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Saltwater Fishing Licenses
How Many Miles Offshore Are They Required?

Bruce Anderson recently wrote and asked me: At what point offshore is a fishing license NOT required? 

That's a great question, Bruce! 

Generally speaking, recreational fishing license/permit 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 from 0 to 3 nautical miles off the state's coastline.

(Note: In Texas, Puerto Rico, and on Florida's Gulf Coast, state waters are from 0 to 9 nautical miles off the coastline).

Federal waters  extend from the state water boundary, out to 200 nautical miles off the coastline.

  • 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/registration rules. 

The good news is ... when you buy a state-issued saltwater license or permit from any state or U.S. territory (except Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands), you're automatically registered with the National Saltwater Angler Registry. That makes you legal to fish in federal waters, too.  

Click here to see if you need to sign up with the
National Saltwater Angler Registry.

Let me tell you 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 (0 to 3 nautical miles offshore), as well as in all federal waters (as far out as 200 nautical miles offshore).

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

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

Before you drop your bait or lure into the water, be sure you know exactly where you are and what rules apply to that precise location on the water!  

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

As long as we're at least 3 miles off-shore, we'll be in federal waters. Since we're registered with the National Saltwater Angler Registry, we're legal to fish in federal waters.

But the minute we get within 3 miles of the New York coastline, we'll be in New York's state  waters. To fish there, we must have a NY state saltwater license.

Got it? I hope so!

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 highly migratory species such as bluefin tuna, a special fishing permit is required. It's called a Highly Migratory Species Permit.

If you plan to target, catch, and/or boat any of the designated highly migratory 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 carry our Atlantic Highly Migratory Species ("HMS") permit with us, too. Just in case we happen to find a school of tuna busting the surface.

Thankfully, the HMS permit is very inexpensive, and one permit covers everyone on the boat.

More about the Atlantic HMS permit on my fishing licenses page, here.

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 from MA state waters into federal waters, any Stripers we catch are considered illegal fish.  

More about closed species 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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