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
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|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|
UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS
|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)||None||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.|
|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)||SEASON CLOSED||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS|
|Bay Scallop||SEASON CLOSED||UNLAWFUL TO POSSESS|
|Conchs and Whelks||None||10/Day not to exceed 20/Vessel/Day|
|Mussels||None||100/Day not to exceed 200/Vessel/Day|
|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. 252-726-7021 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.
THIS DOCUMENT IS EFFECTIVE May 8, 2023 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.
View updated Recreational Commercial Gear License Information
Symbols to Look For
Albemarle Sound Management Area: see the most recent DMF proclamation for season open and close dates. During open season;1 per person per day and a harvest slot limit of 18 inches to less than 25 inches TL;
Atlantic Ocean year-round: 1 per person per day and a harvest slot limit of 28 inches to less than 35 inches TL. Unlawful to gig, spear, or gaff striped bass.
Central Southern Management Area: Unlawful to possess striped bass (including hybrid bass).
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.
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): https://hmspermits.noaa.gov/ 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 www.ncmarinefisheries.net. 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, flounder, red drum and weakfish taken in inland waters are the same as the recreational limits for those species in adjacent joint and coastal waters.