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Federal Recreational Fisheries Regulations for the Northeast Region

Federal regulations are for Federal waters only (Generally 3-200 miles off shore from Maine to Virginia) except for bluefin tuna and shortnose sturgeon which have Federal regulations that apply in both state and Federal waters. Also, party/charter boat vessels holding Federal permits may need to abide by stricter Federal regulations when fishing in state waters. 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. Click here for links to Atlantic coast state marine fisheries agencies.

Species
Open Season
Minimum Size
Possession limit
Closed Area
Comments
Atlantic cod in Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area Apr 15 - Aug 31 21 in 9 fish See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)

Coordinates for the Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area can be found here.
Atlantic cod outside Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area All year 22 in Private Anglers - 10 fish per day.
Party/Charter Anglers - unlimited.
N/A Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)

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
No retention
No retention
No retention
N/A
N/A
No retention
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 web page 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 Bulletin).  
 

May 19 - Sept 21 12.5 in 15 fish
Oct 18 - 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)
Golden tilefish All year No limit 8 per angler N/A In effect from the VA/NC border north
Haddock outside Gulf of Maine Regulated Mesh Area All year 18 in No limit N/A 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 - Aug 31, Nov 1 - Feb 28 21 in 3 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) All year 17 in (See Note 5) No limit N/A Whole fish or tails may be landed (See Note 5)
Ocean pout No retention No retention Closed 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 web page for additional information.
Pollock All year 19 in No limit See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)
Red Drum No retention No retention Closed N/A N/A
Redfish (ocean perch) All year 9 in No limit See Note 7 Filleting at sea allowed (See Note 1)
Scup All year 9 in 30 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 Bulletin). 
See Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) web page
Skate, barndoor No retention No retention Closed 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 No retention No retention Closed N/A N/A
Skate, thorny No retention No retention Closed N/A Species of Concern (See note 6)
Skate, winter 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.
Spiny dogfish All year No limit No limit N/A Charter/partyboats with a Federal commercial permit retaining fish for sale must fish under commercial day at sea rules. A 3,000 lb limit is in effect during commercial season. No fish can be retained for sale or bait during closed commercial season.
Squid (longfin and shortfin) All year No limit No limit N/A N/A
Summer flounder (fluke) See Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) web page N/A States or groups of states implement individual measures through ASMFC. Vessels with a Federal permit are subject to the measures set by the states (See Bulletin). 
Striped bass No retention No retention Closed N/A Exception:  Block Island, RI - only for transit through this area.
Sturgeon, Atlantic and shortnose No retention No retention Closed N/A

Click on Species Description for Outreach Materials.

(See Sturgeon Sticker)

Tautog All year No limit No limit N/A N/A
Weakfish All year 14 in No limit N/A N/A
Windowpane flounder No retention No retention Closed See Note 7 N/A
Winter flounder 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) No retention No retention Closed N/A 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. Please click here, for the Charter/Party and Recreational Fishing Information Sheet.

2) Black sea bass are measured from the tip of the snout or jaw (mouth closed) to the farthest extremity of the tail, not including the tail filament

3) For a guide to measure a lobster, coming soon.

4) Lobster size limits vary by area. For more information, please click here.

5) 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. More info can be found by clicking the species name here.

7) In the Gulf of Maine (GOM) Cod Spawning Protection Area (Whaleback Area), all recreational vessels may only use pelagic hook-and-line gear and may not retain regulated Northeast mulstispecies from April 1 through June 30.  For more information see page 4 of the Northeast multispecies information sheet for charter/party and recreational fishing.

8) 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.