Recreational Saltwater Fishing in the Greater Atlantic Region
Here's what you need to know about recreational saltwater fishing before you go out in federal waters from Maine to North Carolina.
What We Do
We manage all fisheries in waters from 3 to 200 nautical miles from shore, including recreational saltwater fisheries. To do so, we work with two Regional Fishery Management Councils, 12 states, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and saltwater anglers to develop and implement consistent or complimentary regulations in both state and federal waters.
We are also responsible for managing forage species such as Atlantic herring, Atlantic mackerel, squid, and butterfish, which are important food sources for fish such as striped bass, tuna and sharks.
Importantly, we promote sustainable recreational fisheries by promoting ethical angling, monitoring catch, and implementing conservation regulations from Maine to North Carolina.
What Fish Can I Catch?
When fishing in our regional federal waters, you can catch and keep a variety of saltwater fish species:
- American lobster
- American plaice (dab)
- Atlantic cod
- Atlantic herring
- Atlantic mackerel
- Atlantic surf clam
- Bigeye, albacore, yellowfin, skipjack, and bluefin tuna
- Black drum
- Black sea bass
- Blueline and golden tilefish
- Clearnose, little, rosette, and winter skate
- Longfin and shortfin squid
- Mola mola (ocean sunfish)
- Ocean quahog
- Redfish (ocean perch)
- Scup (porgy)
- Spiny dogfish and other sharks
- Summer flounder (fluke)
- Tautog (blackfish)
- Winter, witch, and yellowtail flounder
Recreational fishing for several species is prohibited in federal waters, including striped bass, shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, wolffish, windowpane flounder, several skate species (barndoor, smooth, thorny), ocean pout, Atlantic salmon, scallops, and red drum.
Be sure to check our regulations for each species before you go fishing, as the size and number you can keep differ for each species and time of year.
Individual state regulations may differ from ours and often apply to any fish landed regardless of if it was caught in state or federal waters.
Recreational Anglers: Ensuring the Health of Cod and Haddock
Cod's importance to New England, and by extension American history, is undeniable. Cod has defined New England for centuries and fishermen have always been important partners in protecting this historic fish. Check out the video below for tips and techniques for avoiding cod and catching haddock to help ensure the sustainability of the Nations’ fishery resources.
Saltwater Fishing Permits
Anglers aged 16 or older need a permit to fish in federal waters. All of the states in the Greater Atlantic Region also have saltwater fishing license and/or registration requirements. You should obtain your license from the state you fish from that will meet both of these requirements. If you fish from multiple states, you may need a permit from each.
Recreational and for-hire fishing for tunas, sharks, swordfish, and billfish must be done from a vessel that has a federal Highly Migratory Species permit.
Owners and operators of for-hire vessels, as well as recreational tilefish vessels, that fish in federal waters must get permits from GARFO. In some states, owners and operators of charter boats, head boats, and guide boats must register their vessels with NOAA.
If you are still not sure whether you need to register with NOAA to go fishing, visit this website.
Saltwater Fishing Regulations
- Recreational Saltwater Fishing Regulations
- Try the FishRules app on your smart device. FishRules provides updated saltwater fishing regulations for federal and state waters from Maine to Texas.
National Recreational Fisheries Policy Guides
NOAA Marine Services
- Marine Weather Forecasts
- Nautical Charts
- Sea Conditions (National Data Buoy Center)
- Take Me Fishing
- Charts and Data
NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP)
Through our Marine Recreational Information Program, we develop, improve, and implement surveys that measure how many trips saltwater anglers take and how many fish they catch. This vital information—combined with other data such as commercial fishing catch and biological research—enables scientists and managers to assess and maintain sustainable U.S. fish stocks.
Best Practices and Ethical Angling
By using a few simple techniques, recreational fishermen can greatly increase the chances that the fish they catch and release will survive. There are many great tips in the links below:
Catch and Release Fishing
Depending on the depth at which the fish was caught, a fish’s air bladder may swell so much its stomach is forced out its mouth. The eyes may bulge and other organs can be injured as well. Fish suffering from pressure-related injuries are said to be experiencing barotrauma (pressure shock).
Without intervention, a fish with barotrauma may die from the progression of its wounds or succumb to temperature shock or predators. “Floaters” – overly inflated fish that cannot re-descend on their own – are especially easy targets for sea birds and seals.
There are a number of tools and techniques to reduce barotrauma in released fish. Tools like inverted hooks or pressure-released clamps enable you to return fish to the appropriate depth. Check out this video for more information on reducing barotrauma and increasing survival.
Saltwater Fishing Permit Requirements for the Charter and Party Fleet
If you are a for-hire captain fishing in federal waters (3–200 nautical miles offshore) for one of the saltwater species listed below, you must have a valid Greater Atlantic Region Vessel Charter/Party Permit.
- Summer Flounder, Black Sea Bass, Scup
- Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, Butterfish
- Golden/Blueline Tilefish (North of the North Carolina/Virginia border)
- Chub Mackerel (North of the South Carolina/North Carolina border as of January 2020)
- New England Groundfish (includes cod, haddock, pollock, hakes, and flounders)
Vessel operators are also required to have a Federal Vessel Operator Permit.
If you have a Northeast Multispecies Limited Access Permit, you do not need the Northeast Multispecies Charter/Party Permit to carry passengers for hire on groundfish trips.
All permits are free and will be issued within 30 days of receipt of your complete application.
For-hire fishing for tunas, sharks, swordfish, and billfish must be done from a vessel that has a federal Highly Migratory Species permit.
Reporting Requirements for the Charter and Party Fleet
As of March 12, 2018, vessels issued a charter/party permit for a Mid-Atlantic managed fishery (summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, mackerel, squid, butterfish, spiny dogfish, bluefish, and tilefish) are required to submit electronic vessel trip reports within 48 hours for all trips carrying passengers for hire. All other current reporting requirements remain in effect.
If you need assistance with reporting your catch, contact our Vessel Reporting Helpdesk at (978) 281-9188, or your local Greater Atlantic Region Port Agent.
Fishing Tips to Protect Sea Turtles and Marine Mammals
Find out how you can prevent unintentional capture or injury of sea turtles and marine mammals while saltwater fishing.
We encourage recreational saltwater fishermen to share their experiences to help us develop and implement successful programs and measures. For more information, contact Moira Kelly, Greater Atlantic regional coordinator for recreational fisheries, at (978) 281-9218. You may also contact your local port agent for up-to-date rules and to discuss our programs.
Email List/Text Alerts
Sign up for email updates. First, enter your email address. On the next page, you will be able to choose from several subscription topics. Scroll down to New England/Mid-Atlantic Updates and choose the fisheries or topics you would like to receive email about.
To sign up for text alerts, choose "SMS/Text Message" in the subscription type box, enter your phone number on the next page, and then choose "regional updates" under subscription topics. Scroll down and choose the topics that interest you.