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Recreational saltwater fishing regulations

The information below describes the current recreational fishing limits for Massachusetts and was last updated on January 5, 2023.

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 has also produced its annual recreational fishing posters for private anglers and for-hire vessels that specify the seasons, bag limits, and size limits for popular recreationally caught species. The 2023 posters for for-hire and private anglers will be published this spring. 

Below you can view the recreational regulations tables for:

  • finfish
  • sharks
  • lobsters
  • crabs
  • shellfish

 

Recreational finfish regulations

 

Species Size Limit Season Possession Limit
American eel (1) Min: 9" Year Round 25 fish
American Shad
(Merrimack and
Connecticut Rivers)
N/A Year Round 3 fish
American Shad
(Other Waters)
N/A Year Round Prohibited.
Catch and release only. 
Black Sea Bass* (2,6) TBD TBD TBD
Bluefish N/A Year Round 3 fish (shore & private)
5 fish (for-hire)
Cod* (3,4)
Gulf of Maine
Min 22" Jan 1 - Mar 31
Apr 1 - Apr 14
Apr 15 - Apr 30
May 1 - Dec 31
Prohibited
1 fish
Prohibited
TBD
Cod (3,4)
Southern New England
Min: 22"
Max: 28"
Jan 1 - Apr 30
May 1 - Jul 31
Aug 1 - Dec 31
5 fish
Prohibited
TBD
Dab (plaice) (3, 4) Min: 14" Year Round No Limit
Grey Sole (3,4) Min: 14" Year Round No Limit
Haddock* (3,4)
Gulf of Maine
Min: 17" Jan 1 - Feb 28
Mar 1 - Mar 31
Apr 1 - Apr 30
May 1 - Dec 31
20 fish
Prohibited
20 fish
TBD
Haddock
Southern New England
Min: 18" Year Round No Limit
Halibut (3,4) Min: 41" Year Round 1 fish
Mackerel (5) N/A Year Round 20 fish
Monkfish (3,4) N/A Year Round No Limit
Ocean Pout (3,4) N/A Closed Prohibited
Pollock (3,4) N/A Year Round No Limit
Redfish (3,4) N/A Year Round No Limit
River Herring  N/A Closed Prohibited
Scup* (6) Min: 10" Jan 1 - Apr 30
May 1 - Dec 31
30 fish
TBD
Smelt N/A Jan 1 - Mar 14
Mar 15 - Jun 15
Jun 16 - Dec 31
50 fish
Prohibited
50 fish
Summer Flounder
(Fluke)
Min: 16.5" Jan 1 - May 20
May 21 - Sep 29
Sep 30 - Dec 31
Prohibited
5 fish
Prohibited
Spiny Dogfish N/A Year Round No Limit
Striped Bass (7) 28" to less than 35" Year Round 1 fish
Tautog (8) Min: 16"

Only one fish may 
exceed 21"
Jan 1 - Mar 31
Apr 1 - May 31
Jun 1 - Jul 31
Aug 1 - Oct 14
Oct 15 - Dec 31
Prohibited
3 fish
1 fish
3 fish
5 fish
Weakfish Min: 16" Year Round 1 fish
White Perch Min: 8" Year Round 25 fish
Windowpane Flounder N/A Closed Prohibited
Winter Flounder
Gulf of Maine
Min: 12" Year Round 8 fish
Winter Flounder 
Southern New England
Min: 12" Jan 1 - Feb 28
Mar 1 - Dec 31
2 fish
Wolffish N/A Closed Prohibited
Yellowtail Flounder 13" Year Round No Limit


* Regulatory limits may be subject to change for May 1, 2023

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. 

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

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) 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) 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) 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 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 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

 

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 (1), 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, Shortfin mako, Bigeye thresher, Sharpnose sevengill, Bluntnose sixgill, Bigeye sixgill

Circle 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 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
Egg Bearing

It 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 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
Buoy Line Rules Buoy 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" 
A 600 pound weak link is to be inserted into the buoy line at the buoy (see NOAA Guide).
Buoy lines to be marked with 4 inch red mark midway up line. 
Bag limit 15 lobsters per day
Night Closure No trap fishing 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sun rise. 
Closed Season All trap buoyed gear must be removed from the water by November 1 and may not be reset until May 16. 

 

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
Egg Bearing It 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 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
Buoy Line Rules Buoy 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" 
A 600 pound weak link is to be inserted into the buoy line at the buoy (see NOAA Guide).
Buoy lines are to be marked with a 4 inch red mark midway up line. 
Bag limit 15 lobsters per day
Night Closure No trap fishing 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. 

 

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
Egg Bearing It 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 limit 10 traps
Buoy Line Rules Buoy 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" 
A 600 pound weak link is to be inserted into the buoy line at the buoy (see NOAA Guide).
Buoy lines are to be marked with a 4 inch red mark midway up line. 
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
Night Closure No trap fishing 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. 

 

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. Limit of 25 crabs/day. No permit required unless using SCUBA. Unlawful to fish for blue crabs by trap to retain blue crabs taken in a trap. Only actively tended gear may be fished for blue crabs. 
Other edible crabs none 50 crabs total per day (including up to 25 blue)—other regulations are the same as for blue crab. Closed season on buoyed trap gear is November 1 - May 15, inclusive. 
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@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

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

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

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