Guidelines for Protected Species Interactions

There are three prevalent species of sea turtles (loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, and green) in North Carolina waters with two species (leatherback and hawksbill) occurring less frequently. Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon are both found in North Carolina with Atlantic being more common. There are 36 species of marine mammals that can inhabit North Carolina waters including bottlenose dolphins, dwarf and pygmy sperm whales, North Atlantic right whales, harbor porpoises, seals, manatees, and many other species. It is important to understand the characteristics of these protected species to avoid them while fishing and boating.

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Bycatch prevention

Avoid fishing and boating activity in areas where you observe sea turtles. When motoring be aware of your environment and avoid collisions with sea turtles.

Recreational: Check your bait after feeling a bite and watch that your gear does not come close to nearby turtles. Use barbless circle hooks whenever possible, particularly when fishing natural bait. Circle hooks minimize the potential for deep hooking and depressing the barb makes it easier to remove the hook from the turtle’s mouth.

Commercial: Avoid setting nets in areas where sea turtles are known to be abundant. Always follow gear restrictions and soak times. Avoid setting nets close to inlets, sloughs and channels. Consider the removal of gear when the forecast calls for a drastic change in weather such as a sudden drop in barometric pressure, temperature or wind direction.

What to do if you catch one

Recreational: Remove the hook with a de-hooking device while the turtle remains in the water with the motor out of gear. If the hook is swallowed or it is not safe to remove it, cut the line as close to the mouth as possible without causing injury to yourself or the animal. Do not attempt to bring the turtle onto the vessel. Be cautious when removing the hook and cutting line as turtles may become agitated. If you come across a stranded or injured turtle please contact the Sea Turtle Stranding Network at 252-241-7367 or N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries at 252-515-5500.

Commercial: Remove the turtle from the fishing gear, taking care to avoid further injury to the turtle.

For more information on proper sea turtle handling techniques please see the instructions for resuscitating an inactive or comatose turtle, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service’s, Southeast Fisheries Service Center.

Bycatch prevention

Check your bait after feeling a bite. Using barbless, circle hooks will help prevent injury to the animal making it easier to get the hook out and prevent deep hooking. Because sturgeons are bottom feeders, it is especially important, when bottom fishing, to be aware of what to do if you catch a sturgeon.

What to do if you catch one

If possible, remove the hook while the sturgeon remains in the water with the motor out of gear. If the hook is swallowed or it is not safe to remove it, cut the line as close to the mouth as possible without causing injury to yourself or the animal.


There are guidelines for marine mammals that must be taken into consideration when fishing and boating. When approaching marine mammals it is important to stay clear as damage to the animals from a boat strike can be detrimental or lethal. Federal law prohibits all approaches to right whales within 500 yards. If approaching dolphins, porpoises, or seals, 50 yards is the minimum distance. Marine mammals should not be trapped between watercraft, or between watercraft and the shore. There are many ways to protect marine mammals while protecting other aquatic animals and the environment. Dispose of trash properly and recycle your old fishing line. When fishing, do not chum when marine mammals are near, leave fishing gear unattended or throw fish overboard when mammals are near. It is illegal to feed or attempt to feed marine mammals. It is always important to keep your distance when you spot a protected species such as a marine mammal or sea turtle.

What to do if you encounter a stranded marine mammal

Report stranded marine mammals to the stranding coordinator in central North Carolina at 252-241-5119, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries at 252-515-5500, or to the U.S. Coast Guard Channel 16.