Is Spearfishing Legal In The US?


Is Spearfishing Legal In The US

Whether you like to go bowfishing, gigging or spearfishing, in the eyes of the law they all come under the general term spearing. Spearing just like fishing falls under the jurisdiction of each state. This means federal law has no authority there.

In most US states, spearfishing is indeed legal. Once you’ve got your license in that state, you can enjoy your hobby. However, you need to know that a license in one state doesn’t allow you to spearfish in another state. In addition, each state has its own set of rules and regulations that determine not only when you can go spearfishing, but also what marine life you can go after with your pronged spear.

So which states allow spearfishing? And what about the need for a license and regulations in each state? We compiled this guide to help you navigate the intricate rules governing spearfishing in the major US states and what you need to know before you head over to your dream vacation, spear in hand and dreams of catching the Big White playing on a loop in your head.

FLORIDA

The Sunshine State is the jewel of the southern East Coast. Talk about pristine water, bright skies, radiant sun and miles and miles of beautiful beaches. And spearfishing is perfectly legal here. The Florida Keys is considered the hub of spearfishing in the whole of the state. Here, spearfishing is more than a hobby as it has its roots in the history of the tribes that used to roam these lands.

Florida also promises you warm waters that don’t require heavy diving suits. Some even go as far as spearfishing in their swimsuits. Fish are aplenty and you have a choice between lionfish, snappers, groupers, hogfish, and lobster among others.

License

The good news is you won’t need a special license to go spearfishing in Florida. Your saltwater fishing license should be enough. However, since the waters are swarming with lobster and there’s no way you’re going to let the opportunity of spearing one get away, you’ll need to add a lobster stamp on your fishing license.

The license fees in Florida vary depending on whether you’re a Floridian resident or a non-resident. For residents, the annual saltwater spearfishing fee is $17. A 5-year license is only $79 while fishing from the shore is free. For visitors, a 3-day license costs $17 while $30 lets you spearfish for 7 days straight and $47 gets you a whole year of spearfishing pleasure worth.

Rules and Regulations

But just because you have a license that doesn’t mean you can poke your spear at everything in sight. Florida is kind of strict about what marine life species you can spearfish and when you’re allowed to do that. Here are some of the most important rules and regulations in Florida.

  • You cannot go spearfishing in freshwater. Only saltwater is allowed.
  • Spearfishing is prohibited within 100 yards of designated public bathing areas, fishing piers or submerged jetties.
  • The upper Keys is considered a no spearfishing zone that covers Miami Dade County all the way to Long Key.
  • Several fish species are not allowed for spearfishing including white marlin, sailfish, swordfish, blue marlin among others.

CALIFORNIA

As usual, the great state of California has its own rules and jurisdictions that don’t necessarily conform with local or federal laws in the rest of the country. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on where you stand on such thorny issues as climate change and environment protection.

As far as spearfishing is concerned, however, it is both legal and illegal. It’s legal for individuals enjoying spearfishing recreationally. But when it comes to commercial spearfishing the hand of the law is both heavy and unyielding. So keep that in mind the next time you consider spearfishing to supplement your income.

License

If you’re a California resident and you’re 16 years of age or above you can apply for an annual license either online or through a license agent. You can also go to the CDF License Sales Office to get a license. For non-residents, they can get a license from the above sources as well but the fees are slightly different.

For Californians, an annual spearfishing license, which is the same as a fishing license, costs about $51.02. Non-residents will have to fork out $137.73 to get the same license. Disabled vets can apply for a reduced-fee license which only costs between $7.73 and $8.13. All licenses are valid from January 1 till December 31 of the same year.

Rules and Regulations

Spearfishing is only allowed in certain areas and it has to be within the season. The purpose of these regulations is to protect fish species and prevent overfishing in and around the local waters.

Some species are prohibited by law for spearfishers. These include:

  1. Giant Sea Bass.
  2. California Grunion.
  3. Spiny Lobster.
  4. Red Abalone.

Other fish species such as rockfish, lingcod, leopard shark, sturgeon and tunas among others have their own season. You need to check with the local authorities or online to find out which species are open at what time of the year.

WASHINGTON

Even though both Washington and California share the same front-row view of the Pacific Ocean, the difference in temperature means you get to spear some marine life in the Washington waters that don’t exist a few latitude degrees to the south. But that’s the only advantage you get when you head to the Washington shores for spearfishing.

Unlike many other states, Washington allows you to spearfish both in freshwater as well as saltwater. The only downside to this is that you’ll need to get a different license depending on which water you want to spearfish in.

License

To get a license in the state of Washington, you’ll need to be at least 15 years old. The state offers many venues where you can apply for both a freshwater and saltwater spearfishing license. You can try online, or through a license dealer.

Residents who apply for a freshwater annual license are charged $29.50 while saltwater licensing costs $30.05. Non-residents would have to pay $84.50 for a freshwater license and $59.75 for a saltwater one for the same period. You can also apply for a combined license that allows you to spearfish both in saltwater and freshwater. A one-day combined license costs $11.35 for residents and $20.15 for non-Washingtonians.

Rules and Regulations

The state of Washington takes spearfishing seriously and it even offers a mobile app to help spearfishers get the most out of this sport. In addition, the rules and regulations put out by the state are more lenient and permissive than those in other states such as California and Florida. For example, the size of the game you’re allowed to spear is a little vague.

That said, you are still prohibited from going after certain fish species with your spear. These species include:

  1. Margined sculpin
  2. Pygmy whitefish
  3. Canary rockfish
  4. Thresher sharks
  5. Olympic mudminnow
  6. Sixgill sharks
  7. Sevengill sharks

OREGON

Oregon sits pretty right in the middle between the cold Pacific currents that wash over the Washington shores and the warm tides that bring clusters of marine life to the waters of California to the south. Oregon allows spearfishing but only the saltwater variety. Freshwater spearfishing is prohibited and the penalty is so steep, you’ll think twice before attempting it.

If you find the spearfishing laws in Oregon too restrictive, it’s worth it to make the trip to Washington where you can pierce fish both in freshwater and saltwater bodies. But Oregon still has its unique attractions both in the landscape and fish species that make it a must for every serious spearfisher.

License

Oregon offers annual licenses that start from the first of January and cover the whole year. You can apply for a license for the next year from December first onwards. The ODFW office is the one responsible for issuing licenses.

A resident license only costs $44 a year while a non-resident is charged $110.5 for the same license. That tells you something about how the state values its own residents. But that’s not the only advantage you get for being an Oregonian. You can apply for a combined fishing and hunting license for $73. A non-resident doesn’t get this luxury.

Rules and Regulations

The rules and regulations governing spearfishing are tougher in Oregon compared to other states. These rules not only cover which species are allowed for spearfishing and when, but also the size of the game and how many you can bring to the beach are under scrutiny.

The following species are a no-no for spearfishing:

  • Margined sculpin
  • Lahontan redside shiner
  • Piranha
  • Millicoma Dace
  • Suckers
  • Pit sculpin
  • Caribe
  • Oregon Chub Of Hutton Spring
  • Lamprey
  • Grass carp
  • Walking Catfish
  • California roach

Both bag and possession limits have to be adhered to. For example, you’re only allowed to take home two white sturgeons a year. Think about that before you go stabbing every white sturgeon that crosses your path.

TEXAS

Texas is the Big Country. Everything is big and magnanimous including the spearfishing laws there. Whether you’re a Texan or not, you still get to enjoy spearfishing both in ponds, creeks, and rivers as well as in lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s all yours for the taking.

Not only that, but certain age groups don’t even require a license when they go to get some fish. This includes people under 17 as well as people born before 1931. What this tells you is that spearfishing is a sport that transcends the boundaries of age and the state of Texas knows that only too well.

License

For Texans wishing to go spearfishing, all they need is a fishing license. There’s one for freshwater and a different one for saltwater. The freshwater license costs $30 and covers 231 species of fish. The saltwater license comes at $35 and has 235 species included in it. An all-water package will set you back $40 but lets you spearfish in any kind of water.

As usual, non-residents tend to fork up a little more for their licenses. A freshwater license costs $58 and covers 250 items while a saltwater one has a $63 price tag attached to it and includes 251 items. Seniors 65 years old from both Oklahoma and Missouris as well as non-residents under 17 are exempt from getting a license. 

Rules and Regulations

There are still rules that apply to endangered species as well as prohibited fish species that you need to watch out for. Sea turtles, for example, are protected in Texas and it’s punishable by law to catch one. The same goes for dolphins, porpoises, whales or other mammals. So much for your Moby Dick fantasies.

The following fish are considered endangered species and are off the menu:

  1. Blue Sucker  
  2. Bluehead Shiner  
  3. Chihuahua Shiner
  4. Devils River Minnow
  5. Mexican Goby
  6. Opossum Pipefish
  7. Pecos Pupfish
  8. Rio Grande Chub
  9. Toothless Blindcat

For a full list check the website for endangered fish. There are other fish that are only allowed for fishing but not spearfishing.

NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina allows spearfishing both as a recreational sport and for commerce. Believe it or not, many people engage in spearfishing not as a sport, but as a job. Unlike other forms of fishing, here you can go after the exact fish species that is in demand. Lots of diners and upscale restaurants place big orders and the pay is good.

In North Carolina, there are no seasons for inland fishing. This means unless the ocean is your oyster, you can fish anywhere any time of the year. This, however, doesn’t include spearfishing. So it’s just the ocean for you and your spear.

License

If spearfishing is merely a hobby to you then a recreational license will suffice. For inland fishing, a license for a resident would cost $9 and a non-resident would pay $23. It’s a 10-day license and as we said doesn’t allow for spearfishing.

Coastal fishing that includes spearfishing costs $6 for a resident and $11 for a non-resident. It’s also a 10-day license. If you’re looking for a longer period, then an annual license would cost $16 for the resident and $32 for the non-resident. A resident can also get a combined license for $41 for a whole year and fish wherever they like.

Rules and Regulations

Since you’re not allowed to spearfish inland, we’ll focus here on coastal spearfishing regulations. In general, the rules here apply to the size and bag limits for the different species. For example, the bluefish has a bag limit of 3 per day per person. A wahoo, on the other hand, is limited to 2 per day and so on.

Some fish such as the king mackerels have a minimum size limit. If you spear a fish below 24 inches, you’ll pay a fine. All of these rules are in place to protect the fish wealth in the waters and prevent the decline of a certain species.

HAWAII

When it comes to Hawaii, the rules of the game change dramatically. We’re not just talking about the fish species, the warm water, and the amazing underwater scenery. We also mean the rules that govern the act of spearfishing itself.

For Hawaiians, spearfishing is not just a hobby or a quick way to make a buck, it’s part of their culture and history. Long before European ships docked on their shores, Hawaiians have been spearfishing to survive. It was considered a clean and environmentally friendly way to fish. Rather than haul everything that happens to fall in the net, spearfishing is more precise and selective.

License

This is why spearfishing in Hawaii is considered a right rather than an option. You don’t need a permit to go spearfishing in the pristine waters of the thousands of islands there. You can take your spear and go after any fish you like as long as it’s not protected.

That said, there are still rules and regulations to protect the fish species. These have mostly to do with the size of the fish and bag limits. You still need a fishing license though if you’re spearfishing in regulated areas. Children under 9 don’t need a license. For residents a license costs $6 and $26 for non-residents.

Rules and Regulations

There are two types of regulations regarding spearfishing in Hawaii. The first has to do with which areas you’re allowed to spearfish. The other protects certain species of fish and marine life. The regulated areas that require a fishing license are Kauai, O`ahu, Maui County, the island of Hawaii as well as Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine Refuge.

The other regulations that protect the fish don’t have any fish off the menu. Rather, they focus on the size of the fish and limit each person to have one bag per day.

MAINE

We leave the illustrious islands of Hawaii and head north quickly to New England before a Nor’easter hits the area. This is another region with a long and layered history that was shaped by fishing. If you’re familiar with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, it takes place around these waters.

Maine hasn’t started to regulate fishing, and spearfishing, until 2011. As a land populated by generations of fishermen, there was no need to have a license to go fishing since that was just about the only available job for any able man (women stayed behind and manned the local bars, taverns, and canneries while men went whaling and fishing.)

License

The thing about New England is that it’s a close knit community with its distinct character. This means that if you get a fishing license in New Hampshire for example you can use it in Maine. This is quite helpful not just for the local hobbyists, but also for tourists looking to enjoy spearfishing in the whole Northeastern Coast region.

A license in Maine is pretty cheap. It costs only $25 and you can apply for it online. This license will cover you for the whole year and as we mentioned it is valid in the rest of New England.

Rules and Regulations

The rules and regulations in Maine are mostly for freshwater fishing and spearfishing. They’re concerned about the bag limit and fish size. For example the different varieties of trout (brook, brown, rainbow, and togue) are limited to 2 pieces per bag and the minimum size ranges from 6 inches for brook trouts to 18 inches for togues. 

Other rules dictate that you should use a flag to mark your diving area and to stay away from crowded areas to avoid accidents.

RHODE ISLAND

Rhode Island is part of that New England heritage and culture. Here spearfishing is allowed in fresh and saltwater. Not just that but you can also go after the prized striped bass. It’s protected in the rest of New England except in the waters of Rhode Island.

License

We mentioned earlier that New England as a whole recognizes the fishing licenses issued by its individual states. Well, there’s an exception to that. And that’s Rhode Island. For some reason this state doesn’t allow licenses issued in New Hampshire.

A license in Rhode Island will set you back $7 if you’re a local and $10 if you’re a tourist. That will hardly break the bank or give you bad vibes. And when you consider that you’re allowed to spearfish the striped bass for a mere $10, that sounds like a good bargain.

Rules and Regulations

The rules here are mostly about protecting the fisheries rather than limiting the spearfisher’s options of which fish to go after. Most fish species such as bluefish, monkfish, scup, striped bass, and weakfish are open all year round.

You can also bag as many as 15 bluefish a day without getting on the wrong side of the law. And since this fish is abundant in the Rhode Island waters, there’s no minimum size and you can spear any bluefish that looks at you the wrong way.

Other fish however are completely banned from any form of fishing including spearfishing. A notable example is the river herring and the American shad. Both of these species are endangered.

MASSACHUSETTS

Massacusetts accepts all fishing licenses issued in all other New England states except for Maine. It’s not clear why they make that distinction against the good people of Maine, but since it doesn’t cost much to get a Massachusetts license, we can’t say that Stephen King et al. will be deterred from visiting Martha’s Vineyard of Cape Cod for the odd fishing trip.

And since tautog and black sea bass are available in these waters, spearfishers don’t mind paying for the license if it means they get a few prized fish in their bag.

License

If you’re between the ages of 16 and 60, the state of Massachusetts requires that you apply for a fishing license. The license itself costs only $10. However, if you’re a disabled person or working on a fishing vessel, you don’t need to pay such a hefty levy.

Rules and Regulations

Massachusetts is a bit strict when it comes to protecting certain fish species from the prongs of spearfishers. The following fish are not to be speared, stabbed, snagged, or snatched:

  1. Anadromous fish including but not limited to striped bass, shad, trout, smelt, salmon, and white perch. However blueback herring and alewives are OK for spearfishing.
  2. Billfish.
  3. Sea turtles.
  4. Diamondback terrapin.
  5. All marine mammals.
  6. Sturgeon.

In addition, you’re not allowed to sell the fish you spear without a license. There are other regulations for the size of the fish and the bag limitations that you can read about here.

CONNECTICUT

The last New England harbor we’re going to dock at before we take out leave is Connecticut. You can go spearfishing here both in freshwater and saltwater. A license from New Hampshire is not welcome here but then again, you don’t have to make a fuss about it. Any other license from New England will work just fine in Connecticut.

License

It’s not cheap to get a fishing license in Connecticut. If you’re a tourist it might be worth your while to hop over to nearby Massachusetts to get one of their $10 licenses and come back to spearfish in Connecticut waters. The reason being the license and permit system here is rather complex.

There are fishing licenses for inland, marine, underage, above age, and combination of fishing and hunting licenses. For residents you can get an all water license for $32 for adults and $16 for those aged 16 and 17. If you’re a non-resident then an all water license that costs $64 should cover all your spearfishing needs.

Rules and Regulations

Connecticut follows Massachusetts suit in employing some of the strictest fishing regulations this side of the Atlantic. Fish species such as the alewife and blueback herring is prohibited from any form of fishing. As for striped bass, you can only get it with a rod and line. Spearing this species is now allowed.

The allowed fish size and bag limits vary from one fish species to the next. You can find out more information here.

NEW YORK

New York is famous for its great lakes among other things. So as you can imagine freshwater fishing is a big thing for New Yorkers and visitors from the neighboring states. In fact the top two fishing categories here are cold water and warm water fishing. So this is what we’ll be focusing on here.

Freshwater spearfishing opens the door for a wide variety of species that you don’t encounter in the ocean. So to say that New York and its lakes act as a magnet for spearos all year round is actually putting it mildly. Only when the lakes freeze over during the winter do spearfishers abandon it for more accessible bodies of water down south.

License

In New York you can get a regular license or obtain a lifetime license. However, not everyone is required to get a fishing license to go spearfishing. Visually impaired residents of the state for example are exempt from having a fishing license. The same applies for members of the National Guard or US Reserve Forces.

People under 16 don’t have to have a license when they go spearfishing. Native Americans from the Shinnecock and Poospatuck tribes or the Six Nations who reside in the state get free lifetime licenses.

Rules and Regulations

Apart from the generous permits and licenses system, the state of New York knows the importance of fishing and spearfishing for the wellbeing of people whether they are residents or visitors. The rules reflect that in their leniency and permissiveness.

Some fish species such as the brown trout, lake trout, and yellow perch are available all year round. In the case of yellow perch there are no limits on the fish size and your bag can have 50 of the species on a good day without having an officer of the marine law batting an eye.

The only notable exception here is the lake sturgeon which is considered a protected species and all forms of fishing are outlawed.

NEW JERSEY

New Jersey is the younger sister who looks up to its more attractive sibling, New York, with envy. But that doesn’t mean that New Jersey is devoid of talent or attractions. After all, Bruce Springsteen hails from that state so that’s something.

License

In New Jersey you have to be 70 years or over to get away with fishing or spearfishing for free. That’s how hard nosed the state is. License fees are categorized by age group. Residents between 16 and 64 have to pay $22.5 a year while those above 64 but haven’t made it past the free threshold have to pay a discounted fee of $12.5 for an annual license.

For non-residents there’s a uniform charge of $34 per annum for all ages from 16 up.

Rules and Regulations

Northern pikes, muskellunge, chain pickerel, hybrid striped bass, American shad, channel catfish, crappie, rock bass, white perch, yellow perch, suckers, and carp are among the widely available fish statewide that you can fish and spearfish all year round. 

Some of the fish that are considered either endangered or protected and that you shouldn’t be caught in possession of are the esteemed sunfish family members:

  1. Blackbanded sunfish.
  2. Mud sunfish.
  3. Bluespotted sunfish.
  4. Banded sunfish.

DELAWARE

The Delaware River crossing proved decisive for George Washington during the War of Independence. Delaware also gave us Joe Biden. So as a small state, it has one thing or two to be proud of. But you don’t have to be a history buff or have even a remote interest in politics to want to visit Delaware. You only need to be a spearo to appreciate all it has to offer.

License

Delaware is one of the cheapest states to get a fishing license. For residents, it only costs $8.5 a year to go fishing. A non-resident would have to pay $20 to have the privilege of fishing in its waters. Another $4.20 will get you a trout stamp if you’re a local adult. Tourists would be charged a whole $6.20 to go trout fishing in its ponds, creeks, and namesake river.

Rules and Regulations

There are two types of fishing regulations in Delaware: tidal and non-tidal. The red drum, bluefish, catfish, scup, Spanish mackerel, spotted seatrout, and summer flounder among others have an open season all year round. Most have bag size limitations except for the Atlantic croaker that you can take home as much as you like.

River herring, alewife, and blueback are prohibited from fishing or harvesting. The same applies for a whole plethora of sharks that include

  1. Sandbar shark
  2. Sand tiger
  3. Basking shark
  4. Bigeye sixgill shark
  5. Atlantic angel shark

For a full list of prohibited fish species this page has all the information you need.

MARYLAND

In the state of Maryland you get to enjoy both fresh and saltwater fishing. Their licenses are the most flexible we have seen. You get a license for 365 days from the day of purchase. This in addition to an abundance of fish makes it a must visit for any serious spearo.

License

You don’t have to get a license if you’re under 16, a resident who’s currently serving in the US military, or you go fishing on the first two Saturdays of June or on July 4. Other than that you’ll need to get a license. For a resident, you’ll pay $20.5 for a year-long nontidal sport fishing license. Non-residents are charged $30.5 for the same license.

Rules and Regulations

Like Delaware, Maryland prohibits fishing alewife and blueback herrings unless you enjoy the more merciful practice of catch and release. The same applies to shad and sturgeon. You can find the full list along with fish size and bag limitations here.

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