N.C. Recreational Coastal Waters Guide
for Sports Fishermen
Current Version Effective: April 18, 2013
(Website chart reflects the most recent changes to size and bag limits)
New weakfish bag limit effective May 16, 2010. See FF-54-2010
New Snapper/Grouper rules effective June 17, 2011. See FF-58-2011
New Spotted Seatrout size and bag limits effective Nov. 14, 2011. See FF-75-2011
For inland fishing regulations, contact Wildlife Resources Commission 919-707-0220
or visit their website www.ncwildlife.org
A Coastal Recreational Fishing License went into effect Jan. 1, 2007
for all of the state's coastal and ocean waters.
View more pages on your mobile device here.
| ||State Coastal Waters |
(Internal and 0-3 Miles)
|Exclusive Economic Zone EEZ |
|Finfish Species |
|Minimum Length ||Bag Limits |
|Minimum Length ||Bag Limits |
|Alewife and |
|None ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS ||None ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS |
|Amberjack, greater ||28" FL ||1/Day ||28" FL ||1/Day |
|Bass, striped ||(A) ||(A) ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS |
|Bluefish ||None ||15/Day |
Only 5 greater than 24" TL
| 15/Day |
|Cobia ||33" FL ||2/Day ||33" FL ||2/Day |
|Dolphin (B) ||None ||10/Day ||None ||10/Day |
|Drum, red |
|18-27" TL (C) ||1/Day ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS |
|Eel, American ||6" TL ||50/Day ||6" TL ||50/Day |
|15" TL ||6/Day ||15" TL ||6/Day |
|Groupers (H, I, J, K) ||(See below) ||(See below) ||(See below) ||(See below) |
Red, scamp, yellowfin, yellowmouth and tilefish (no size limit on tilefish)
|20" TL ||3/Day (all groupers combined; includes tilefish and no more than 1 black or gag grouper, individual or combined) (J) & (K) ||20" TL ||3/Day (all groupers combined; includes tilefish, and no more than 1 black or gag grouper, individual or combined) (J) & (K) |
black and gag
|24" TL ||1/Day (See above) ||24" TL ||1/Day |
|Grouper, snowy ||N/A || 1 / vessel / day ||N/A || 1 / vessel / day |
|12" FL ||5/Day ||12" FL || |
|Mackerel, king (I) ||24" FL ||3/Day ||24" FL ||3/Day |
|Mackerel, Spanish (I) ||12" FL ||15/Day ||12" FL ||15/Day |
|Marlin, blue(G) ||99" LJFL ||1/vessel/trip either Blue or White Marlin ||99" LJFL || |
|Marlin, white (G) ||66" LJFL ||1/vessel/trip either Blue or White Marlin ||66" LJFL || |
(Striped and White)
|None ||200/Day |
|None || |
|Porgy, red |
(Silver snapper, pinky)
|14" TL ||3/Day ||14" TL ||3/Day |
|Reef Complex Species Includes sheepshead, spadefish, gray triggerfish, white grunt, knobbed porgy and more (see notes H and I) || ||20/Day || ||20/Day |
|Sailfish (G) ||63" LJFL ||1/Day ||63" LJFL || |
(North of Cape Hatteras) (D)
|(D) ||(D) ||(D) ||(D) |
|Seatrout, spotted (speckled) ||14" TL || |
| || |
|Sea bass, black |
(North of Cape Hatteras) (D)
|12 1/2" TL and 15/day || 12 1/2" TL and 15/day) |
|Sea bass, black |
(South of Cape Hatteras) (D)
|UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS |
Shad, American (O)
|None ||10/Day |
in ocean waters
|UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS |
|Shad, hickory (O) ||None ||10/Day ||None ||10/Day |
(excluding spiny and smooth dogfish)
|(E, L) ||1/Vessel/Day ||54"FL (E, L) ||1/Vessel/Day |
|Sharks, Atlantic sharpnose and bonnethead (E) ||None ||(E) ||(E, L) ||1/Day |
Dog, gray, cubera, mahogany, queen, yellowtail, silk and blackfin
| 12" TL ||10/Day |
|12" TL ||10/Day |
|Snappers, mutton ||16" TL ||See Above ||16" TL ||See Above |
|Snappers; Lane ||8" TL ||See Above ||8" TL ||See Above |
|Snapper, red ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS |
|Snapper, vermilion (J) ||12" TL ||5/Day ||12" TL ||5/Day |
|Tarpon ||None ||1/Day ||None ||1/Day |
|Tuna(I);bluefin(G), yellowfin and bigeye ||Yellowfin 27" CFL |
Bigeye 27" CFL
|Bigeye and Yellowfin 3 per day ||Bigeye and Yellowfin tuna |
|Yellowfin Tuna |
3 per day
|Wahoo ||None ||2/Day ||None ||2/Day |
|12" TL || |
|12" TL || |
|Wreckfish (P) ||None ||1/vessel/day ||None |
Prohibited Finfish Species
|Coastal Waters |
(Internal waters and Atlantic Ocean out to 3 miles
|Federal Waters / EEZ |
(Atlantic Ocean more than 3 miles)
Sharks; (whale, basking, white, sand tiger, bigeye sand tiger, Atlantic angel shark, bigeye sixgill, bigeye thresher, bignose, Caribbean reef, Caribbean sharpnose, dusky, Galapogos, longfin mako, narrowtooth, night, sandbar, silky, sevengill, sixgill, and smalltail), sturgeon, Nassau grouper, Goliath grouper (jewfish), Warsaw grouper, speckled hind and red snapper.
Sharks; (whale, basking, white, sand tiger, bigeye sand tiger, Atlantic angel shark, bigeye sixgill, bigeye thresher, bignose, Caribbean reef, Caribbean sharpnose, dusky, Galapogos, longfin mako, narrowtooth, night, sandbar, silky, sevengill, sixgill, and smalltail), red drum, striped bass, sturgeon, Nassau grouper, Goliath grouper (jewfish) and longbill spearfish.
|Shellfish and Crustaceans |
State Coastal and EEZ Waters Internal and 0-200 miles. No recreational license needed.
|Minimum Size ||Bag Limits |
|Bay Scallops (N) ||None ||1/2 bushel/day, not to exceed one bushel per vessel |
|Blue Crab (M) |
|5" Carapace Width (Minimum) |
6 3/4" Carapace Width (Maximum) (F)
|50 crabs/day not to exceed 100 crabs/vessel/day |
|Conchs and Whelks ||None ||10/day not to exceed 20/vessel/day |
|Hard Clam ||1" Thick ||100 clams/day not to exceed 200 clams/vessel/day |
|Mussels ||None ||100/day not to exceed 200/vessel/day |
|Oyster (N) ||3" Shell Length ||1 bushel/day not to exceed 2 bushels/vessel/day |
(Closed shrimping area)
|None ||100 shrimp/person/day (Cast net only) |
(Open shrimping area)
|None ||48 qts. heads on, 30 qts. heads off |
(Per person or vessel except RCGL max. 2 limits/vessel)
|Explanation of Symbols |
(A) Albemarle Sound Management Area: contact DMF for seasons, areas or other limits; Atlantic Ocean year-round: 2 per person per day at 28” TL minimum; Other coastal areas (excluding Inland Waters-regulations set by Wildlife Resources Commission), 2 per person per day at 18” TL minimum and unlawful to possess between 22” – 27” TL in Joint waters. Moratorium in Cape Fear River system. Season October through April, statewide by proclamation (except Cape FearRiver). Includes hybrid bass.
(B) Limit of 10/person/day or 60/trip, whichever is less. On headboats, limit is 10/person/day. No sale of recreational bag limit on vessels operating as charter or headboats.
(C) Unlawful to possess red drum greater than 27 inches total length. Unlawful to gig, spear, or gaff red drum.
(D) North of Cape Hatteras scup recreational season is July 6 through September 26. In state coastal waters the minimum size is 8” TL and the bag limit is 50/day. In the EEZ, the minimum size limit is 10.5” TL and the bag limit is 10/day.
For black sea bass NORTH of Cape Hatteras, the size limit in state coastal waters and the EEZ is 12.5” TL with a bag limit of 20/day.
For black sea bass NORTH of Hatteras, the season is from May 19 through October 14; and November 1 through December 31, 2013.
For black sea bass SOUTH of Cape Hatteras, possession is prohibited from September 4, 2012 through May 31, 2013, based on Federal allowable catches being met or exceeded.
(E) See prohibited species list above; Legal sharks include: tiger, blacktip, spinner, lemon, bull, nurse, smooth and scalloped and great hammerhead, blacknose, finetooth, bonnethead, shortfin mako, blue, thresher, porbeagle, and oceanic whitetip. One (1) Atlantic sharpnose (no minimum size) and one bonnethead (no minimum size) per person per day may be landed in addition to allowable bag limits for other sharks.
(F) Mature female crabs are exempt from minimum size. Maximum size is effective September through April and applies to mature females only.
(G) In state or federal waters, federal permit required for Highly Migratory Species, excluding Atlantic bonito, little tunny (albacore), and blackfin tuna: (978) 281-9370. Prior to removal from vessel, all billfishes, swordfish and bluefin tuna must be reported at NC HMS reporting stations.
(H) Reef complex species: whitebone porgy, jolthead porgy, knobbed porgy, longspine porgy, sheepshead, gray triggerfish, queen triggerfish, yellow jack, crevalle jacks, bar jack, almaco jack, lesser amberjack, banded rudderfish, white grunt, margates, spadefish and scup. 20 per person per day in combination.
(I) For seasons, bag limits, size limits or closures for tunas, billfishes, and sharks contact NMFS Highly Migratory Species Division 1-800-894-5528. For snapper, grouper, and mackerels contact the South Atlantic Council (843-571-4366 or www.safmc.net) and see Proclamation FF-18-2013.
(J) Vermilion snapper season is closed November 1-March 31. Shallow water grouper species (gag, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, rock hind, red hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper and yellowmouth grouper ) harvest is prohibited January 1-April 30. Possession of red snapper is currently prohibited.
(K) Groupers in the management unit include: red, yellowfin, yellowmouth, black, snowy, yellowedge, and misty grouper; gag, scamp, red hind, rock hind, graysby, and coney. The three (3) grouper bag limit also includes blueline, golden and sand tilefish. Maximum one golden tilefish per person per day. No possession of Nassau, Goliath and warsaw groupers, and speckled hind.
(L) It is unlawful to possess Large Coastal and Pelagic sharks less than 54 inches (Fork Length).
(M)One crab pot may be used from private property or private pier, without a license – Reference 15A NCAC 3J .0302.
(N)Contact DMF or visit http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamations for seasons, areas, or other restrictions.
(O) It is unlawful to possess more than 10 American shad or hickory shad in the aggregate per person per day. See American shad limits in Proclamation FF-70-2012.
Size and creel limits for spotted seatrout, flounder, red drum and gray trout taken in joint and coastal waters are the same as the recreational limits for those species in adjacent inland waters.
Total length (TL) is measured from tip of snout with mouth closed to top of compressed tail. Fork length (FL) is measured from tip of snout to middle of fork in tail. Lower jaw fork length (LJFL) is measured from lower jaw to middle of fork in tail. Curved fork length (CFL) is the measurement of the length taken in a line tracing the contour of the body from the tip of the upper jaw to the fork of the tail.
Anglers cannot catch both a federal and state bag limit for the same species on the same trip.
Ocean boundary is defined as water seaward of the COLREGS Demarcation Lines as indicated on National Ocean Service navigation charts
No one may possess aboard a vessel or while engaged in fishing any fish subject to limits without head and tail attached, except for alewife and blueback herring used for bait provided not more than two fish per boat/operation may be cut at any one time – Reference 15A NCAC 3M .0101
IMPORTANT Check with Division of Marine Fisheries for most current minimum lengths and catch limits. 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632. This document is a public record under chapter 132 of the North Carolina General Statutes. Anyone who alters, defaces, mutilates or destroys it shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction subject to fines.
Forinland water limits contact Wildlife Resources Commission at 919-707-0220 or visit their website: www.ncwildlife.org
Please NOTE! If you bookmark this page or place it in your "favorites" list, and then return later you may NOT be seeing the latest version of this page. Click the "Refresh" or "Reload" button on your browser to be certain that you are reading the latest version.
THIS DOCUMENT IS EFFECTIVE APRIL 18, 2013 AND IS FOR GENERAL INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES AND HAS NO LEGAL FORCE OR EFFECT. FISHERY RULES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE. THESE RESTRICTIONS APPLY TO FISH TAKEN FOR RECREATIONAL PURPOSE AND INCLUDE HOOK AND LINE. Updated State regulations can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-size-and-bag-limit and updated Recreational Commercial Gear License information can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-commercial-gear-license
|Morehead City Office |
|Elizabeth City Office |
|Manteo Office |
|Pamlico Field Office |
|Wilmington Office |
Web Content Display
|N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632