2005 North Carolina Recreational Coastal
Waters Guide for Sports Fishermen


State Coastal Waters
(Internal & 0-3 Miles)

Exclusive Economic Zone EEZ
(3-200 miles)

Finfish Species
(note symbols)

Minimum Length

Bag Limits
(Per Person)

Minimum Length

Bag Limits
(Per Person)
Greater Amberjack 28" FL 1/Day 28" FL 1/Day
Bluefish   15/Day
Only 5 greater than 24" TL
Cobia 33" FL 2/Day 33" FL 2/Day
Wahoo   (P)   2/Day
Dolphin (B)   10/Day   10/Day
King Mackerel(J)
Species Identification
24" FL 3/Day 24" FL 3/Day
Spanish Mackerel(J)
Species Identification
12" FL 15/Day 12" FL 15/Day
Tuna;Yellowfin, Bluefin, Bigeye (J) (H)     27" CFL Contact NMFS for closures & limits(J), Yellowfin Tuna limit 3/Day
(excluding spiny and smooth dogfish)
54-84" FL (L) 1/Vessel/Day (private boat)
1/Day (shore,charter, headboat) (L)
(F) 54" FL 1/Vessel/Day
Sharks, Atlantic Sharpnose(J) (L) Included in Limit Above (F) 1/Day
Blue Marlin( H) 99" LJFL 1/vessel/trip either Blue or White Marlin 99" LJFL 1/vessel/trip either Blue or White Marlin
White Marlin (H) 66" LJFL 1/vessel/trip either Blue or White Marlin 66" LJFL 1/vessel/trip either Blue or White Marlin
Sailfish (H) 63" LJFL 1/Day 63" LJFL 1/Day
Red Drum
(Channel Bass, Puppy Drum)
18-27" TL (D) 1/Day Unlawful to Possess
Flounder(G) 14 TL 8/Day 14 TL 8/Day
Spotted Seatrout (Speckled) 12" TL 10/Day 12" TL 10/Day
Weakfish (Gray Trout) 12" TL 7/Day 12" TL 7/Day
Tarpon   1/Day   1/Day
Striped Bass (A) (A) Unlawful To Possess
American & Hickory Shad (M)   10/Day   10/Day
Alewife and Blueback Herring (M)   25/Day   25/Day
American Eel 6" TL 50/Day 6" TL 50/Day
(North of Cape Hatteras)
8" TL 50/Day 10" TL 50/Day (E)
Black Sea Bass
(North of Cape Hatteras) (C)
12" TL  25/Day  12" TL  25/Day
Black Sea Bass
(South of Cape Hatteras)
10" TL 20/Day 10" TL 20/Day
Red, Scamp, Yellowfin & Yellowmouth Groupers (K) 20" TL 5/Day (all groupers combined; includes only 1 speckled hind, 1 warsaw, and no more than 2 black or gag grouper, individual or combined) 20" TL 5/Day (all groupers combined; includes only 1 speckled hind, 1 warsaw, and no more than 2 black or gag grouper, individual or combined)
Black and Gag Groupers 24" TL 2/Day (See above) 24" TL 2/Day (See above)
Speckled Hind (Kitty Mitchell)   1/Vessel/Trip (See above)   1/Vessel/Trip (See above)
Warsaw Grouper   1/Vessel/Trip (See above)   1/Vessel/Trip (See above)
Red Porgy (Silver Snapper, Pinky) 14" TL 1/Day 14" TL 1/Day
Dog, Gray, Cubera, Mahogany, Queen, Schoolmaster, & Yellowtail Snappers   10/Day (Species combined; includes up to 2 Red Snapper) 12" TL 10/Day (Species combined; includes up to 2 Red Snapper)
Mutton Snapper   See Above 16" TL See Above
Silk and Blackfin Snappers 12" TL See Above 12" TL See Above
Red Snapper 20" TL 2/Day - See Above 20" TL 2/Day - See Above
Vermillion Snapper 11" TL 10/Day 11" TL 10/Day
Reef Complex Species Includessheepshead, spadefish, gray triggerfish, white grunt, knobbed porgy and more (see below) (I)   20/Day   20/Day

Prohibited Finfish Species
Coastal Waters
(Internal waters and Atlantic Ocean out to 3 miles
(Atlantic Ocean more than 3 miles)
Sturgeon, Nassau grouper, and Goliath grouper (jewfish). Prohibited sharks include: basking, white, sand tiger, and whale. Sharks; (whale, basking, white, sand tiger, bigeye sand tiger, Atlantic angel shark, bigeye sixgill, bigeye thresher, bignose, Caribbean reef, Caribbean sharpnose, dusky, Galapogos, longfin mako, narrowtooth, night, sevengill, sixgill, and smalltail), red drum, striped bass, sturgeon, Nassau grouper, Goliath grouper (jewfish), and spearfish.

State Coastal and EEZ Waters
Internal and 0-200 miles
(note symbols)
Minimum Length Bag Limits
(Per Person)
Blue Crab 5" Carapace Width 50 crabs/day not to exceed 100 crabs/vessel/day
Hard Clam 1" Thick 100 clams/day not to exceed 200 clams/vessel/day
Oyster (N) 3" Shell Length 1 bushel/day not to exceed 2 bushels/vessel/day
Bay Scallops (N)(Q)   1/2 bushel/day not to exceed 1 bushel/vessel/day
Conchs & Whelks   10/day not to exceed 20/vessel/day
Mussels   100/day not to exceed 200/vessel/day
Cast Net Only
  Closed Shrimping Area - 100 shrimp/day
Open Shrimping Area - Unlimited

Catch and size limits change each season, visit NC Recreational Size and Catch Limits

Explanation of Symbols
(A) Albemarle Sound Management Area: contact DMF for seasons, areas or other limits; Atlantic Ocean year-round: 2 per person per day at 28" TL minimum; Other coastal areas (excluding Inland Waters-regulations set by Wildlife Resource Commission) year-round: 3 per person per day at 18" TL minimum.
(B) Charter vessel (licensed by Coast Guard and holding NMFS Charter Vessel Coastal Migratory Pelagic Permit) limit of 60/trip
(C) Open season January 1 - September 7 and September 22 - November 30.
(D) Unlawful to possess red drum greater than 27 inches total length. Unlawful to gig, spear, or gaff red drum.
(E) North of Cape Hatteras Scup recreational season is Jan. 1 - Feb. 29 and August 15 - Nov. 30 in the EEZ.
(F) See prohibited species list above; Legal sharks include: sandbar, silky, tiger, blacktip, spinner, lemon, bull, nurse, smooth and scalloped and great hammerhead, blacknose, finetooth, bonnethead, shortfin mako, blue, thresher, porbeagle, and oceanic whitetip. One (1) Atlantic sharpnose (no minimum size) and one bonnethead (no minimum size) per person per trip may be landed in addition to allowable bag limits for other sharks.
(G) Restrictions apply to gigging in all coastal waters.
(H) In state or federal waters, federal permit required for Highly Migratory Species, excluding Atlantic bonito, little tunny (albacore), and blackfin tuna:(978) 281-9370 or www.nmfspermits.com. Prior to removal from vessel, all billfishes, swordfish and bluefin tuna must be reported at NC HMS reporting stations. DMF website for more details.
(I) Reef complex species: whitebone porgy, jolthead porgy, knobbed porgy, longspine porgy, sheepshead, gray triggerfish, queen triggerfish, yellow jack, crevalle jacks, bar jack, almaco jack, lesser amberjack, banded rudderfish, white grunt, margates, spadefish,scup, and hogfish, 20 per person per day in combination.
(J) For seasons or closures for tunas, billfishes, and sharks contact NMFS Highly Migratory Species Division (1-301-713-2347 or www.nmfspermits.com or www.nmfs.noaa.gov). For snapper, grouper, and mackerels contact the South Atlantic Council (1-843-571-4366 or www.safmc.net).
(K) Groupers in the management unit include: red, yellowfin, yellowmouth, black, warsaw, snowy, yellowedge, and misty grouper; gag, scamp, speckled hind, red hind, rock hind, graysby, and coney. No possession of Nassau and Goliath grouper.
(L) Minimium size does not apply to Atlantic sharpnose or dogfish. Creel does not apply to dogfish. Sharks greater than 84 inches are prohibited except for tiger, thresher, bigeye thresher, shortfin mako, and hammerhead sp. Headboat or charterboat Captain or crew are not allowed a creel limit.
(M) Season, areas, or other limits may be set by DMF. Shad (hickory and American) may only be taken with recreational commercial gear such as drift gill nets from January 1 through April 14 or by hook and line year round.
(N) Contact DMF for seasons, areas, or other restrictions.
(P) Pending rule change
(Q) During the open season, scallop harvest restricted to certain hours of the day, contact DMF for all restrictions.
Total length (TL) is measured from tip of snout with mouth closed to tip 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.

Bag limits are not additive for state and federal waters.

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 alewife and blueback herring 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 (North Carolina only). For inland water limits contact Wildlife Resources Commission 919-733-3633 or visit their website www.ncwildlife.org .

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.

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