Recreational Size and Bag Limits

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

For inland fishing regulations, visit the Wildlife Resources Commission website or call 919-707-0220.

Printable Recreational Size and Bag Limits

Download the FishRules mobile app!

How to Measure Fish

Recreational Size and Bag Limits
Finfish Species NC Coastal Waters Federal Management Info
Minimum Length Bag Limits (per person)
Bluefish (M) None 3/Day Federal Bluefish Management
Cobia See the most recent Cobia DMF proclamation Federal Cobia Management
Wahoo None 2/Day Federal Wahoo Management
Dolphin (B) None 10/Day Federal Dolphin Management
King Mackerel (H) 24" FL 3/Day Federal King Mackerel Management
Spanish Mackerel (H) 12" FL 15/Day Federal Spanish Mackerel Management
Tuna: Bluefin, Bigeye and Yellowfin (G) Bigeye and Yellowfin Tuna - 27"  Curved FL Yellowfin Tuna - 3/Day Federal HMS Management
Spiny Dogfish None None Federal Spiny Dogfish Management
Sharks (G) See most recent DMF proclamations Federal HMS Management
Blue Marlin (G) 99" LJFL 1 per vessel per trip, either blue or white marlin
White Marlin (G) 66" LJFL
Sailfish (G) 63" LJFL 1/Day
Red Drum (Channel Bass, Puppy Drum) (C) ▲▲ 18-27" TL 1/Day Federal Red Drum Management
Flounder ▲▲ CLOSED
Spotted Seatrout (Speckled Trout) 14" TL 4/Day No Federal Regulations
Weakfish (Gray Trout) 12" TL 1/Day Federal Weakfish Management
Sheepshead 10" FL 10/Day No Federal Regulations
Black Drum (C) ▲▲ 14-25" TL 10/Day No Federal Regulations
Tarpon UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS No Federal Regulations
Striped Bass (A) (A) Federal Striped Bass Management
American Shad (D) None (D) No Federal Regulations
Hickory Shad (D) None (D) No Federal Regulations
Alewife and Blueback Herring UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS No Federal Regulations
American Eel (E) 9" TL 25/Day No Federal Regulations
Scup (North of Cape Hatteras only) 9" TL 40/Day Federal Scup Management
Black Sea Bass (North of Cape Hatteras)  13" TL 15/Day Season open May 15-Sept. 30 & Oct. 10-Dec. 31  
Federal Black Sea Bass Management
Black Sea Bass (South of Cape Hatteras) 13" TL 7/Day Federal Black Sea Bass Management
Snappers, Groupers, Porgys, Triggerfish, Jacks, Tilefish, Grunts, Spadefishes, Wrasses and Sea Basses (H) See the most recent Snapper/Grouper Complex recreational DMF proclamation Federal Snapper/Grouper Complex Management
Mullet (striped and white) ▲▲ 200/Day (combined) No Federal Regulations
Spot None 50/Day Federal Spot Management
Croaker None 50/Day Federal Croaker Management
Prohibited Finfish Species
COASTAL WATERS (Internal waters and Atlantic Ocean out to 3 miles)
Sharks: whale, basking, white, sand tiger, bigeye sand tiger, Atlantic angel shark, bigeye sixgill, bigeye thresher, bignose, Caribbean reef, Caribbean sharpnose, dusky, Galapagos, longfin mako, shortfin mako, narrowtooth, night, sandbar, silky, sevengill, sixgill, and smalltail. Other finfish: river herring, Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, Nassau grouper, Goliath grouper, Warsaw grouper, speckled hind and red snapper.
and Crustaceans
  STATE COASTAL AND EEZ WATERS (Internal and 0-200 miles)
Minimum Size Bag Limits (per person)
Blue Crab (F) 5" Carapace Width 50 Crabs/Day not to exceed 100 Crabs per Vessel per Day UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS from Jan 1-31 North of Highway 58 bridge
UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS from Mar 1-15 South of the Highway 58 bridge
Stone Crab Claws (J) 2.75" Propodus Length  UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS from June 15 – August 15 (no possession limit during open season)
Spiny Lobster (K) 3" Carapace Length (L) 2/Trip
Hard Clam (I) 1" Thick 100 Clams/Day not to exceed 200 Clams/Vessel/Day
Oyster (I) 3” Shell Length 1 Bushel Oysters/Day not to exceed 2 Bushels Oysters/Vessel/Day
Conchs and Whelks None 10/Day not to exceed 20/Vessel/Day
Mussels None 100/Day not to exceed 200/Vessel/Day
Shrimp (N) Closed   
None 48 quarts (heads on) or 30 quarts (heads off) of shrimp per person per day or if a vessel is used, per vessel per day (Cast Net Only)
None 48 quarts (heads on) or 30 quarts (heads off) of shrimp per person per day or if a vessel is used, per vessel per day (Cast Net Only). Recreational Commercial Gear License (RCGL) holders are allowed up to 96 quarts (heads on) or 60 quarts (heads off) of shrimp if more than one person aboard a vessel possesses a valid RCGL.

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. (Diagram)

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 mullet when used for bait and hickory shad when 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. 252-515-5500 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.


View updated Recreational Commercial Gear License Information


Symbols to Look For


Albemarle Sound Management Area: SEASON CURRENTLY CLOSED; Central Southern Management Area: Unlawful to possess striped bass (including hybrid bass).  Atlantic Ocean year-round: 1 per person per day and a harvest slot limit of 28 inches to 31 inches TL.  Unlawful to gig, spear, or gaff striped bass, see the most recent DMF proclamation.

See Recreational Striped Bass Fishing Information


Limit of 10 per person per day or 54 per trip, whichever is less. On head boats, limit is 10 per person per day. No sale of recreational bag limit on vessels operating as charter or head boats.


Unlawful to possess red drum greater than 27” TL. Unlawful to gig, spear, or gaff red drum. One black drum per person per day over 25” TL is allowed.

Circle Hook Rig for Red Drum


For aggregate creel limits for American shad and hickory shad, see the most recent DMF proclamation. Unlawful to take or possess American shad from the Atlantic Ocean.


Season open January 1 – August 31, except year-round when taken by baited pots.


It is illegal to possess immature female crabs at any time and it is illegal to possess dark sponge crabs from April 1 – April 30.


In state or federal waters, federal permit required for Highly Migratory Species, tunas, billfishes, swordfish and sharks (excluding Atlantic bonito, little tunny (false 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. See the DMF website for more details. For seasons, bag limits, size limits or closures for tunas, billfishes, and sharks contact NMFS Highly Migratory Species Division 800-894-5528.


For seasons, bag limits and size limits on snapper, grouper, and mackerels contact the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council 843-571-4366, and see the most recent Snapper/Grouper or Mackerel recreational DMF proclamation.


Contact DMF to see the most recent DMF shellfish and polluted area proclamations for seasons, areas, or other restrictions. An interactive map of areas closed to the harvest of shellfish due to water quality monitoring by DMF’s Shellfish Sanitation section can be viewed here.

Oyster season is October 15 – March 31 unless closed earlier by proclamation.


Propodus (forearm) length is measured by a straight line from elbow to the tip of the lower immoveable finger. The propodus (forearm) is defined as the largest section of the claw assembly that has both a moveable and immovable finger and is located farthest from the body of the crab. Unlawful to possess stone crab bodies or fail to immediately return to the waters from which taken. Unlawful to use a device to take stone crabs that can puncture, crush, or injure the crab body, such as gigs, spears, grabs, hooks, or similar devices. Unlawful to remove, take or possess stone crab claws from June 15 through August 15 (no possession limit during open season).


See the most recent DMF proclamation at In accordance with N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Rule 15A NCAC 03L .0302, it is unlawful to possess an egg bearing spiny lobster or a spiny lobster which eggs have been scrubbed or removed. It is unlawful to possess aboard a vessel or land detached spiny lobster tails, or to use a gaff hook, spear, or similar device to take spiny lobsters.


The carapace is measured beginning at the forward edge between the rostral horns and eyes, excluding any soft tissue, and proceeding along the middle to the rear edge of the carapace.


Creel limit for bluefish is set by proclamation. See the most recent DMF proclamation. The recreational creel limit for bluefish is 3 fish per person per day in all private (non for-hire) recreational fisheries. Recreational anglers engaged on a for-hire vessel can possess up to 5 bluefish per person per day.


Areas open to the taking of shrimp are set by proclamation, see the most recent DMF proclamation.

Size and creel limits for spotted seatrout and weakfish taken in inland waters are the same as the recreational limits for those species in adjacent joint and coastal waters.


For size, creel, season, and other requirements for fish taken in inland waters, please see