Watch the Division's new ethical angling series: Catchin' with Kevin

The Division of Marine Fisheries encourages anglers to get out and enjoy the beautiful waters of the North Carolina coast while practicing ethical angling. Ethical angling is the responsibility of all anglers in North Carolina.  
Most ethical angling practices do not require purchasing specific equipment but encourage anglers to spend more time preparing and practicing mindfulness. Practicing ethical angling is the first step in reducing catch-and-release mortality. It will not end all catch-and-release mortality but will increase the chance of survival and success for the fish.   
Even if a fish swims away, impacts associated with catch-and-release can extend hours after the initial hooking event and out of sight of the angler. Negative consequences include increased chances of predation, susceptibility to disease, reduced reproductive success, decreased growth rates, and death. 

What is ethical angling?

Practices that reduce unintentional death of fish not being harvested. It is also a mindset for respecting our fisheries, natural environment, and fellow anglers to ensure conservation of the natural resource for future generations.

Does it make a difference?

Yes! The actions of every angler make a difference. Millions of fishing trips are taken each year by recreational anglers in North Carolina. Improving the outcome of even one fish per trip can result in hundreds of thousands of fish staying in the environment to reproduce and live to be caught another day. 

Ethical Angling Brochure

Ethical Angling Brochure - Spanish Version

Best Practices for the Ethical Angler

Hooks, Lines and Sinkers: A Rigging Guide

Proper Red Drum Handling Techniques

A Guide to Responsible Fishing

Tab/Accordion Items

  • Make sure you have a valid Coastal Recreational Fishing License or are covered under an exemption.
  • Have reference materials such as species ID guides or regulatory information to take with you, such as the Fish Rules App.
  • Understand your target species. Know where, when, and how to fish for them.
  • Understand your target species rules and regulations. Know the season, size, bag, and slot limits.
  • Avoid targeting fish when they are spawning, during extreme weather events, or when the water is extremely warm and depleted of oxygen (anoxic) or extremely cold when fish are susceptible to cold stuns.

  • Match your gear size to the fish you are targeting. This will reduce fight times so the fish is able to swim away and recover more quickly. Long fight times increase the chances of break offs or predation. 
  • Use barbless or compressed barb circle hooks.  
  • Modify hard plastics with multiple hooks to single inline hooks.
  • Use knotless rubber nets to land fish. 
  • Have dehooking devices and descending devices out, rigged, and ready for use. 

  • If you don’t know, let it go! 
  • Leave fish in the water when possible. 
  • Wet your hands before handling.
  • Avoid contact with dry, rough surfaces such as towels, sand, coolers, boat gunwales, or deck.
  • Remove all gear when possible. If the hook is swallowed, cut the line as close as possible to the hook. 
  • Let fish go quickly, minimizing handling and air exposure. To take a photo have someone ready with a camera count down “3, 2, 1…” lift the fish for photo, and immediately return the fish to the water. Or take photos in the water with your fish when it’s safe to do so. 
  • Do NOT hang fish from lip grips or scales. 
  • Support, move, and release fish horizontally. Support the weight of the fish under the head and supporting the entire body. 
  • Do not hold fish by their gills or operculum. Avoid squeezing sensitive or soft areas such as the stomach.
  • Revive fish that do not swim away.
    • Submerge fish headfirst.
    • Move fish in a continuous forward motion in the water.
    • Support the fish as needed under the head and tail until the fish swims off. 

  • Harvest only what you will consume or use. Fish should be vacuum sealed but will still only keep for 3-6 months in a freezer. 
  • Practice catch-and-release.
  • Do not transport live fish. Release fish where they were landed. 
  • Avoid high-grading. High-grading is a negative practice of retaining harvestable fish in hopes of landing a larger fish. The smaller of the catch is either released or thrown overboard. 
  • Share your catch and trip information with Marine Fisheries staff if asked. 
  • Report your tagged fish or donate your filleted carcasses to Marine Fisheries for fisheries research. 
  • Remove all trash and avoid disposing of trash, litter, or pollution into or near the water.


Fish need healthy habitats to thrive. Here are some tips on what fishermen can do to reduce impacts to valuable fish habitat.

On the water

  • Dark patches visible from above the water’s surface may be shallow oyster reefs or grass beds. Avoid boating over these areas to prevent damaging these critical fish habitats.
  • If you must boat in the shallows, trim your propeller up and slow down.
  • Set anchor securely so it does not drag through grass and oyster beds.
  • Remove loose grass from the prop before trailering your boat. This helps reduce the risk of spreading non-native species from one waterbody to another.
  • Never leave or throw trash overboard. Take it ashore and dispose of it properly. This includes old fishing line, six-pack drink yokes, leaders and hooks, bottles, cans, plastic shopping bags, or anything else that could harm fish or wildlife.
  • Avoid spilling or dumping pollutants, such as oil and gasoline, into the water.
  • Report any pollution or environmental damage to the appropriate authorities.
  • Never harm marine mammals, birds, or sea turtles, even if they are trying to steal your bait or catch.

Off the water

  • Recycle your oyster shells. DMF will put your collected oyster shells back in the water to restore oyster habitat.
  • Help protect coastal water quality by not overusing fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
  • Plant and maintain natural vegetation along shoreline property to trap sediment and other pollutants carried in stormwater runoff.
  • If shoreline stabilization is necessary, try a marsh sill rather than a bulkhead. It will help juvenile fish survive to grow up and breed.
  • Take your boat out of the water before cleaning. Many cleaning chemicals and bottom paints contain chemicals toxic to fish.

Part 1: Protecting the Resources

Part 2: Catch and Release

Part 3: Circle Hooks