Saltwater fishing regulations, as well as freshwater fishing regulations, vary according to each state’s natural habitats and fish populations. Additionally, fishing licenses may be issued to residents and nonresidents. However, depending on the applicant, licenses vary in cost, length of validity and scope of usage. For instance, commercial fishing regulations are much stricter than recreational fishing regulations and require a different license to be obtained.

Different regulatory agencies for fishing have varying consequences of breaking fishing regulations, such as the payment of fines, the suspension of licenses or even jail time. Thus, anglers must always take into consideration which species of fish are considered endangered or threatened in each region, as well as what is the legal size of a fish in order to be caught. To learn more about fishing regulations, read the sections below.

What is the difference between a freshwater and saltwater fishing license?

Fishing licenses must typically be obtained in order for a resident or nonresident to fish in a saltwater or freshwater habitat. However, there is a difference between a freshwater and saltwater fishing license:

  • Saltwater license – A saltwater fishing license must be obtained through a fishing regulatory agency in order for an angler to fish in open oceans, seashores, shallow seas, estuaries, ocean depths and coral reefs.
  • Freshwater license – Anglers must acquire a freshwater fishing license in order for them to fish in habitats such as streams, lakes, swamps, tropical rivers and temperate/desert rivers.

Fishing license requirements for freshwater and saltwater differ according to each state. However, a discernment between the two types of habitats is typically made by most regulatory agencies. Additionally, freshwater fishing license vs saltwater license requirements can different if the angler intends to fish for commercial or recreational purposes. Besides that, requirements can vary from one year to the next. In certain states, such as Florida, children and seniors older than 55 years of age are exempt from having to acquire a license.

What is the difference between saltwater and freshwater regulations?

Fishing regulations differ from salt to fresh water habitats due to the vast differences between species inhabiting each of those environments. Fishing enthusiasts who ask, “What is the difference between saltwater and freshwater regulations?” must take the following guidelines into consideration:

  • Freshwater regulations – Freshwater fishing regulations focus on the preservation of fish that inhabit lakes, swamps, streams, temperate rivers and tropical rivers. These regulations are established by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and each state’s particular regulatory agencies. Other governing bodies include the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB), the Red River Compact Commission, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), the Yellowstone River Compact Commission and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). As an example, the state of New York only allows five trout to be caught per day, and between the period of April 1 and October 15.
  • Saltwater regulations – Saltwater fishing regulations focus on the preservation of marine species that inhabit open oceans, shallow seas, seashores, estuaries, coral reefs and ocean depths. These regulations are also established by the USFWS and state-specific regulatory agencies. Additional governing bodies include the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which manages fishery resources along the Atlantic coast of the U.S., and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC), which manages the sustainability of fishing along the Pacific coasts of Alaska, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

What are fishing regulations for residents?

Fishing rules and regulations for residents vary significantly from one state to another. For instance, the fishing regulation for residents in Arizona establishes that every resident 10 years of age or older must acquire a fishing license, whereas Virginia residents under 16 years of age are not required to obtain any type of license to fish within state limits. In general, residents fishing regulations are:

  • Less strict than regulations for nonresidents – Fishing licenses can be obtained by state residents for a longer period of time, a cheaper cost and with fewer restrictions. For instance, an annual fishing license for residents costs $25 in the state of New York, as opposed to $50 for nonresidents.
  • Particular to each state’s natural habitats – Certain inland states may have stricter regulations concerning freshwater habitats, whereas coastal states may have rules that put more emphasis on saltwater species. Additionally, certain regulations are established to protect particular species that are deemed endangered or threatened. For instance, anglers may only catch five bass per day in Texas, as opposed to 25 catfish.
  • Enforceable to all anglers within state lines – A state’s particular fishing regulations are enforceable to all fishing enthusiasts that fish within state lines. Thus, even if a child or senior is exempt from the requirement to obtain a license, he or she must still abide by all the rules that licensed anglers are subject to.

What are the fishing rules and regulations for non residents?

Fishing rules and regulations for non residents are similar to residents fishing regulations, but they may be slightly stricter in certain states. Fishing regulation for non residents typically takes into consideration the following:

  • The length of time of the nonresident’s visit – Out of state fishing regulations may stipulate that nonresidents are only allowed to obtain a temporary fishing license. Otherwise, out-of-state anglers may be subject to paying higher costs when acquiring a license. For instance, in Ohio, nonresidents must pay $43.50 for an annual fishing license, which is much higher than the $19 charged to residents.
  • The type of fishing license that is being requested – Certain states only issue a nonresident saltwater fishing license for commercial purposes by charging a higher cost and specifying stricter limitations. For example, a Tennessee resident can obtain a commercial fishing license in the state for $244, whereas a nonresident must pay $1,220 to acquire it.

What are the saltwater fishing regulations?

Saltwater fishing regulations do not simply concern the eligibility requirements and length of time that regard the issuance of fishing licenses. Thus, saltwater recreational fishing regulations also stipulate how fishing can take place within a region, and may include the following:

  • Types of gear that may be used – Different states may have varying regulations concerning the type of gear that anglers are allowed to use when fishing. Thus, certain states may allow anglers to use cast nets for the mass harvesting of seafood, while others may not. For instance, North Carolina does not allow anglers with recreational licenses to use nets deemed for commercial use. For recreational fishermen in NC to use those types of equipment, they must obtain a recreational commercial gear license.
  • Types of fish that can be caught – Certain fish are considered endangered and have stricter limitations concerning their catching. Thus, consulting saltwater fishing regulations 2018 updates can provide anglers with the up-to-date information regarding which fish are deemed threatened or endangered. For instance, a saltmarsh topminnow is endangered in the state of Florida and must not be caught.
  • Minimum fish size limits – Fish that are deemed too small for their species are typically not allowed to be caught by anglers. Thus, a minimum size limit is typically established by governing bodies in order to protect fish that are still growing up. As an example, only flathead catfish over 18 inches in length are allowed to be caught.
  • Daily bag limits – Licensed anglers cannot catch an unlimited amount of game fish. Regulatory agencies establish strict daily bag limits for recreational and commercial anglers. For example, in Minnesota, only 20 yellow perch can be caught per day.

What are the freshwater fishing regulations?

Freshwater fishing regulations govern the catching of fish in habitats such as lakes, swamps, streams, temperate/desert rivers and tropical rivers. Despite varying significantly according to each state, general freshwater regulations generally take the following factors into account:

  • Locations where fishing is allowed – Not all lakes, rivers, streams and swamps are open to anglers. Freshwater fish regulations may prohibit fishing in freshwater habitats that contain endangered species of fish or that are not deemed safe for anglers. As an example, no fishing activities can take place in Colorado’s Pinon Lake, which is considered a non-active body of water.
  • Types of fish that may be caught – Freshwater game fishing regulations may be different for each species of fish depending on their availability, level of endangerment and/or overall importance to the maintenance of a freshwater habitat. For instance, a Lahontan cutthroat trout is deemed threatened in Nevada and has been protected by the state regulations.
  • The minimum fish length or size limits – Certain fish are deemed too young or small in comparison to the average specimen of their species, and are thus protected by regulations. In general, fish that fail to meet length or size requirements are considered important to a freshwater habitat and must not be caught by anglers. In New York, a walleye must be at least 15 inches in order to be caught.
  • Daily bag limits – Daily bag limits are established by freshwater fishing regulations in order to avoid the overfishing of certain species. In general, overfishing could cause the shortage of a particular fish and create an imbalance in a freshwater habitat as a whole. For example, according to Mississippi fishing regulations, only three walleye can be caught per day by an angler.

What are the commercial fishing regulations?

Commercial fishing regulations are typically the same for individuals and businesses. However, rules differ depending on freshwater or saltwater habitats. Commercial saltwater fishing regulations, as well as commercial freshwater fishing regulations, typically govern over anglers who engage in any of the following activities:

  • Sell or exchange saltwater or freshwater products – Any angler that catches a fish and exchanges it for any monetary or non-monetary amount has engaged in a commercial fishing activity. Thus, commercial fishing regulations require anglers and fisheries to obtain appropriate commercial fishing licenses and follow specific requirements in order to engage in those exchanges.
  • Catch more than the established daily bag limits – There are strict daily bag limits established for recreational fishing enthusiasts that do not apply for commercial anglers and fisheries. Thus, a commercial fishing permit must be obtained if an individual or business intends to catch more fish than it is allowed by recreational bag limitations. For instance, a recreational angler’s daily bag limit for king mackerel in North Carolina is 3, but that amount does not apply to commercial fisheries.
  • Use commercial gear or equipment – Each state specifies what the commercial regulations are for commercial anglers and fisheries to the use each type of gear. In general, these rules govern over fishing gear that is tailored to catch a significant amount of fish at once, such as cast nets. Thus, in states such as Florida, anglers may not possess both recreational and commercial types of equipment at the same time.

What are the recreational fishing regulations?

Recreational fishing regulations govern over anglers that do not engage in fishing for monetary reasons. Thus, the recreational fishing is regulated according to the following factors:

  • Types of gear – Recreational anglers are typically not allowed to use any gear that is considered to be appropriate for commercial fishing. However, the regulations that classify the commercial use of fishing gear vary according to each state. For instance, cast nets greater than 14 feet cannot be used by recreational anglers in Florida.
  • Types of fish – Certain fish are considered protected by recreational fishing regulations and thus may not be caught by fishing enthusiasts. Depending on the state, a species of fish may be allowed to be caught by recreational anglers but not commercial anglers. In other instances, both recreational and commercial fishers may have to abide by the same prohibition. Additionally, certain fish are subject to federal prohibitions, such as sharks.
  • Natural habitats – Recreational fishery regulations must take into consideration the particular saltwater and freshwater habitats where fishing is not allowed. There are several endangered or non-active bodies of water where fishing is not permitted. For example, Pinon Lake in Colorado is a non-active habitat where fishing cannot take place.
  • Minimum fish size – Fish considered too small must not be caught by recreational anglers. Depending on the state and species of fish, there may be strict regulations concerning minimum fish sizes. As an example, a crappie must be at least nine inches long in order to be caught in the state of New York.
  • Daily bag limit – Each state establishes a different recreational fishing definition for daily bag limits. Thus, these limitations depend on the threat level of each species. For instance, in California, a recreational fisherman can only catch two salmon per day.

What are the different regulatory agencies for fishing?

Several regulating fishing agencies stipulate fishing regulations in the United States. Additionally, different regulatory agencies for fishing can have regional, state, federal or international reach. The following is a list of federal environmental agencies, state commissions and international organizations that regulate fishing:

  • Federal or interstate commissions – A significant regulation fishing department on the federal level is the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Additionally, saltwater interstate agencies include the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC). Moreover, interstate agencies that regulate freshwater habitats include the Red River Compact Commission, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB), the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) and the Yellowstone River Compact Commission.
  • State agencies – Each state has different regulatory agencies for fishing that establish guidelines concerning the particular needs of each U.S. region. For instance, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife establishes regulations for fishing in California.
  • International organizations – Ocean fishing regulations are also established by international organizations. For instance, the Pacific Ocean is subject to regulations set forth by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO), the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).

What are the fishing size limits?

State commissions establish what the legal size to catch a fish is according to the needs of each region. Thus, fishing size limits are established in order to protect specimens that are deemed too small to be caught. Additionally, the endangerment of each species is taken into consideration.

In general, size restrictions for fishing are put in place so that young fish can grow up and reproduce before they are caught. Because fish grow and reproduce differently according to each species and region, size limits vary depending on the judgment of each state commission. Minimum fishing size limits are generally calculated based on the average size for each species, from which classifications such as “small” or “short” can be evaluated.

What are the consequences of breaking fishing regulations?

There are several consequences of breaking fishing regulations, which may escalate depending on the type, damage or recurrence of each infraction. Among the most common fishing penalties for breaking the rules when fishing, consider the following:

  • Fines – A small penalty of breaking fishing regulations may result in the charging of fines to anglers or fisheries. In general, these fines are typically charged as a teaching opportunity for fishing enthusiasts to avoid committing the same mistake in the future. For instance, in Texas, a fine for breaking fishing regulations ranges from $25 to $4,000. Moreover, the funds gathered by the payment of these fines help the state to sustain the maintenance of its natural habitats.
  • Suspension of license – If enough fishing penalties are incurred in a license or a significant infraction is committed, anglers or fisheries may be subject to having their licenses suspended. Additionally, it may be more challenging to renew a fishing license after having it previously suspended.
  • Jail – If anglers or fisheries partake in destructive fishing or break overfishing laws and regulations in a significant or recurring way, they may be sentenced to jail for environmental crimes. Additionally, imprisonment may be a penalty for fishing without a license if the angler or fishery has recurrently been caught fishing without a proper license. Thus, if you are fishing for commercial purposes, you must obtain a commercial license.

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What are season regulations for fishing?

A fishing season regulation is typically in place to allow fish to take a couple of months to reproduce or migrate. For instance, a bass must not be caught during summer in Pennsylvania, whereas a muskellunge must not be caught during spring in Wisconsin. In season fishing regulation changes take place every year depending on the level of threat concerning each species.

In season ocean fishing regulation changes are sometimes necessary in order to protect an entire marine ecosystem such as an ocean, which typically encompasses several countries and even continents. Thus, saltwater fishing season regulation may be subject to changes from federal or even international organizations based on the severity of a species’ endangerment level. Fishing out of season may result in consequences of breaking fishing regulations, incurring fines, the suspension of a license or even leading to jail.

What are the threatened or protected species regulations?

Threatened or protected species regulations were established on a federal level by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was signed into law in 1973 and is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) department. Thus, the main purpose of the ESA is to prevent animals from becoming extinct, recover the population of endangered species and protect the natural habitats where these animals live. The Endangered Species Act makes the following distinction between threatened and endangered species of fish:

  • Threatened species regulations protect fish from entering an endangerment classification. Thus, these rules aim to protect species that are at risk of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future. Moreover, these regulations may enforce guidelines on a state, federal or international level in order to prevent or limit the fishing of these species. For instance, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the California coastal salmon is a threatened species.
  • Endangered species regulations are put in place when a particular species of fish is in present danger of extinction throughout all or most of its population. For that reason, these guidelines may be a direct result of the failure to enforce previous threatened species regulations. However, in certain cases, laws and regulations to protect endangered fishing are established when a species is already at risk of extinction. For example, according to the NOAA, the gulf grouper is an endangered species.