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Protected Species

Saltwater Marine Fishing Regulations Rhode Island Saltwater Fishing

How RI Recreational Fishermen and Boaters Can Protect Sturgeon, Sea Turtles, and Marine Mammals

Marine mammals, sea turtles, and Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon live in Rhode Island waters and are protected under the Endangered Species Act and/or the Marine Mammal Protection Act. These laws protect these species from harm and injury caused by human activities. Sturgeon, sea turtles, and marine mammals can occur in the same areas where you fish and boat. It’s important to watch out for these animals.

Sea turtles and marine mammals breathe air, and come up to the surface regularly. Sturgeon also go to the surface, and can even jump out of the water.

A collision with a boat of any size can injure or kill an animal. When boating, keep a safe distance from any animals you see. Collisions can also cause injuries to people (or injure you).

To protect these animals when fishing, do not cast your gear if you see them in the area, as they can become hooked or entangled in fishing gear. It is also important never to leave fishing line or netting in the water, as these animals can easily become entangled in abandoned gear.

Follow NOAA Fisheries guidelines below if you encounter, or accidentally hook, one of these protected animals to keep yourself and the animal as safe as possible.


Shortnose sturgeon


Atlantic sturgeon

Atlantic and Shortnose Sturgeon

Keeping these animals out of the water even for a short time can be harmful. Keeping accidentally caught sturgeon is illegal.

If you accidentally hook a sturgeon:

  • Keep the fish in the water and remove hooks or cut the line, if hooked deep.
  • Use wet hands or a wet rag to support the belly if you need to remove a fish from the water.
  • Always support the fish in the water until it is able to swim away.

Knowing where sturgeon are caught helps us protect these species. Please report any sightings or captures of sturgeon to our email or phone number listed below.

Sea Turtles

If you accidently capture or see an injured or entangled sea turtle, please call our hotline immediately. Authorized and trained responders will act quickly to ensure that the animal is assessed, completely and safely disentangled, and provided with medical care, if necessary.

While waiting for the responders, the following steps can help reduce injuries to turtles caught by hook-and-line gear.

  • Keep hands away from the turtle’s mouth and flippers.
  • Use a net or lift the turtle by the shell to bring it on the pier or land. Do NOT lift by the hook or by pulling on the line. If the turtle is too large to net/lift, try to walk it to shore. When you have control of the sea turtle, use blunt scissors/knife to cut the line, leaving at least two feet of line to aid the responders in dehooking.
  • Leave the hook in place as removing it could cause more harm.
  • Keep the turtle out of direct sunlight, and cover the shell with a damp towel.

If you cannot reach the response team and are unable to bring the turtle to shore, cut the line as short as possible to release the turtle.


Marine Mammals (whales, dolphins, porpoises, and seals)

Keep a safe distance from any marine mammals you see in the water, and remove fishing gear immediately if the animal approaches. For North Atlantic right whales, federal regulations prohibit approach within 500 yards. For other whale species, maintain a distance of at least 100 feet, and never approach head on or cut off the animal’s path of travel. Never travel through a humpback whale bubble cloud—a whale is just about to surface in that location.

For dolphins and seals, maintain a distance of 150 feet. Seals may often haul out on beaches or rocky outcroppings to rest or nurse their young. Flushing the animals from these locations with your boat’s wake or by approaching too closely is illegal.

If you accidentally hook a marine mammal in your recreational fishing gear, cut the line and report the event to our hotline immediately. Please remember, entangled animals are often injured, scared, and can behave unpredictably. Never enter the water to attempt rescues on your own as this is very dangerous and puts your life at risk. It is also illegal.


Who to Contact

To Report


Sturgeon Sightings or Injuries

Email or 978-282-8473

Sea Turtle Sightings


Dead, Injured, or Entangled Sea Turtles and Marine Mammals


For more general information or questions on how you can help these animals, visit call 978-281-9328.