To fish legally in North Carolina's marine waters, you first need a license. The coastal recreational fishing license, administered by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), is available to residents and visitors on a 10-day, annual or lifetime basis.
The license can be purchased at most large sporting goods stores that cater to fishermen and at any DMF office.
Species and Size Limits Chart
The DMF provides a downloadable PDF format document listing all catchable species, size and take limits as well as a list of prohibited species (http://www.ncfisheries.net/download/recguide.pdf).
Marine Fishery Zones
Catch and limit rules differ for the two designated zones in North Carolina's marine waters. Areas up to three miles from shore are termed state coastal waters, while areas from three to 200 miles offshore are part of the Exclusive Economic Zone and come under federal regulations.
Prohibited species in state coastal waters include most sharks, sturgeon, grouper (Nassau and goliath) and spearfish. In addition to these species, the taking of striped bass is prohibited in the Exclusive Economic Zone.
So, What Can I Catch?
In alphabetical order, legal catches include amberjack, American eel, black sea bass, bluefish, cobia, dolphin (the fish, not the mammal), flounder, grouper (other than Nassau and goliath), mackerel, marlin, mullet, red drum, red porgy, sailfish, scup, shad, snapper, speckeled hind, spotted seatrout, striped bass, tarpon, tuna, and weakfish.
A variety of reef complex species, such as triggerfish, grunt and porgy, also are catchable.
Seasons and Other Rules
The recreational season is year-round for most marine species. As in many regulated waters, fish must be kept intact, with head and tail attached, until the fishing vessel reaches shore.