The information on this page is intended for educational purposes only and is subject to change. Fishermen should contact the agencies directly to determine what is required for their particular situation.

California State and Local Regulations, Permits and More for Seafood Alternative Markets

Fishermen considering selling their catch directly from their boat, a roadside stand/market, or other alternative market, will need to follow regulations and guidelines and obtain specific licenses, registrations, permits, and certificates from several state and local agencies in addition to the licenses and permits required to fish commercially. Here we provide selected general information, by agency, that highlights some of these requirements and associated fees (as of 2015).

Fishermen should contact the agencies below to determine current requirements and fees and to ensure they are in compliance. When doing so, fishermen will need to be able to describe the seafood products they will be selling -- species, product form (e.g., whole, filet, smoked) -- and the type of alternative market(s) they will use.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)

Licensing and Revenue Branch
Contact: Commercial Records Unit Personnel  
Telephone: 916.928.5822 (information)
Information Sources: Types and Fees;Forms and Information

The following provides selected information about four types of CDFW commercial fish business licenses that may be appropriate for fishermen selling their catch through seafood alternative markets. Fishermen should check the information sources above and contact CDFW directly for up-to-date information and to determine the requirements that apply to their specific situation.

Fisherman’s Retail License

Description: Required for fishermen selling all or a portion of their catch to the ultimate consumer.

Annual Fee: $98.88 (2015, subject to change)

Select Details:

  • ​Not required if have a Fish Receiver’s License (see next section).
  • Does not allow wholesaling, processing, receiving or selling others’ catch, or importing product.
  • Cannot be used by others (e.g., spouse, business partner, employee) at any time, only by the licensed fisherman. 

Fish Receiver's License

Description: Required for fishermen selling all or a portion of their catch to someone other than the ultimate consumer (e.g., restaurant, retail market).

Annual Fee: $773.75 (2015, subject to change)

Select Details:

  • Not required if selling to a person who has a Fish Receiver’s License.
  • Can be used in place of the Fisherman’s Retail License.
  • Required if processing the catch, along with a Fish Processor’s License (see next section). 
  • Required if purchasing fish from another commercial fisherman not licensed as a fish receiver.

Fish Processor’s License

Description: Required if processing fish for sale or delivery to individuals other than the ultimate consumer (e.g., restaurant, retail market)

Annual Fee: $773.75 (2015, subject to change)

Select Details:

  • Required for processing, including cleaning, cutting, gutting, scaling, shucking, peeling, cooking, curing, salting, canning, breading, packaging, or packing fish.
  • Not required if cleaning, heading, gutting, or chilling catch onboard solely to maintain fish quality.
  • Fish Receiver’s License also required to sell the processed catch (see previous section).

Multifunction Fish Business License

Description: Allows a fisherman to conduct any combination of the activities of a fish receiver, fish processor, fish wholesaler, fish importer and a fisherman retailer.

Annual Fee: $1,923 (2015, subject to change)

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA)

Division of Measurement Standards
Contact: Weights and Measures Inspector or Weighmaster (county contact list)
Phone: (916) 229-3000
Information Sources: Weights and Measures

The following provides selected information about CDFA Division of Measurement Standards requirements of fishermen selling their catch through seafood alternative markets. Fishermen should check the information sources above and contact CDFA directly for up-to-date information and to determine the requirements that apply to their specific situation.

Weighing Scale Certification

Description: Certified (approved and registered) scales must be used to sell seafood. 

Annual Fee: Scale registration and associated fees vary and are assessed by each county. 

Select Details:

  • Appropriate scales are available from scale dealers. Before purchasing and using a scale, obtain the type of approval and the associated type-approval number of the scale from the dealer or scale manufacturer.
  • Counties have different procedures for testing and registering scales. Whereas some require that the scale be brought into their office for testing, others will arrange for an inspector to come out and test the scale for a fee.
  • Seafood must be sold by weight, not piece.
  • Product that is weighed and packaged without the customer present should be labeled with the weight sold. Additional information also may be needed on the label per the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.

Departments of Public Health

Both state and local public health agencies regulate and assist with seafood safety, ensuring that seafood is handled and distributed in a safe and sanitary manner. Fishermen should check the information sources provided below and contact both the California Department of Public Health’s Food and Drug Branch and the local (county and/or city) environmental health department directly for up-to-date information and to determine the requirements that apply to their specific situation.

California Department of Public Health (CDPH)
Food and Drug Branch

Contact: Seafood Program Specialist
Phone: (916) 650-6500
Information Sources: State Food Safety Program

CDPH's Food and Drug Branch (FDB) registers, inspects, and oversees the processing, handling and distribution of food products, including seafood, within the State of California. The following provides selected information about FDB requirements that may apply to fishermen selling their catch through seafood alternative markets. 

​Processed Food Registration

  • Registration required prior to initiating processing*, unless product is processed and sold on-site at a retail food facility (e.g., restaurant, fish market).
  • Must evaluate whether a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan is required for your processing operation.
  • Processing in the City of Vernon and/or Los Angeles, Orange and/or San Bernardino Counties also requires a local Food Processing Permit (see next section).

*Processing (as defined by FDA) includes handling, storing, preparing, heading, eviscerating, shucking, freezing, changing into different market forms, manufacturing, preserving, packing, labeling, dockside unloading, or holding fish and fishery products. It excludes practices such as heading, eviscerating, or freezing solely to prepare a fish for holding on board a commercial fishing vessel.

County and City Environmental Health Departments

Contact: Environmental Health Specialist
Phone: Environmental health departments by county and city (county contact list)
Email: Varies by county and city (see county contact list above)
Information Sources: Visit county or city environmental health department websites (see county contact list above)

County and city environmental health departments oversee the sales of food products (processed and unprocessed) to the ultimate consumer through retail food facilities, including but not limited to restaurants, retail markets, and fishermen’s/farmers’ markets. Requirements and fees vary among both local environmental health departments and types of seafood alternative markets. The permits and certifications listed below, as well as others, may be required by a given environmental health department. For more information, contact the Department of Health in the county in which you will be operating your business (see county contact list above).

Temporary Event Permit (aka Temporary Food Facility Permit)

May be required if selling seafood at an open-air fishermen’s or farmers’ market. Permits may be required for each vendor and/or the organizer.  

Food Facility Permit

May be needed if the catch is sold from a mobile unit (e.g., food truck) or a fixed (permanent) facility (e.g., retail market). Also may be required when storing seafood before it is distributed (e.g., CSFs, seafood buying clubs). 

Food Safety Certificate

Required for retail food facilities that prepare, handle or serve unpackaged foods. 

For temporary food facilities, an owner or person in charge must be able to demonstrate adequate knowledge of food safety principles as they relate to the operation. In this case, a Food Safety Certificate is highly recommended but is not required.    

Food Processing Permit

Required when selling processed food products to the ultimate consumer in the City of Vernon, and/or Los Angeles, Orange and/or San Bernardino Counties in addition to the Processed Food Registration issued by CDPH FDB (see above).

Local Authorities

Depending on the type of market and where it is located, additional permits and fees may be required by local authorities. Below are a few examples of such requirements. Fishermen should contact local authorities directly for up-to-date information and to determine the requirements that apply to their specific situation.


Local harbors/marinas may have their own requirements for selling one's catch off the boat or at a dockside (or fishermen’s) market. In some cases, only certain products or types of markets are allowed. 


City government may require a business license, vendor’s license, or both if selling from a vehicle or stand within city limits. Also, selling from private property requires proof of permission from the property owner, having an appropriate business license, and meeting local zoning requirements.

Environmental health departments of some cities (e.g., Vernon) have additional requirements for selling to individuals other than the ultimate consumer.


County planning departments may require meeting zoning regulations and providing proof of permission from appropriate agencies (e.g., state highway division, county road office) when selling from a vehicle or stand on a public right-of-way where others can transit or from property owners if selling from private property.

Environmental health departments of some counties (e.g., Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino) have additional requirements for selling to individuals other than the ultimate consumer.


Adapted from Price, RJ & PD Tom (eds). 2000. Vessel Retail Guide for Northern California Fishermen. Seafood Network Information Center. 14 pp.

Additional permits and other documentation usually are needed to establish an alternative market. Be sure to consult with resource management, public health and business authorities before selling your seafood.

Information provided on this page was synthesized from interviews with fishermen and buyers, and from the Fishermen’s Direct Marketing Manual, the Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook, ATTRA publications, and other resources (see About this Website and Resources).