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Recreational saltwater fishing regulations

The recreational saltwater fishing regulations table is up to date as of April 16, 2020. These regulations apply to state-waters only.

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.

Below you can view the recreational regulations tables for:

For more information, please review DMF's:
2020 Recreational Fishing Poster
2020 Recreational Fishing Poster for For-Hire Anglers
FAQ on New Recreational Striped Bass Regulations for 2020

 

Recreational finfish regulations

Species Note Season Size Limit

Possession Limit

American eel  (1) All Year 9 in 25 fish
American shad (Merrimack &
Connecticut Rivers)
  All Year no limit 3 fish
American shad (other waters)   All Year N/A catch-and-release only
Black sea bass  (2, 6) May 18 - Sep 8 15 in 5 fish
Bluefish   All Year no limit

3 fish (anglers fishing from shore or private vessels)

5 fish (anglers fishing on a for-hire trip)

Cod (North of Cape Cod (3, 4) Sep 15 - Sep 30 21 in 1 fish
Cod (South of Cape Cod) (3, 4) All Year 21 in 10 fish
Dab (plaice)  (3, 4) All Year 14 in no limit
Fluke   May 23 - Oct 9 17 in 5 fish
Gray sole (3, 4) All Year 14 in no limit
Haddock (North of Cape Cod) (3, 4) Jan 1 - Feb 28
Apr 15 - Dec 31
17 in 15 fish
Haddock (South of Cape Cod) (3, 4) All Year 18 in no limit
Halibut (3, 4) All Year 41 in 1 fish
Monkfish (3, 4) All Year no limit no limit
Ocean pout (3, 4) Closed N/A Prohibited
Pollock (3, 4) All Year no limit no limit
Redfish (3, 4) All Year no limit no limit
River herring   Closed N/A Prohibited
Scup, Private (6) All Year 9 in

30 fish per angler. Not to exceed 150
fish per vessel with 5 or 
more anglers.

Scup, For-Hire (6) Jan 1 - Apr 30 9 in 30 fish
    May 1 - Jun 30 9 in 50 fish
    Jul 1 - Dec 31 9 in 30 fish
Smelt   Jun 16 - Mar 14 no limit 50 fish
Spiny dogfish   All Year no limit no limit
Striped bass (5) All Year 28" to less than 35" 1 fish
Tautog (7) Jan 1 - Mar 31 N/A prohibited
    Apr 1 - May 31 16 in 3 fish
    Jun 1  -  Jul 31 16 in 1 fish
    Aug 1 - Oct 14 16 in 3 fish
    Oct 15 -Dec 31 16 in 5 fish
Weakfish   All Year 16 in 1 fish
White perch   All Year 8 in 25 fish
Windowpane (3, 4) prohibited N/A N/A
Winter flounder
(North of Cape Cod)
(3, 4) All Year 12 in 8 fish
Winter flounder
(South & East of Cape Cod)
(3, 4) Mar 1 - Dec 31 12 in 2 fish
Wolffish (3, 4) prohibited N/A N/A
Yellowtail flounder (3, 4) All Year 13 in no limit

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

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.

3) Federal rules apply beyond state waters. Consult NOAA Fisheries for regulations. Regulatory changes pending for Fishing Year 2020 (May 1 2020 - April 30, 2021).

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 Summer Cod Conservation Closure from April 16 through July 21. See maps in 322 CMR 8.07 for more details. 

5) 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 must be kept whole, meaning the head, tail, and body remain intact. Only evisceration is allowed. Permitted for-hire vessels may fillet striped bass for their customers. All recreational anglers fishing from shore or a private vessel 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 that is designed to be cast and retrieved, trolled, or jigged. All recreational anglers are required to use non-lethal devices to remove striped bass from the water; gaffing striped bass is prohibited. DMF's FAQ provides additional information on the new recreational striped bass regulations for 2020. 

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

7) 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. 

Additional Resources for

Recreational shark regulations

Species Minimum Size Possession Limit
All permitted sharks (exceptions listed below) 54 in 1 total per trip
Atlantic sharpnose shark no minimum size  included in total shark bag limit +1 additional
Bonnethead shark no minimum size included in total shark bag limit +1 additional
Smooth dogfish no minimum size included in total shark bag limit +1 additional
Blacknose shark no minimum size included in total shark bag limit
Finetooth shark no minimum size included in total shark bag limit
Hammerhead shark 78 in included in total shark bag limit
Shortfin Mako

83 in (female)
71 in (male)

included 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, Shortfin mako, Porbeagle, Common thresher, Oceanic whitetip, Blue

Prohibited Species
The following species are prohibited from harvest:
Silky, Sandbar, Sand tiger, Bigeye sand tiger, Whale, Basking, White, Dusky, Bignose, Galapagos, Night, Caribbean reef, Narrowtooth, Caribbean sharpnose, Smalltail, Atlantic angel, Longfin mako, Bigeye thresher, Sharpnose sevengill, Bluntnose sixgill, Bigeye sixgill

Recreational shellfish regulations

Species Minimum Size Other Restrictions
Bay scallops well defined growth ring Closed Apr 01 - Oct 01, consult town regulations
Conch N/A 15 mixed whelk limit; consult town regulations
Oyster 3 in shell diameter consult town regulations
Quahog 1 in shell thickness consult town regulations
Sea Scallop 3 1/2 in shell diameter daily limit of 1 bushel in shell, or 4 quarts of shucked meats
Softshell clam 2 in shell diameter consult town regulations
Surf clam 5 in shell diameter consult town regulations

 

Additional Resources for

Recreational lobster regulations

Gulf of Maine Recreational Lobster Area
Minimum carapace size 3 1/4 in
Maximum carapace size 5 in
V-notched females: definition Illegal to possess any female lobster that bears a notch or indentation in the base of the flipper that is at least as deep as 1/8 in with or without setal hairs
Trap limit 10 traps
Escape vent One rectangular vent 1 15/16 in × 5 3/4 in or two circular vents of 2 7/16 in in diameter
Bag limit 15 lobsters per day

 

Outer Cape Cod Recreational Lobster Area

Minimum carapace size 3 3/8 in
Maximum carapace size none
V-notched females: definition Illegal to possess any female lobster that bears a notch or indentation in the base of the flipper that is at least as deep as 1/8 in with or without setal hairs
Trap limit 10 traps
Escape vent One rectangular vent 2 in. × 5 3/4 in or two circular vents of 2 5/8 in in diameter
Bag limit 15 lobsters per day

 

Southern New England Recreational Lobster Area
Minimum carapace size 3 3/8 in
Maximum carapace size 5 1/4 in
V-notched females: definition Illegal to possess any female lobster that bears a notch or indentation in the base of the flipper that is at least as deep as 1/8 in with or without setal hairs
Trap limit 10 traps
Escape vent One rectangular vent 2 in × 5 3/4 in or two circular vents of 2 5/8 in in diameter
Bag limit 15 lobsters per day

 

Additional Resources for

Recreational crab regulations

Species Minimum size Other regulations
Blue crab 5 in shell width (spine to spine) Egg-bearers cannot be taken; 25 crabs/day; no permit required unless using traps or SCUBA; closed season is January 01–April 30, inclusive
Other edible crabs none 50 crabs total per day (including up to 25 blue)—other regulations are the same as for blue crab
Invasive crabs N/A In order to harvest green crabs, you must obtain a Letter of Authorization (LOA) from the Division. Please contact Kerry Allard for a LOA or more information at (617) 626-1633 or kerry.allard@state.ma.us).

 

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 straiht 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

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