recreationally-caught crab, the carapace (shell) must remain attached to the body of the crab until consumed or it arrives at a person's ordinary residence. It is prohibited to have shelled or shucked crab in your possession, except at your ordinary residence.

Possession of female crab is prohibited. All female crabs must be immediately returned to the water in a manner that causes the least possible harm.

Possession Limit

From section 13, British Columbia Sport Fishing Regulations:

13. (1) No person shall possess more fish of a species, other than halibut, except at the person’s ordinary residence, than twice the daily quota for fish of that species prescribed by these Regulations.

The British Columbia Sport Fishing Regulations state that you may possess only twice the daily limit of all species (except halibut, as set out in the Tidal Waters Sport Fishing Licence). This possession limit applies per person whether you or someone else caught the fish.

Fish caught by an angler that is being prepared, cooked, or is partially consumed away from the angler's ordinary residence ( i.e. while staying at a camp ground, overnighting on a boat, residing at a hotel, etc.) is included as part of the fisher's possession limit. The head and tail of all finfish and the carapace (shell) of any crab caught must be retained until the fish has been consumed.

You may transport another person’s sport caught fish, provided that the total of all fish possessed does not exceed your personal possession limit for each individual species prescribed by regulation or by licence condition.

Transporting Your Catch

It is recommended that you store and transport your catch in containers and bags intended for food.

When more than one person is transporting or shipping fish, each person must package their fish separately. There should only be one name per package. However, they may share a container.

When packaging catch for transportation, provide the following information on the outside of the transport container:

  1. The name of angler and fishing licence number; only one name and licence number per package.
  2. The number of fish by species and number of packages. For example, the label on the outside of the transport container should state, in the case of two packaged chinook or two packaged halibut: “2 chinook – 2 packages” or, “2 halibut – 8 packages”.

If you are not a Canadian resident, check with customs officials in your country for regulations concerning importation of your catch.