2021 Schedule of Expected California Grunion Runs Available, Input on Grunion Fishing Sought

grunion run
Southern California grunion run
photo by K. Walker

The 2021 schedule of expected California grunion runs is now available on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website. If attending a grunion run, please follow current Covid-19 health guidelines and check with city or county authorities for information about potential beach closures.

Part of Southern California’s ocean heritage is going to the beaches around midnight to watch the grunion come ashore to spawn. As they have for generations, grunion runs occur during a three- to four-night span following a full or new moon, as the nighttime high tide is receding, typically from March through August.

California grunion (Leuresthes tenuis) are unique, because they are one of just two fish species that beach themselves to lay their eggs. The other is their sister species, the gulf grunion (L. sardinas), found in the Gulf of California. As waves wash up the sandy shore, grunion surf onto the beach. Female grunion dig down at least half of their body’s length into the sand to deposit eggs, while one or more males curl around them fertilizing the eggs.

Unlike salmon, grunion do not die after spawning. They can spend up to a couple of minutes flopping on the beach before returning with the waves, and can return to spawn on the beaches many times during the season.

Unfortunately, the past decade has seen a decline in the grunion population. Later this year, the Fish and Game Commission will be considering proposed new regulations designed to help the grunion population recover. If you fish for grunion, CDFW is seeking your input to better inform our understanding of the fishery. Please consider providing input through this questionnaire about your experiences fishing for grunion. Additionally, if you are interested in participating in the regulatory amendment process, please attend the August 18-19 Commission meeting and/or contact Environmental Scientist Armand Barilotti at Armand.Barilotti@wildlife.ca.gov.

If you are going to fish for grunion this year, please follow the regulations listed below and those found in the ocean sport fishing regulations. It is also a good idea to check the location of marine protected areas and their associated regulations before going fishing.

  • No take or capture during the months of April and May. Be careful on the night of March 31, as the season closes at midnight, right when the fish are predicted to show up.
  • Only your hands can be used to capture grunion, no equipment or nets may be used to capture them. Additionally, no holes or pits can be dug to aid in capturing them.
  • A valid California sport fishing license (and an Ocean Enhancement Validation south of Pt. Arguello, Santa Barbara County) is required to capture grunion if you are 16 years or older, even if you plan to release the fish.
  • There is no possession limit; however, take only what you can use, as wasting grunion or any other fish and game is illegal.

If you would like to learn more about California grunion, please read CDFW’s California Grunion Enhanced Status Report.

post by Armand Barilotti, CDFW Environmental Scientist