• Captcha Image

N.C. Recreational Coastal Waters Guide
for Sports Fishermen

Current Version Effective: Feb. 5, 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 Jan. 23, 2014. See FF-5-2014
Current Spotted Seatrout size and bag limits effective Feb. 3,2014. See FF-9-2014
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
(3-200 miles)
Finfish Species
(note symbols)
Minimum Length Bag Limits
(Per Person)
Minimum Length Bag Limits
(Per Person)
Alewife and
blueback herring
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
(Channel Bass,
Puppy Drum) 
Eel, American 9" TL 25/Day 9" TL 25/Day
Gulf, Southern
15" TL 6/Day 15" TL 6/Day
Red, scamp, yellowfin, yellowmouth and tilefish (no size limit on tilefish)
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
(See above)
Grouper, snowy None 1/Vessel/Day None 1/Vessel/Day
(Hog snapper)
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
(species combined)
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) (D)
(D) (D) (D) (D)
Seatrout, spotted (speckled) UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS    
Sea bass, black
(North of Cape Hatteras) (D)
12 1/2" TL and 20/day
12 1/2" TL and 20/day
Sea bass, black
(South of Cape Hatteras)
13" TL 5/Day

13" TL

Shad, American (O) None (O) UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS
Shad, hickory (O) None 10/Day None 10/Day
(excluding spiny and smooth dogfish)
(E, L) 1/Vessel/Day (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
(Species combined)
12" TL 10/Day
(Species combined)
Snappers, mutton 16" TL See Above 16" TL See Above
Snappers; Lane 8" TL See Above 8" TL See Above
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
27" CFL
Yellowfin Tuna
3 per day
Wahoo None 2/Day None 2/Day
(gray trout)
12" TL

see FF-54-2010)

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), 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.
(note symbols)
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)
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 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 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 Fear River). 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. One black drum per person per day over 25” TL is allowed.

(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” TL and the bag limit is 30/day. 

For black sea bass NORTH of Cape Hatteras, the season is closed and final regulations are pending.

(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 Proclamation FF-68-2013

(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, 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-5-2013

(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 currently 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 blacknose, finetooth, tiger, blacktip, spinner, lemon, bull, nurse, shortfin mako, porbeagle, common thresher, oceanic whitetip and blue sharks less than 54 inches (FL). It is unlawful to possess great, scalloped and smooth hammerhead sharks less than 78 inches (FL).

(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) For aggregate creel limits for American shad and hickory shad, see Proclamation FF-71-2013.

(P) Season open July 1 – August 31.

(Q) Season open January 1-August 31

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.
Forinland water limits contact Wildlife Resources Commission at 919-707-0220 or visit their website:

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.

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 FEB. 5, 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

(Updated 02/05/14)

Morehead City Office
(24 hours)
800-682-2632 or
Elizabeth City Office
800-338-7805 or
252- 264-3911
Manteo Office
252- 473-5734
Pamlico Field Office
800-338-7804 or
Wilmington Office
800-248-4536 or
(Fed. Reg.)


N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632