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Federal Recreational Fisheries Regulations for the Greater Atlantic Region

Updated May 1, 2018

Federal regulations are for federal waters only (generally 3-200 miles off shore from Maine to North Carolina). Regulations for highly migratory species (tuna, swordfish, sharks) vary. See our Highly Migratory Species page for more information. Federally permitted party/charter vessels are required to follow the more restrictive of the federal or state measures, even if fishing in federal waters.

See the federal New England recreational compliance guide and Mid-Atlantic recreational compliance guide for more information.

Recreational anglers or divers, once entering with and/or landing their catch in state waters, must also abide by state regulations. State regulations can be obtained through individual state marine fisheries agencies.

Regulatory information is also available via the FishRules app for your mobile device. Other useful mobile applications include the U.S. Coast Guard mobile app and the National Data Buoy Center Mobile page. The National Ocean Service has a list of many mobile web pages and apps that may also be helpful to recreational anglers.

Below are the regulations currently in effect. New regulations are published in the Federal Register, and will be updated here after publication.

Regional Fishery Management Councils make recommendations for changes to regulations, which can take 4 to 6 months to be implemented. Find out more about how to get involved in the regulatory process.

We try to update regulations before the start of the fishing season for each fishery. However, regulations may change at any point during the year. If you are a permit holder, you will receive notifications by mail. You can also sign up to get email notifications.

Please call the Sustainable Fisheries Division at 978-281-9315 if you have questions.

Species
Open Season
Minimum Size
Possession limit
Closed Area
Comments
Atlantic cod in Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area Closed
No retention
No retention
See Information Sheet Filleting at sea allowed (See Information Sheet)

Coordinates for the Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area can be found here.
Atlantic cod outside Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area All year 23 in Private Anglers - 10 fish per day.
Party/Charter Anglers - 10 fish per day
N/A Filleting at sea allowed (See Information Sheet)

Coordinates for the Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area can be found here.
American lobster All year Legal size vary by area (See Note 4) 6 per person on board the vessel N/A Allowed by diving. Fishing with pots for lobsters requires a commercial permit. Size is measured by carapace length. No possession of V-notched or egg-bearing lobsters allowed. (See Note 3)
American plaice (dab) All year 14 in No limit See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)
Atlantic herring All year No limit No limit N/A To harvest Atlantic herring as bait with gear other than hook and line, Federal commercial permit needed
Atlantic mackerel
All year
No limit
No limit
N/A
Recreational allocation set in management plan
Closed
No retention
No retention
N/A
N/A
Closed
No retention
No retention
N/A
N/A
Atlantic surfclam All year None 2 bushels See comments Check state regulations. There are a number of areas closed to the harvesting of surfclams/ocean quahogs. Please refer to the surfclam webpage for additional information.
Atlantic tunas, sailfish and sharks (excluding spiny dogfish) Consult NOAA Highly Migratory Species Division Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Regulations apply in Federal and state waters.
Black sea bass       N/A

(See Note 2)

Federal coast-wide regulations are put in place each year for black sea bass. States or groups of states implement individual measures through ASMFC. Vessels with a Federal permit are subject to the more restrictive measures (See Guide). 

May 15 - Sept 21 12.5 in 15 fish
Oct 22 - Dec 31 12.5 in 15 fish
See Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) web page
Black drum All year No limit No limit N/A Check state regulations
Bluefish All year No limit 15 fish N/A N/A
Butterfish All year No limit No limit N/A N/A
All year
No limit
No limit
N/A
Species of Concern (See note 6)
Haddock outside Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area All year 18 in No limit See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)

Coordinates for the Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area can be found here.
Haddock in Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area May 1 – September 16, November 1 – February 28, and April 15 – April 30 17 in 12 fish per day See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)

Coordinates for the Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area can be found here.
Hake-offshore, red, white and silver (whiting) All year No limit no limit See Note 7 N/A
Halibut All year 41 in 1 fish/vessel/trip See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)
Species of Concern (See note 6)
Mola Mola (ocean sunfish) All year No limit No limit N/A N/A
Monkfish (goosefish, anglerfish) All year 17 in (See Note 5) No limit N/A Whole fish or tails may be landed (See Note 5)

Ocean pout (eelpout)

Closed No retention No retention See Note 7 N/A
Ocean Quahogs All year None 2 bushels See comments Check state regulations There are a number of areas closed to the harvesting of surfclams/ocean quahogs. Please refer to our ocean quahog webpage for additional information.
Pollock All year 19 in No limit See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)
Red Drum Closed No retention No retention N/A N/A
Redfish (ocean perch) All year 9 in No limit See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)

Scup (porgy)

All year 9 in 50 fish per person per trip N/A Federal coast-wide regulations are put in place each year for scup. States or groups of states implement individual measures through ASMFC. Vessels with a Federal permit are subject to the more restrictive measures (See Guide). 
See Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) web page
Skate, barndoor Closed No retention No retention N/A N/A
Skate, clearnose All year No limit No limit N/A Charter/partyboats with a commercial permit, retaining fish for sale or bait, have a 1,135 lb whole weight or 500 lb wing limit for clearnose, little, rosette and winter skates.
Skate, little All year No limit No limit N/A Charter/partyboats with a commercial permit, retaining fish for sale or bait, have a 1,135 lb whole weight or 500 lb wing limit for clearnose, little, rosette and winter skates.
Skate, rosette All year No limit No limit N/A Charter/partyboats with a commercial permit, retaining fish for sale or bait, have a 1,135 lb whole weight or 500 lb wing limit for clearnose, little, rosette and winter skates.
Skate, smooth Closed No retention No retention N/A N/A
Skate, thorny Closed No retention No retention N/A Species of Concern (See note 6)
Skate, winter All year No limit No limit N/A Charter/party boats with a commercial permit, retaining fish for sale or bait, have a 1,135 lb whole weight or 500 lb wing limit for clearnose, little, rosette and winter skates.
Spiny dogfish All year No limit No limit N/A Charter/party vessels landing dogfish must abide by the Federal commercial regulations (possession limits, quotas, closures, etc.).
Squid (Loligo or longfin, and Illex or shortfin) All year No limit No limit N/A N/A
Summer flounder (fluke) June 1 – September 15 19 in 4 per angler N/A These Federal coastwide measures are waived via conservation equivalency, which allows states to implement their own measures through the ASMFC.  See your state regulations (See Guide).
See Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) web page

Striped bass (striper)

Closed No retention No retention N/A Exception:  Block Island, RI - only for transit through this area.
Sturgeon, Atlantic and shortnose Closed No retention No retention N/A

Click on Species Description for Outreach Materials.

(See Sturgeon Sticker)

Tautog (blackfish)

All year No limit No limit N/A N/A
Tilefish, Blueline May 1 - October 31 No limit 3 fish per angler on private vessels N/A In effect from the VA/NC border north
5 fish per angler on uninspected for-hire vessels
7 fish per angler on USCG inspected for-hire vessels
Tliefish, Golden All year No limit 8 per angler N/A In effect from the VA/NC border north
Weakfish All year 12 in No limit N/A N/A
Windowpane flounder Closed No retention No retention See Note 7 N/A

Winter flounder (blackback, lemon sole)

All year 12 in No limit See Note 7

Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)

See Charter/Party and Recreational Fishing Information Sheet, page 5, for more information.

Witch flounder (gray sole) All year 14 in No limit See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)
Wolffish (ocean catchfish) Closed No retention No retention See Note 7 Species of Concern (See note 6)
Yellowtail flounder All year 13 in No limit See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)

Notes:

1) Multispecies fillets must have some skin left on, and be consistent in size as that taken from legal size fish. See the Charter/Party and Recreational Fishing Information Sheet.

2) How to measure finfish:  The minimum size for fish (exceptions listed below) is the greatest straight line length (not curved over the body) from the anterior tip of the jaw or snout (mouth closed) to the farthest extremity of the tail. Fish should be firmly grasped with both hands for proper measuring. Care should be taken so that the head firmly contacts the zero mark on rulers and tapes simultaneously with the tail extremity. For fish with forked tails, the upper and lower fork may be squeezed together to measure the tail extremity.

Black sea bass if the tail filament (tendril) is present, it is not included in the total length measurement.

Billfish (swordfish, sailfish, marlin) are measured from the tip of the lower jaw to the tail fork.

Sharks are measured from the tip of the snout to the fork of the tail. Tunas measurement is taken in a line, tracing the contour of the body from the tip of the upper jaw to the fork of the tail, which crosses the dorsal insertion of the pectoral fin and the dorsal side of the caudal keel.

3) Instructions on how to measure a lobster can be found in our Lobster Information Sheet.

4) Lobster size limits vary by area. Check our Lobster Information Sheet for more information.

5) Monkfish - The 17inch minimum fish size applies to the whole fish (total length) and, if tails only are landed, they must be at least 11 inches in length (tail length) at the time of landing. Fish or parts of fish, with the exception of cheeks and livers, must have skin on while possessed on board a vessel and at the time of landing in order to meet minimum size requirements. "Skin on" means the entire portion of the skin normally attached to the portion of the fish or fish parts possessed. Monkfish tails are measured from the anterior portion of the fourth cephalic dorsal spine to the end of the caudal fin. Any tissue anterior to the fourth dorsal spine is ignored. If the fourth dorsal spine or the tail is not intact, the minimum size is measured between the most anterior vertebra and the most posterior portion of the tail.

6) Species of concern: Those species about which NMFS has some concerns regarding status and threats, but for which insufficient information is available to indicate a need to list the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We wish to draw proactive attention and conservation action to these species. "Species of Concern" status does not carry any procedural or substantive protections under the ESA. 

7) Recreational vessels remain subject to the Whaleback Cod Spawning Protection Area.  For more information see the Northeast multispecies information sheet for charter/party and recreational fishing.