Saltwater Recreational Fishing, Shrimping, Crabbing, and Shellfishing Regulations

Licensing Requirements for Marine Resource Harvesting

Individuals aged 16 and older engaging in the recreational harvesting of marine resources such as finfish, oysters, clams, shrimp, and crab in South Carolina are required to have a Saltwater Recreational Fishing License. This license is necessary unless the individual is fishing from a licensed public fishing pier, on a licensed charter or headboat vessel under hire, using up to three drop nets, fold-up traps, or handlines without hooks (with a single bait per line for "chicken necking"), or participating in shrimp baiting (which requires a separate shrimp baiting license).

Specific Licenses for Fishing Piers and Chartered Vessels

Fishing piers and chartered vessels that charge a fee for fishing services must obtain an annual Public Fishing Pier License or a Charter/Headboat Vessel License, respectively. Application forms for these licenses are available from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) office in Charleston.

Commercial Fishing and Selling Marine Resources

Anyone wishing to sell fish or fishery products, including bait harvested within South Carolina state waters, must first acquire the relevant commercial license. Eligibility for a resident commercial saltwater fishing license requires the applicant to have been a resident of South Carolina for the previous 365 consecutive days and provide proof of residency upon application.

Compliance and Verification

Commercial license or permit applicants must complete a "Verification of Lawful Presence in the United States" affidavit, as mandated by S.C. Code Section 8-29-10. This affidavit must be notarized and submitted alongside the application to ensure the applicant's lawful presence in the United States.

Additional Information and Contacts

For more details on saltwater recreational fishing licensing, commercial licenses, or to inquire about specific regulations, interested parties can contact SCDNR Licensing at the provided address in Charleston, SC. Further information regarding federal fishery limits and regulations can be obtained from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in North Charleston, SC.

Support and Funding

The Saltwater Recreational Fishing License Program supports various projects and programs aimed at enhancing marine resources and recreational fishing opportunities. Information on the projects funded by this program in the current fiscal year can be accessed online.

Saltwater Fishing Methods and Licensing Requirements

Saltwater Fishing: Licenses and Permits

To engage in saltwater recreational fishing, including the use of various fishing methods and devices, individuals must acquire a Saltwater Recreational Fishing License. This license is a prerequisite for several fishing techniques, ensuring adherence to conservation efforts and sustainable fishing practices.

Bush Lines / Pole Lines

License Requirement: A Saltwater Recreational Fishing License is mandatory for using bush or pole lines.

Restrictions: Fishermen are limited to using no more than ten bush or pole lines, each with a single hook or bait, to prevent overfishing and encourage responsible fishing practices.

Hook & Line Fishing

License Requirement: Mandatory Saltwater Recreational Fishing License. A Federal Highly Migratory Species Permit is also required for targeting species such as tuna, billfish, swordfish, and sharks in federal waters, and for possessing these species in state waters (shark exceptions apply).

Restrictions: Fishing from boats within 300 feet of commercial piers in the Atlantic Ocean is prohibited, as is fishing from the shore within 50 feet of ocean fishing piers in Horry County, to minimize interference with commercial operations and ensure public safety.

Gigging (Gig, Spear, & Bow and Arrow)

License Requirement: A Saltwater Recreational Fishing License is necessary for gigging activities.

Restrictions: Daylight gigging for flounder is banned, as is gigging for sharks and targeting red drum or spotted seatrout during the winter months. Specific geographic restrictions apply to gigging in Georgetown County, emphasizing the need for species protection and habitat conservation.

Cast Nets (Excluding Shrimp Baiting)

License Requirement: Utilizing cast nets for fishing requires a Saltwater Recreational Fishing License, ensuring that this method aligns with regulatory standards and conservation goals.

Seines & Gill Nets

License Requirement: Both a Saltwater Recreational Fishing License and a Gill Net Equipment License are required for the use of seines and gill nets, reflecting the need for specialized regulation due to the potential impact on fish populations.

Seasons and Restrictions: There are no closed seasons for using seines and gill nets in saltwater, with specific exceptions for shad and herring. Restrictions include prohibitions on catching gamefish and sharks with nets, limits on net lengths and mesh sizes, marking requirements for nets, and prohibitions on setting nets across waterways or within state parks.

Trotlines (Long Lines)

License Requirement: A Saltwater Recreational Fishing License and a Trotline Equipment License are needed for using trotlines, indicating the regulated nature of this fishing method.

Restrictions: Recreational use of trotlines is limited to two lines with a total of 50 hooks or baits. Specific marking requirements apply for trotlines used in inshore saltwaters and the Atlantic Ocean, aimed at ensuring visibility and reducing navigational hazards.

Special Regulations for Marine Conservation Areas and Protected Species

Special Management Zones (SMZs)

A series of artificial reefs, designated as Special Management Zones (SMZs), are subject to federal regulations to conserve marine life and habitats. These zones include notable sites such as BP-25, Beaufort 45, Betsy Ross, and many others. Fishing within these SMZs is strictly regulated, allowing only handheld hook and line gear and spearfishing equipment, excluding powerheads. The use of fish traps, longlines, gill nets, and trawls is expressly forbidden within these zones. Additionally, the use of powerheads is restricted solely to safety purposes, with the possession, landing, or sale of fish taken by a bangstick prohibited across both reef and non-reef areas. Within these zones, the capture and possession of snapper-grouper and coastal migratory pelagic species are confined to recreational bag and possession limits.

Spawning Special Management Zones (SSMZs) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Designated SSMZs and MPAs off the South Carolina coast, including Devil’s Hole, Area 51, Area 53, and others, are critical for the protection of snapper-grouper species. Fishing for or possession of these species within the zones is banned unless fishing gear is properly stowed. However, trolling for pelagic species remains permitted. These areas are part of a concerted effort to protect vital spawning grounds and contribute to the sustainability of marine ecosystems.

Regulations on Gamefish and Billfish

Certain species, including cobia, red drum, spotted seatrout, striped bass, and tarpon, are classified as gamefish, prohibiting their commercial sale. Similarly, the sale or trade of billfish (marlin, sailfish, spearfish) is illegal, reflecting their conservation status and the ecological roles they play.

Prohibited Practices

Several practices are prohibited to protect marine environments and species:

  • Red Drum Harvest: The harvest of red drum in federal waters is banned.
  • Explosives: Using explosives for fishing in state waters is illegal.
  • Bangsticks: Utilizing bangsticks or similar devices for fishing is prohibited.
  • Diamondback Terrapins: Commercial sale of these terrapins is forbidden.
  • Horseshoe Crabs: Harvesting or possession requires a commercial permit, except for molted shells.
  • Sea Turtles: All transactions involving sea turtles or their eggs are illegal under federal law.
  • Marine Mammals: Interfering with marine mammals is strictly prohibited, safeguarding their well-being and natural behaviors.
  • Sturgeons: The possession, sale, or transport of Shortnose and Atlantic Sturgeon is unlawful.

Freshwater and Saltwater Jurisdictional Dividing Lines

The classification of waters as either freshwater or saltwater is crucial for determining the appropriate licensing and regulation of commercial and recreational fishing activities. This distinction is based on specific geographic dividing lines across various rivers and their associated bodies of water. Here's a detailed breakdown of the freshwater/saltwater dividing lines for key rivers and areas:

  • Savannah River: The saltwater/freshwater divide is marked by the abandoned Seaboard Railroad track bed, located approximately 1.75 miles upstream from the US Highway 17A bridge. This delineation ensures a clear jurisdiction for fishing regulations and licensing.

  • Wright River: Classified as saltwater along its entire length, indicating that all fishing activities within this river are subject to saltwater fishing regulations.

  • Ashepoo River: The dividing line is the old Seaboard Railroad track bed, serving as the boundary between saltwater and freshwater jurisdictions.

  • New River: Cook’s Landing acts as the critical point distinguishing saltwater from freshwater areas, guiding the applicable fishing laws.

  • Wallace River, Rantowles Creek, Long Branch Creek, and Shem Creek (5a, 5b, 5c, 5d): These bodies of water are considered saltwater in their entirety, aligning their fishing regulations with saltwater standards.

  • Edisto River: The division is established near Matthews Canal Cut by the abandoned Seaboard Railroad track bed, setting the stage for regulatory oversight based on this boundary.

  • Ashley River: Defined by the confluence of Popper Dam Creek directly across from Magnolia Gardens, marking the transition from freshwater to saltwater fishing zones.

  • Cooper River: The dividing line is located at the seaward shoreline of Old Back River, near the confluence downstream from Bushy Park Reservoir, delineating the freshwater and saltwater sections.

  • Wando River: Recognized as saltwater for its full length, indicating uniform fishing regulations throughout the river.

  • Intracoastal Waterway in Horry County: The boundary is the bridge at the intersection of S.C. Highway 9 and US Highway 17, specifying the split between freshwater and saltwater fishing jurisdictions.

Generally, US Highway 17 serves as the baseline dividing line between saltwater and freshwater, except in the instances specified above.

South Carolina Saltwater Fishing General Information

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