N.C. Recreational Coastal Waters Guide
for Sports Fishermen
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Current Version Effective: Nov. 18, 2014
(Website chart reflects the most recent changes to size and bag limits)
Current Weakfish bag limit effective May 16, 2010. See FF-54-2010
Current Snapper/Grouper rules effective March 7, 2014. See FF-19-2014
Current Spotted Seatrout size and bag limits effective June 15, 2014. See FF-39-2014
For inland fishing regulations, contact Wildlife Resources Commission 919-707-0220
or visit their website www.ncwildlife.org
Coastal Recreational Fishing License: Persons engaged in recreational fishing in North Carolina coastal waters are required to possess a Coastal Recreational Fishing License in accordance with G.S. 113-174.2
| ||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
|Cobia ||33" FL ||2/Day ||33" FL ||2/Day |
|Dolphin (B) ||None ||10/Day ||None ||10/Day |
|Drum, black ||14"-25" TL (C) ||10/Day ||14"-25" TL (C) ||10/Day |
|Drum, red |
|18-27" TL (C) ||1/Day ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS |
|Eel, American ||9" TL ||25/Day ||9" TL ||25/Day |
|15" TL ||6/Day ||15" TL ||6/Day |
|Grouper (H, I, J, K) ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS SHALLOW WATER GROUPER |
JAN. 1 THROUGH APRIL 30
|UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS SHALLOW WATER GROUPER |
JAN. 1 THROUGH APRIL 30
Red, scamp, yellowfin, yellowmouth
|20" TL ||3/Day (all grouper combined; includes tilefish and no more than 1 black or gag grouper, individual or combined) (J) & (K) ||20" TL ||3/Day (all grouper 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, Golden tilefish (K) ||NO POSSESSION || ||NO POSSESSION || |
|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 || |
State rules apply when landing
|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 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 only)
|8” TL ||50/Day ||9” TL ||30/Day |
|Seatrout, spotted (speckled) ||14” TL ||4/Day ||14” TL ||4/Day |
|Sea bass, black |
(North of Cape Hatteras) (D)
|12 1/2" TL ||15/Day ||12 1/2" TL ||15/Day |
|Sea bass, black |
(South of Cape Hatteras)
|13" TL ||5/Day || |
|Shad, American (O) ||None ||(O) ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS |
|Shad, hickory (O) ||None ||10/Day ||None ||10/Day |
|Sharks (E,I,L) |
(excluding Smoothhound Sharks (smooth dogfish) and Spiny Dogfish)
|(E,I,L) ||1/Vessel/Day ||(E,I,L) ||1/Vessel/Day |
|Sharks, Atlantic sharpnose, smooth dogfish and bonnethead (E) ||None ||(E) ||None ||(E) |
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 ||State rules apply when landing |
|Wreckfish (P) ||None ||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS ||None |
|UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS |
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), red snapper, speckled hind, Warsaw grouper and longbill spearfish.
|Shellfish and Crustaceans |
State Coastal and EEZ Waters Internal and 0-200 miles. No recreational license needed.
|Minimum Size ||Bag Limits |
(Per Person) No shellfish license required for these quantities and less
|Bay Scallops (N) ||None ||1/2 bushel/day, not to exceed one bushel per vessel |
|Blue Crab (M) |
|5" Carapace Width (Minimum) ||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 ||Two (2) quarts of shrimp/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 fishing waters; 2 per person per day at 18” TL minimum and unlawful to possess between 22” – 27” TL. This Includes hybrid bass.
Season: October through April, statewide by Proclamation. Moratorium in Cape Fear River system.
(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. One black drum per person per day over 25” TL is allowed.
(D) For black sea bass NORTH of Cape Hatteras, the season dates in 2014 are: May 19th – September 21st and October 18th to December 31st. See most recent Proclamation.
(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. See most recent Proclamation.
(F) Mature female crabs are exempt from minimum size.
(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, 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 800-894-5528. For snapper, grouper, and mackerels contact the South Atlantic Council (843-571-4366 or www.safmc.net) and see the most recent FF-Snapper-Grouper proclamation.
(J) Shallow water grouper species (gag, black, red, scamp, rock hind, red hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin, and yellowmouth grouper ) harvest is prohibited January 1–April 30. Possession of red snapper is prohibited
(K) Grouper in the management unit include: red, yellowfin, yellowmouth, black, snowy, yellowedge, misty, 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 grouper, and speckled hind. No possession of golden tilefish effective June 3, 2013 through 12:01 A.M. January 1, 2014.
(L) It is unlawful to possess blacktip, bull, lemon, nurse, spinner, tiger, blue, oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, shortfin mako and common thresher less than 54 inches (FL). It is unlawful to possess great, scalloped and smooth hammerhead sharks less than 78 inches (FL). It is unlawful to possess a great, scalloped or smooth hammerhead or oceanic whitetip shark while in possession of tunas, billfish or swordfish.
(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 visithttp://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamations
for seasons, areas, or other restrictions.
(O) For aggregate creel limits for American shad and hickory shad, see most recent Proclamation.
(P) Season open July 1 – August 31.
(Q) Season open January 1 - August 31, see Proclamation.
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.
Possession of spotted seatrout is currently prohibited by Proclamation FF-9-2014. The Fisheries Director intends to reopen the recreational fishery June 15, 2014.
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.
For inland water limits contact Wildlife Resources Commission at 919-707-0220 or visit their website: www.ncwildlife.org
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THIS DOCUMENT IS EFFECTIVE Nov 18, 2014 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 PURPOSES AND INCLUDE HOOK AND LINE. Updated State regulations can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/recreational-fishing-size-and-bag-limits 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 |
|N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632