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Saltwater Fishing Licenses
How Many Miles Offshore Are They Required?

Bruce Anderson recently wrote and asked:

At what point offshore is a fishing license NOT required?

Here's my reply to Bruce:

Generally speaking, recreational fishing license requirements apply from 0 to 200 nautical miles offshore. But there's more to it than that.

Fishing in State vs. Federal Waters

State waters extend to 3 nautical miles off the state's coastline.

(In Texas, Puerto Rico, and on Florida's Gulf Coast, state waters extend to 9 nautical miles off the coastline).

Federal waters extend from the state water boundary out to about 200 nautical miles.

  • To fish in state waters, you must follow the state's licensing rules.

  • To fish in federal waters, you must follow the federal government's licensing rules.

Here's my "real-life" situation to hopefully clarify things:

I have a Massachusetts saltwater fishing permit.

My Massachusetts permit allows me to fish in MA state waters   as well as in federal waters.

Massachusetts has entered into special reciprocity agreements with the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Under that agreement, those states will honor my MA permit for fishing in their state waters, too.

So, with my MA saltwater fishing permit, I'm legal for fishing in the state waters of MA, CT, RI and NH, along with all federal waters.

The tricky part comes when you're boating long distances and planning to fish in different spots along the way.

Before you drop your bait or lure into the water, it's important to know where you are and what rules apply to that location on the water!  

Another real-life example: Let's say my hubby and I decide to boat from Cape Cod, MA to visit our friends on Long Island, NY.

On our trip, we'll travel through the state waters of MA, RI, CT and NY.

Because our MA saltwater permit also allows us to fish in RI and CT waters (due to the reciprocity agreement between the states), we're fine ... until we enter NY's state waters.

MA doesn't have a reciprocity agreement with NY. So, to legally fish in NY state waters, we'd need a NY saltwater fishing license.

Special Fishing Permits & Closed Species Rules

When you're fishing anywhere offshore, you also need to be aware of special species-related permit requirements and "closed" species rules.

Species-Related Fishing Permit Requirements

When it comes to certain highly migratory species like tuna, Atlantic swordfish, sharks and billfish, a special fishing permit is required. It's called a Highly Migratory Species ("HMS") Permit.

If you plan to target, catch, and/or boat any of the designated species in federal or in state waters, you must have an HMS permit.

So, on our trip from Cape Cod to Long Island, my hubby and I will be sure to have our HMS permit onboard, too ... just in case we happen to find a school of tuna busting the surface.

You can read more about the Atlantic HMS permit on my fishing licenses page.

Federal Closed Species Rules

Finally, it's important to remember that special rules apply to fishing for some species in federal waters.

For example, it's perfectly legal to fish for striped bass in MA state waters. But it's against federal law to fish for them in federal waters.

So the instant we cross the 3-mile boundary and enter federal waters, we're no longer allowed to fish for striped bass.

Here's more about fishing in federal waters.

Well, Bruce, I'm sure this is a lot more information than you thought you wanted. But the fines and penalties for fishing without the required license, or catching a closed specie of fish, can be really nasty.

"Better to be safe than sorry!", as they say.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask!  

I wish you fair seas and tight lines!!!


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