South Carolina Hunting & Fishing
The following laws pertain to recreational saltwater fishing, shrimping, crabbing and shellfishing. Individuals (age 16 and older) harvesting marine resources, including finfish, oysters, clams, shrimp and crab must purchase an annual, temporary or 3 Year Saltwater Recreational Fishing License – unless fishing on a licensed public fishing pier; fishing on a licensed charter/headboat vessel while under hire; using 3 or fewer drop nets, 3 or fewer fold up traps, or 3 or fewer handlines with no hooks and a single bait per line (chicken necking); or shrimp baiting (which requires a shrimp baiting license).
Fishing piers and chartered vessels charging a fee for fishing must purchase an annual Public Fishing Pier or Charter/Headboat Vessel license, respectively. Applications for Public Fishing Pier and Charter Vessel Licenses are available from the SCDNR office in Charleston.
Any person engaged in selling any fish or fishery product, including bait harvested in SC state waters, must first obtain the appropriate license. To qualify for a resident commercial saltwater fishing license, one must have been a resident of this state for the past 365 consecutive days and furnish proof to SCDNR at the time of application.
Regulations concerning commercial saltwater fishing are provided with commercial licenses and are available through the Marine Resources Division at the address below.
As required by S.C. Code Section 8-29-10, applicants for a commercial license or permit are required to complete an affidavit entitled “Verification of Lawful Presence in the United States” certifying that the applicant is lawfully in the United States. The affidavit MUST be completed, notarized and returned with the application.
For more information, contact: SCDNR Licensing, P.O. Box 12559, Charleston, SC 29422, 843-953-9301, http://www.dnr.sc.gov/licensing.html.
For federal fishery limits and regulations, contact: South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, North Charleston, SC 29405, 843-571-4366, www.safmc.net.
To learn about the projects and programs that received support from the Saltwater Recreational Fishing License Program this fiscal year, visit http://saltwaterfishing.sc.gov.
Saltwater Fishing Methods & Devices
For information on how to purchase a Saltwater Recreational Fishing License see Licenses Recreational Hunting & Fishing.
Bush Lines / Pole Lines
Saltwater Recreational Fishing License required.
Recreational fisherman may not use more than ten bush or pole lines with single hooks or baits.
Hook & Line
Saltwater Recreational Fishing License required. Federal Highly Migratory Species Permit required when fishing for tuna, billfish, swordfish, and sharks in federal waters. The same federal permit is also required for possession of these species in state waters, with the exception of sharks.
- It is unlawful to fish from a boat within 300 feet of commercial fishing piers extending into the Atlantic Ocean.
- Fishing from the shore in the waters under or within 50 feet on either side or beyond the end of any ocean fishing pier in Horry County is prohibited.
Gigging (Gig, Spear, & Bow & Arrow)
Saltwater Recreational Fishing License required.
- It is unlawful to gig for flounder in salt waters during daylight hours. For the purposes of this section, gigging does not include underwater spear fishing.
- It is unlawful to gig for sharks.
- It is unlawful to gig red drum or spotted seatrout during Dec., Jan. and Feb.
- It is unlawful in Georgetown County to gig for fish in saltwaters from the northern tip of North Island to the northern tip of Magnolia Beach during daylight hours.
Cast Nets (Other than Shrimp Baiting)
Saltwater Recreational Fishing License required.
Seines & Gill Nets (Anchor, Set, Stake & Drift Nets)
Saltwater Recreational Fishing License and Gill Net Equipment License required. For more information on equipment licenses call 843-953-9311.
No closed season in saltwater (except shad and herring see Shad & Herring Fishing Regulations).
- SC gamefish (cobia, red drum, spotted seatrout, tarpon, and striped bass) may not be taken by nets. Sharks may not be taken by gill nets.
- No more than one lawful gill net can be used recreationally.
- Gill nets no longer than 100 feet with a 3-inch minimum stretched mesh size may be used only in unrestricted areas of the Atlantic Ocean. Gill nets no longer than 100 yards with 3-inch minimum stretched mesh size may be used only in special designated inshore areas.
- Gill nets must be marked with one end buoy that is international orange in color with the name and address of the owner. Operator must be within 500 feet of the net, be within hailing distance and have visual contact with the net at all times when deployed.
- Nets may not be set more than halfway across any waterway at any time.
- Stationary or fixed nets, including gill nets, may not be set or placed within 600 feet of a net previously set.
- It is unlawful to use any seine or gill net in any waters within a state park; except, small hand seines and cast nets for taking shrimp are allowed.
Trotlines (Long Lines)
Saltwater Recreational Fishing License and Trotline Equipment License required. For more information on equipment licenses call 843-953-9311.
- No more than two trotlines with a cumulative total of 50 hooks or baits can be used recreationally.
- Trotlines used in the inshore SC saltwaters must have at least one end buoy, international orange in color with the name and address of the owner.
- Trotlines used in the Atlantic Ocean must be marked with a buoy not less than 20 inches in diameter at each end, international orange in color, which floats in a manner to be clearly visible at all times.
Special Management Zones
The following Artificial Reefs have been declared “Special Management Zones” and are protected by federal regulations: BP-25, Beaufort 45, Betsy Ross, Bill Perry, C.J. Davidson, Cape Romain, Capers, Charleston 60, Comanche, Eagles Nest, Edisto 40, Edisto 60, Edisto Offshore, Fripp Island, Georgetown, Greenville, Hilton Head, Hunting Island, Kiawah, Little River Offshore, North Inlet, Paradise, Pawleys Island, Ten Mile, Vermilion, Wayne Upchurch, Will Goldfinch and Y-73. Fishing may be conducted only with handheld hook and line gear and spearfishing gear (excluding powerheads). The use of fish traps, longlines, gill nets and trawls is prohibited. Powerheads (bangsticks) are prohibited except for safety purposes. It is unlawful to possess, land or sell any species of fish taken with a bangstick (reef and non-reef areas). The harvest and possession of snapper grouper and coastal migratory pelagic species by commercial and recreational fishermen will be limited to the recreational bag limit within the Special Management Zones.
Unlawful to Sell Gamefish & Billfish
The following species have been declared gamefish and native caught fish may not be sold: cobia, red drum (channel bass), spotted seatrout, striped bass and tarpon. The purchase, barter, trade, or sale of billfish, including marlin, sailfish and spearfish, is unlawful regardless of where taken or landed.
- Harvest of red drum from federal waters (3-200 miles offshore) is prohibited.
- The use of dynamite, gun powder, lime or any other explosive in or about any waters of this state is unlawful.
- It is unlawful to take, have in one’s possession or to land or sell any species of fish taken by means of a bangstick or similar device.
- The commercial sale of diamondback terrapins is prohibited.
- Harvest and possession of horseshoe crabs is prohibited without a commercial permit. A permit is not required to possess a castoff or molted shell of a horseshoe crab.
- It is unlawful to sell or offer for sale any sea turtles or to offer for sale, sell or destroy any sea turtle eggs. Sea turtles are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act.
- It is unlawful to display, feed, net, trap, harpoon, molest or otherwise interfere with the well-being or normal activity of marine mammals of the orders Cetacea, Sirenia and Pinnipedia, including but not limited to bottlenose dolphin, spotted dolphin, common dolphin, manatee, porpoise, harbor seal and any species of whale in any waters of the state. Marine mammals are also protected by federal law.
- It is unlawful to buy, sell, possess or ship Shortnose Sturgeon and Atlantic Sturgeon.
Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s)
Four MPA’s (Snowy Grouper Wreck, Northern SC, Edisto, and Charleston Deep Artificial Reef) are located off of the SC coast. Fishing or possession (unless gear is appropriately stored) of snapper grouper species and shark bottom longline gear is prohibited in these areas. For locations and more details on these MPAs, please visit www.safmc.net or call 843-571-4366.
The dividing line between saltwater and freshwater on the rivers listed is defined in this section. All waters of the rivers and their tributaries, streams and estuaries lying seaward of the dividing lines are considered saltwaters, and all waters lying landward or upstream from all dividing lines are considered freshwaters for purposes of licensing and regulating commercial and recreational fishing. Except as otherwise provided below, the saltwater/freshwater dividing line is US Highway 17:
- On Savannah River the dividing line is the abandoned Seaboard Railroad track bed located approximately one and three-fourths miles upstream from the US Highway 17A bridge.
- Wright River is salt water for its entire length.
- On Ashepoo River the dividing line is the old Seaboard Railroad track bed.
- On New River the dividing line is at Cook’s Landing.
- Wallace River (5a), Rantowles Creek (5b), Long Branch Creek (5c), and Shem Creek (5d) are saltwater for their entire lengths.
- On Edisto River the dividing line is the abandoned Seaboard Railroad track bed near Matthews Canal Cut.
- On Ashley River the dividing line is the confluence of Popper Dam Creek directly across from Magnolia Gardens.
- On Cooper River the dividing line is the seaward shoreline of Old Back River at the confluence of Old Back River downstream from Bushy Park Reservoir.
- Wando River is saltwater for its entire length.
- On the Intracoastal Waterway in Horry County the dividing line is the bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway at the intersection of S.C. Highway 9 and US Highway 17.
How to Properly Measure a Saltwater Fish
TL=total length measure: From the closed mouth (snout) to the tip of the tail fin when pinched together. It is a straight line measure, not over the curvature of the body. FL=fork length measure: From the tip of the closed mouth (snout) to the center of the fork of the tail. It is a straight line measure, not over the curvature of the body.