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Recreational saltwater fishing regulations

The information below describes the current recreational fishing limits for Massachusetts and was last updated on May 10, 2024.

DMF makes every attempt to keep these regulations tables accurate and up to date. This is an “unofficial” copy. The Secretary of State maintains the official copy of the 322 CMR. You can buy an official copy from the state bookstore. For more information on ordering a copy of 322 CMR visit the Secretary of State website.

DMF's annual for-hire and recreational fishing limit posters are now linked below. Please note these posters and this table are up-to-date as of May 1, 2024, however, cod and haddock are expected to change in for this summer. The table and posters will be updated once this occurs:

Recreational finfish regulations

SpeciesSize LimitOpen
Season
Possession Limit
American eel (1)Min: 9"Year Round25 fish
American Shad
(Merrimack and
Connecticut Rivers)
No LimitYear Round3 fish
American Shad
(Other Waters)
N/AYear RoundProhibited.
Catch and release only. 
Black Sea Bass (2)Min: 16.5"May 18 - Sept 34 fish
BluefishNo LimitYear Round3 fish (shore & private)
5 fish (for-hire)
Cod* (3,4)
Gulf of Maine^
Min: 22"Sept 1 - Oct 311 fish
Cod* (3,4)
Southern New England^^
Min: 23"Sept 1 - May 315 fish
Dab (plaice) (3, 4)Min: 14"Year RoundNo Limit
Grey Sole (3,4)Min: 14"Year RoundNo Limit
Haddock* (Private)
Gulf of Maine^ (3,4)
Min: 17"Apr 1 - Feb 2810 fish
Haddock* (For-Hire)
Gulf of Maine^ (3,4)
Min: 18"Apr 1 - Feb 2815 fish
Haddock
Southern New England^^
Min: 18"Year RoundNo Limit
Halibut (3,4)Min: 41"Year Round1 fish
Mackerel (5)No LimitYear Round20 fish
Monkfish (3,4)No LimitYear RoundNo Limit
Ocean Pout (3,4)N/AClosedProhibited
Pollock (3,4)No LimitYear RoundNo Limit
Redfish (3,4)No LimitYear RoundNo Limit
River Herring N/AClosedProhibited
Scup (Private Vessel) (6)Min: 11"May 1 - Dec 3130 fish 
Scup (Shore Based) (6)Min: 9.5"May 1 - Dec 3130 fish
Scup (For Hire) (6)Min: 11"May 1 - Jun 30
Jul 1 - Dec 31
40 fish
30 fish
SmeltNo LimitJan 1 - Mar 14
Jun 16 - Dec 31
50 fish
50 fish
Summer Flounder
(Vessel Based)
Min: 17.5"May 24 - Sep 23
 
5 fish
 
Summer Flounder
(Shore Based)
Min: 16.5"May 24 - Sep 235-fish
Spiny DogfishNo LimitYear RoundNo Limit
Striped Bass (7)28" to less than 31"Year Round1 fish
Tautog (8)Min: 16"

Only one fish may 
exceed 21"
Apr 1 - May 31
Jun 1 - Jul 31
Aug 1 - Oct 14
Oct 15 - Dec 31
3 fish
1 fish
3 fish
5 fish
WeakfishMin: 16"Year Round1 fish
White PerchMin: 8"Year Round25 fish
Windowpane FlounderN/AClosedProhibited
Winter Flounder
Gulf of Maine
Min: 12"Year Round8 fish
Winter Flounder 
Southern New England
Min: 12"Mar 1 - Dec 312 fish
WolffishN/AClosedProhibited
Yellowtail FlounderMin: 13"Year RoundNo Limit


For any dates not listed in the "Season" column, the recreational fishery is closed. During closed seasons, retention, possession, and landing is prohibited and and all catch must be released.

Tunas, billfish, and swordfish are managed by NOAA's Highly Migratory Species Office. Please consult NOAA Fisheries for permitting requirements and regulations. 

* Rules are subject to change for May 2024. For more information on black sea bass, scup, and summer flounder, please see this Advisory

^Gulf of Maine refers to all waters north of Cape Cod, including Cape Cod Bay, and those waters east of Cape Cod that are north of 42°00'N latitude. 

^^Southern New England refers to all waters south and west of Cape Cod, including Nantucket Sound, Vineyard Sound, Buzzards Bay and Mount Hope Bay, and all waters east of Cape Cod that are south of 42°00'N latitude including Nauset Harbor and Pleasant Bay. 

1) Subject to regulation by the Division and the municipality. Please consult municipal regulations.

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.  Black sea bass may be filleted but not skinned while at-sea. No more than two fillets per allowed fish may be possessed.

3) Federal rules apply beyond state waters. Consult NOAA Fisheries for regulations

4) It is unlawful to fish with hook and line gear in the Winter Cod Conservation Closure from November 15 through January 31. It is unlawful to take cod from the Spring Cod Conservation Closure from April 16 through July 21. See maps in 322 CMR 8.07 for more details. 

5) The mackerel limit applies as a daily per angler harvest limit and a per angler possession limit while fishing. It does not apply to holding mackerel in a freezer, fish car, holding car, or shore-based bait well. 

6) Scup may be filleted but not skinned while at-sea. No more than two fillets per allowed fish may be possessed. If 5 or more anglers are onboard a private vessel, there is a vessel limit of 150-fish. 

7) Striped bass are measured from the tip of the snout or jaw (mouth closed) to the farthest extremity of the tail. The discard of dead legal sized striped bass is unlawful.

The practice of high-grading, whereby legal sized striped bass are released in favor of larger fish caught subsequently is unlawful. Accordingly, it is also unlawful to keep a striped bass alive in water by attaching a line or chain to the fish (stringer), or placing it in a live well or holding car.

Striped bass retained by recreational shore or private vessel anglers are to be kept whole—except for evisceration, bleeding, or descaling—while on the waters of this state or any adjacent parcel of land, structure, portion of roadway, or parking lot. An exception is granted for striped bass being prepared for immediate consumption, such as on the private vessel or at the shore-side campground from which a fish was caught.

For-hire operators or crew may fillet striped bass for their patrons at any time during the for-hire trip prior to the patrons departing the vessel, provided: (1) the racks are retained in a manner that does not interfere with species identification or total length measurement until such time as the vessel has docked and all customers from that trip have departed the vessel and the racks may subsequently be disposed of in any legal manner; (2) at least two square inches of skin is left intact and no more than two fillets, representing the equivalent of one fish, may be possessed by each customer.

All recreational anglers are required to use inline circle hooks when fishing for striped bass with whole or cut natural baits, except when fishing with a natural bait attached to an artificial lure (e.g., tube and worm).The use non-lethal devices to remove striped bass from the water is required; gaffing striped bass is prohibited. 

8) When the tautog fishery is open, private anglers are subject to 10-fish maximum tautog limit for the vessel. The most restrictive limit of the per angler bag limit or per vessel maximum limit applies. During any open season an angler may retain, possess, and land one trophy fish exceeding the 21" maximum size per calendar day. 

Additional Resources

Recreational shark regulations

SpeciesMinimum SizePossession Limit
All permitted sharks (exceptions listed below) 54 in1 total per trip
Atlantic sharpnose sharkno minimum size included in total shark bag limit +1 additional
Bonnethead sharkno minimum sizeincluded in total shark bag limit +1 additional
Smooth dogfishno minimum sizeincluded in total shark bag limit +1 additional
Blacknose sharkno minimum sizeincluded in total shark bag limit
Finetooth sharkno minimum sizeincluded in total shark bag limit
Hammerhead shark 78 inincluded in total shark bag limit

Federal regulations may differ. Please consult NOAA's Highly Migratory Species Office. 

Permitted Species
The following species are allowed to be harvested:
smooth dogfish, Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead, finetooth, blacknose, tiger, blacktip, spinner, bull, lemon, Nurse, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, porbeagle, common thresher, oceanic whitetip, and blue. 

Prohibited Species
The following species are prohibited from harvest and if incidentally caught, must be immediately returned to the water in such a manner as to ensure maximum probability of survival:
silky, sandbar, sand tiger, bigeye sand tiger, whale, basking, white, dusky, bignose, galapagos, Night, Caribbean reef, Narrowtooth, caribbean sharpnose, smalltail, Atlantic angel, longfin mako, shortfin mako, bigeye thresher, sharpnose sevengill, bluntnose sixgill, bigeye sixgill

Circle Hook Requirement
Recreational fishermen shall use circle hooks as the terminal tackle except when fishing with flies or artificial lures. Circle hooks are required for any line that is targeting sharks by the angler on a line-to-line basis. Unless caught using flies or artificial lures, any shark caught on any hook other than a circle hook shall be released.

Restrictions on Certain Shark Species When Possessing Tunas, Billfish or Swordfish
Recreational fishermen shall not possess oceanic whitetip sharks, great hammerhead sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks or smooth hammerhead sharks if in possession of tunas, billfish or swordfish. Porbeagle sharks caught alive shall be released by recreational fishermen if tunas, billfish or swordfish are to be retained, possessed or landed.

Recreational lobster regulations

Gulf of Maine Recreational Lobster Area
Minimum carapace size3 1/4 in
Maximum carapace size5 in
V-notched females: Illegal to possess any female lobster that bears a v-notch or indentation that is at least as deep as 1/8 in with or without setal hairs located on the base of the tail flipper immediately to the right of the center tail flipper as viewed from the rear of the lobster with the underside facing down.
Egg BearingIt is unlawful to possess or land any lobster that is egg bearing, from which eggs have been forcefully removed, or that has come in contact with any substance 
capable of removing eggs. 
Trap limit10 traps
Escape ventOne rectangular vent 1 15/16 in × 5 3/4 in or two circular vents of 2 7/16 in in diameter
Buoy Line RulesBuoy lines may not be positively buoyant except in bottom 1/3 of buoy line.
Buoy lines may not exceed a maximum diameter of 5/16" 
Buoy lines to be marked with 4 inch red mark midway up line. 
Bag limit15 lobsters per day
Night ClosureNo trap fishing or retention of lobsters 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sun rise. 
Closed SeasonAll trap buoyed gear must be removed from the water by November 1 and may not be reset until May 16. Closure may be lifted after April 30 or extended past May 16 based on presence or absence of right whales. 
Outer Cape Cod Recreational Lobster Area
Minimum carapace size3 3/8 in
Maximum carapace sizenone
V-notched females: Illegal to possess any female lobster that bears a v-notch or indentation that is at least as deep as 1/8 in with or without setal hairs located on the base of the tail flipper immediately to the right of the center tail flipper as viewed from the rear of the lobster with the underside facing down.
Egg BearingIt is unlawful to possess or land any lobster that is egg bearing, from which eggs have been forcefully removed, or that has come in contact with any substance 
capable of removing eggs. 
Trap limit10 traps
Escape ventOne rectangular vent 2 in. × 5 3/4 in or two circular vents of 2 5/8 in in diameter
Buoy Line RulesBuoy lines may not be positively buoyant except in bottom 1/3 of buoy line.
Buoy lines may not exceed a maximum diameter of 5/16" 
Buoy lines are to be marked with a 4 inch red mark midway up line. 
Bag limit15 lobsters per day
Night ClosureNo trap fishing or retention of lobsters 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sun rise. 
Closed SeasonAll buoyed trap gear must be removed from the water by November 1 and may not be reset until May 16. Closure may be lifted after April 30 or extended past May 16 based on presence or absence of right whales. 
Southern New England Recreational Lobster Area
Minimum carapace size3 3/8 in
Maximum carapace size5 1/4 in
V-notched females:Illegal to possess any female lobster that bears a v-notch or indentation that is at least as deep as 1/8 in with or without setal hairs located on the base of the tail flipper immediately to the right of the center tail flipper as viewed from the rear of the lobster with the underside facing down.
Egg BearingIt is unlawful to possess or land any lobster that is egg bearing, from which eggs have been forcefully removed, or that has come in contact with any substance 
capable of removing eggs. 
Trap limit10 traps
Buoy Line RulesBuoy lines may not be positively buoyant except in bottom 1/3 of buoy line.
Buoy lines may not exceed a maximum diameter of 5/16" 
Buoy lines are to be marked with a 4 inch red mark midway up line. 
Escape ventOne rectangular vent 2 in × 5 3/4 in or two circular vents of 2 5/8 in in diameter
Bag limit15 lobsters per day
Night ClosureNo trap fishing or retention of lobsters 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sun rise. 
Closed Season All buoyed trap gear must be removed from the water by November 1 and may not be reset until May 16. Closure may be lifted after April 30 or extended past May 16 based on presence or absence of right whales. 

Additional Resources

Recreational crab regulations

SpeciesMinimum sizeOther regulations
Blue crab*5 in shell width (spine to spine)Limit of 25 crabs/day. Egg-bearers cannot be taken. Crabs must be landed whole. No permit required unless using SCUBA. Unlawful to fish for blue crabs by trap to retain blue crabs taken in a trap. 
Cancer crab (Rock and Jonah)none50 crabs total per day in aggregate (Rock and Jonah crabs combined). Egg bearing crabs cannot be taken. Crabs must be landed whole. Permit required if fishing traps or SCUBA. All traps must conform to lobster trap regulations. All buoyed trap gear must be removed from the water by November 1 and may not be reset until May 16. Closure may be lifted after April 30 or extended past May 16 based on presence or absence of right whales. No trap fishing 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sun rise. 
Invasive crabsN/AIn order to harvest green crabs, you must obtain a Letter of Authorization (LOA) from the Division. An application can be found here. Please contact George Davis for a LOA or more information (978-491-6256 or george.davis@mass.gov). Closed season on harvest is January 01–April 30, inclusive. Closed season on trap gear is November 1–May 15, inclusive. 

* Prohibition: Using traps to fish for blue crabs and retaining blue crabs taken by trap gear is prohibited. Only actively fished gear may be fished for blue crabs. This includes trot lines, dip nets, and collapsible traps. 

Any traps set for the taking of crabs must adhere to the recreational lobster trap limits and gear requirements specified in the above recreational lobster regulations section. 

Recreational shellfish regulations

SpeciesMinimum SizeOther Restrictions
Bay scallopswell defined growth ringClosed Apr 01 - Oct 01, consult town regulations
ConchN/A15 mixed whelk limit; consult town regulations
Oyster3 in shell diameterconsult town regulations
Quahog1 in shell thicknessconsult town regulations
Sea Scallop3 1/2 in shell diameterdaily limit of 1 bushel in shell, or 4 quarts of shucked meats
Softshell clam2 in shell diameterconsult town regulations
Surf clam5 in shell diameterconsult town regulations

Additional Resources

Spearfishing

Spearfishing is the taking of fish by use of a speargun. When spearfishing, you must comply with all recreational fishing regulations regarding size, seasons and bag limits on the species. You are not allowed to catch striped bass or lobster by spearfishing. For federally regulated species, please visit NOAA Fisheries. Popular spearfishing species in Massachusetts waters include tautog and black sea bass.

How to measure your finfish catch

For Massachusetts marine waters, 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 in fork length, which is the straight line measurement of a fish from the midpoint of the anterior edge of the fish to the fork of the caudal fin and not made along the curve of the body. 

Striped Bass are measured in total length, which is the greatest straight line from the anterior most tip of the jaw or snout to the farthest extremity of the tail with the forks squeezed together. 

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.

Contact environmental law enforcement

Hewitts Cove (Hingham): (781) 740-1163

Radio Room (Boston): (617) 626-1650

North Coastal Bureau (Gloucester): (978) 283-7764

Toll Free Number (Boston): (800) 632-8075

Contact   for Recreational saltwater fishing regulations

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