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New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving

Catch Restrictions

New Jersey - 2015

This listing is only for species that are of interest to scuba divers. Just because something is not listed here does not mean it is not regulated - check state and federal authorities. Regulations change, for the latest, see njfishandwildlife.com.

New Jersey now requires a registration for saltwater fishing, including lobsters. Registration is free and can be done online at nj.gov/dep/saltwaterregistry.

This listing is for New Jersey waters only - if you cross into New York or Delaware, or Federal waters ( more than 3 miles offshore, ) you are subject to their regulations. Federal regulations supercede state regulations whenever stricter. See below for links.

This is an informal partial listing of New Jersey fishing regulations.
For the latest definitive regulations, see the sources listed below.

Lobster Size: 3-3/8" - 5-1/4"
Open Season:
lobster measurement
Jan 1 - April 29, limit 6
June 1 - Dec 31, limit 6

see below for additional regulations
Black Sea Bass Minimum size: 12.5"
Open Season:
sea bass measurement
May 19 - June 37, limit 15
July 1 - July 31, limit 2
Oct 22 - Dec 31, limit 15
Tautog (Blackfish) Minimum size: 15"
Open Season: Jan 1 - Feb 28, limit 4
April 1 - April 30, limit 4
July 17 - Nov 15, limit 1
Nov 16 - Dec 31, limit 6
Summer Flounder (Fluke) Minimum size: 18"
Open Season:May 22 - Sept 26, limit 5
Winter Flounder Minimum size: 12"
Open Season:March 1 - Dec 31, limit 2
Scup (Porgy) Minimum size: 9"
Open Season:no closed season, limit: 50
Striped Bass complicated - see state regulations
Bluefish (Snapper) Minimum size: none
Open Season:no closed season, limit 15
Cod Minimum size: 21"
Open Season:no closed season, no limit
Haddock Minimum size: 21"
Open Season:no closed season, no limit
Pollock Minimum size: 19"
Open Season:no closed season, no limit
Hakes, Triggerfish, Goosefish, Mussels

No species of fish with a minimum size limit listed above may be filleted or cleaned at sea.

Additional Lobster Regulations:

Lobster Measurement

American lobster taken by hand or any gear or methods other than otter trawl, pot or trap shall be limited to six lobsters in possession or taken in any one calendar day.

lobster tail notchA person shall not posses a female lobster bearing a V-shaped notch ( that is, a straight-sided triangular cut without setal hairs, at least one-eighth inch in depth and tapering to a sharp point ) in the flipper next to the right of the center flipper as viewed from the rear of the female lobster. V-notched female lobster also means any female which is mutilated in a manner which could hide, obscure or obliterate such a mark. The right flipper will be examined when the underside of the lobster is down and its tail is toward the person making the determination.

The taking or possession of female lobsters with eggs attached or from which eggs have been removed is prohibited. The taking or possession of female lobsters with a v-notched tail is prohibited. The use of any spear, gig, gaff or other penetrating device is prohibited.

Since the 1980s, it has been illegal to take scallops from Federal waters ( beyond 3 miles ) without a Federal scallop permit.


brown shirt
... because you really don't want this to happen to you !

Of course, it is completely illegal to harm any type of marine mammal, sea turtle, or sea bird.

In fresh water, it is illegal for a diver to take any kind of game fish - bass, trout, perch, etc - although it may be legal to take "rough fish" - catfish, carp, etc. Check local regulations.

23:10-20. Searches and seizures; immunity from civil suit

A member of the Fish and Game Council and any conservation officer may, without warrant search and examine any boat, conveyance, vehicle, fish box, fish basket, game bag, game coat or other receptacle for game and fish, when he has reason to believe that a provision of this Title, or any law supplementary thereto, or the State Fish and Game Code has been violated, and shall seize and take possession of any firearms, bows and arrows, shells or cartridges, fishing rods and reels, fishing lines, knives, lights, slingshots, traps, spears, spear guns or any other article or equipment that has been illegally used or any bird, animal or fish unlawfully caught, taken, killed, had in possession or under control, shipped or about to be shipped. A court, upon receiving proof of probable cause for believing in the concealment of a bird, animal or fish so unlawfully caught, taken, killed, had in possession or under control, shipped or about to be shipped, shall issue a search warrant and cause a search to be made in any place, and to that end, may, after demand and refusal, cause any building, enclosure or car to be entered, and any apartment, chest, box, locker, crate, basket or package to be broken open and its contents examined by a member of the Fish and Game Council or any conservation officer. All firearms, bows and arrows, shells or cartridges, fishing rods and reels, fishing lines, knives, lights, slingshots, traps, spears, spear guns or any other article or equipment that has been illegally used and seized by a member of the council or any conservation officer shall be returned to the defendant when and if the case has been dismissed, if he has been found not guilty, or if he has been convicted and has paid the penalty and costs imposed, if any.

The member of the council or conservation officer shall not be liable for damages by reason of any such search or the seizure of any nets or fishing, hunting or trapping apparatus in accordance herewith.

Amended by L.1948, c. 448, p. 1830, s. 88; L.1972, c. 184, s. 1, eff. Dec. 12, 1972.

Sizes & Limits Over the Years, and my Soapbox

Here are the minimum sizes and catch limits for the four most popular species for divers. Changes are in bold. Limits shown are for different segments of the year. I couldn't possibly show all the open and closed seasons here, but you still get some idea ...


Lobster Black Sea Bass Blackfish Summer Flounder
2015 3-3/8"6 12.5"15/2/15 15.0"4/4/1/6 18.0"5
2014 3-3/8"6 12.5"15/3/15 15.0"4/4/1/6 18.0"5
2013 3-3/8"6 12.5"15 15.0"4/4/1/6 17.5"5
2012 3-3/8"6 12.5"25 15.0"** 17.5"5
2011 3-3/8"6 12.5"25 14.0"4/0/1/6 18.0"8
2010 3-3/8"6 12.5"25 14.0"4/0/1/6 18.0"6
2009 3-3/8"6 12.5"25 14.0"4/0/1/6 18.0"6
2008 3-3/8"6 12.0"25 14.0"4/0/1/6 18.0"8
2007 3-3/8"6 12.0"25 14.0"4/1/8 17.0"8
2006 3-3/8"6 12.0"25 14.0"4/1/8 16.5"8
2005 3-3/8"6 12.0"25 14.0"4/1/8 16.5"8
2004 3-3/8"6 12.0"25 14.0"4/1/8 16.5"8
2003 3-5/16"6 12.0"25 14.0"4/1/8 16.5"8
2002 3-1/4" *6 11.5"25 14.0"10/1 16.5"8
2001 3-1/4"6 11.0"25 14.0"10/1 16.0"8
2000 3-1/4"6 10.0"none 14.0"10/1 15.5"8

* The 5-1/4" maximum size limit for lobsters went into effect in 2002/2004.

** 4/0/4/0/1/0/1/4 - Yes, this is insanity, I doubt many people paid attention to it.

Of course, what seems worse for us is hopefully better for the fish. Fisheries management is educated guessing that is often based on far too little data. Scientists can collect reports from commercial and recreational fishermen, and also go out and do biomass surveys, often by trawling, just as the commercial fishermen do. They do the best they can, but none of this is enough to really say what is down there, let alone predict what will happen in the future.

One thing is for sure though - the old man fluking off a bulkhead with his grandkids isn't going to catch anything he can keep, but he is going to keep whatever he can catch. Excessive regulation turns us all into scofflaws - did anyone ever actually drive 55 mph? It is my belief that recreational fisheries are over-regulated to placate commercial interests. If damage is being done, it is the commercial fishermen, with their giant sea-going vacuum cleaners and miles of long-lines, that are doing it, not you and me with our bare hands.

A thing that works out disastrously is setting the catch limit to one. That just makes people go on butchering fish all day, trying to get their one big one. Catch and release has a high mortality rate, especially in deep water. "Functionally dead" is the scientific term for something that is still moving right now, but it is not going to live, whether or not you release it. Have you ever seen a fish with its guts pushed out of its body by its over-expanded swim bladder? Or a fish with its mouth torn apart by a hook? That is functionally dead. Scientists made up this term, yet fisheries management bureaucrats never seem to have heard it.

Setting minimum size limits unrealistically high is simply going to result in the massacre of "undersized" fish the same way. And if you really want to get steamed, commercial fishermen are held to quite different rules that allow them to keep smaller fish than you or I would be permitted. The 2015 commercial minimum size for Sea Bass is 11", Cod is 19", and Summer Flounder is only 14" ! In fact, the commercials have a lower minimum size for just about every regulated species. But then, pretty much everything they pull up in a trawl or hook on a long-line is going to be "functionally dead", so they might as well keep it.

If you really want to protect the fish, set the limit to ZERO - no fishing at all. That wouldn't make very good politics though, and unfortunately, fisheries management is far more politics than science. And the commercial fishermen are really, really, well-organized on that front. But don't be too hard on them - do you like to have fish in the supermarket? They have to come from somewhere. Those guys have families to support too.

The Blackfish rules are designed to spare the pregnant females until after they spawn, which is a good idea. The Black Sea Bass rules are similar - they go stupid during their brief spawning season. I don't think there is much rhyme or reason to the Summer Flounder rules - they come and go as they please - some years there are none, and then the next year they are everywhere. Look at the years 2010-2012 and ask yourself if that makes sense.

I don't mind the increased minimum for lobsters - 3-1/4" is really not much of a bug. But I do resent them taking away our trophies. There are plenty of giant bugs out in deep water where no diver can go, but the commercial fishermen can drop a pot to any depth. They should not have applied the maximum size to the recreational fishery, but then the commercials would be screaming 'unfair', and in the end, as I said, it all comes down to politics.

Biology ( including medicine ) is the most imprecise of the sciences. The systems are so huge, complex, subtle, and/or random, that it is often difficult to determine anything at all. So they collect what data they can ( often not nearly enough ) and then statistically analyze the hell out of it to try to prove something. And maybe they do, and maybe they don't; no one ever publishes a paper that says "we didn't find anything, it was a waste of time," at least not more than once.

Stupid regulations turn everyone into scofflaws

Health Advisories - 2015

For Atlantic Ocean only; other advisories apply for other areas and inland

  1. Lobster:
    do not eat green gland ( tomalley )

  2. Striped Bass:
    one meal per month
    pregnant women & children - do not eat

  3. Bluefish:
    for fish over 6 pounds: six meals per year
    for fish under 6 pounds: one meal per month
    pregnant women & children - do not eat

  4. American Eel:
    four meals per year
    pregnant women & children - do not eat

Also, although there's no official government warning on the subject, you'd have to be pretty crazy to eat Conger Eel from local waters, as their fatty tissues accumulate toxins and pollutants in startling levels. In general, the best way to avoid this sort of low-level contamination when hunting or fishing is to avoid large old individuals of any species. These fishes have had longer to build up concentrations of harmful chemicals in their tissues. Instead, choose smaller younger targets if you are concerned about health matters. This is probably also true for lobsters and other invertebrates as well.

Should you eat it ? Mercury concerns in seafood - differing opinions

Fishing for a Low-Mercury Dinner

Tuesday, December 23, 2003
By Lauran Neergaard,
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Fish are heart-healthy, and most people should eat more. But fish also can contain mercury, and too much mercury can harm brain cells, especially in the very young.

So what are the best choices for both the heart and the brain?

Salmon and oysters top the list as high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and very low in mercury, and there are numerous other low-mercury choices, too.

Yet the government has no consumer-friendly list of its own mercury testing results to help people of different ages choose seafood.

In fact, the good news about low-mercury choices has been far overshadowed by a battle over which fish the Food and Drug Administration should warn people most at risk from mercury, pregnant women and young children, to avoid. That controversy made headlines again recently as the FDA grappled with whether certain types of ever-popular tuna should be on the do-not-eat list for those people.

The potential backlash effect, even mercury critics acknowledge, is that many consumers could be scared away from fish in general - a bad choice.

"It's really unfortunate, " especially for middle-aged people who are most in need of fish and least at risk from mercury, says Dr. William S. Harris of the American Heart Association.

His organization recommends that most people eat a variety of fish rich in omega-3s at least twice a week, even more for those diagnosed with heart disease.

"The message should be: 'Eat more fish for your health while minimizing your mercury intake, '" adds Ned Groth, a scientist with Consumers Union, a nonprofit group that is pushing the FDA to publicize low-mercury choices.

Mercury pollution washes into waterways and builds up in fish. The bigger the fish, the more mercury it contains.

Over time, the metal can accumulate in fish-eaters' bodies, too. High enough levels can damage the growing brains of fetuses and young children. About 8 percent of women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their blood to put a fetus at risk.

Far less is known about the potential dangers of mercury-containing seafood in other people. Consumer advocates say about 3 million people are extreme seafood lovers, eating so much of it per week that, depending on what varieties they choose, they might be at risk, too.

Still, exposure by fetuses and young children are clearly the biggest concern. The FDA's scientific advisers recently urged the government to stress low-mercury choices for women of childbearing age and youngsters, so the FDA is rewriting its seafood recommendations. The new list is due out next spring.

For now, a review of FDA's mercury measurements in 39 seafood varieties shows:

  1. Salmon, oysters, whitefish, sea bass, freshwater trout, and sardines contain both high levels of heart-healthy omega-3s and low mercury levels, below 0.13 parts per million.
  2. Other low-mercury choices include perch, king crab, flounder, sole, pollock, catfish, croaker, scallops, crawfish, shrimp, clams, and tilapia. They contain less omega-3s, but servings can add up.
  3. Tuna is controversial, because different varieties contain different amounts of both mercury and heart-healthy fats. Canned light tuna contains a small amount of omega-3, about as much as shrimp, and fairly low 0.13 ppm mercury. But fresh tuna steaks and the more expensive canned white or albacore tuna contain three times as much mercury, and almost as much omega-3 as salmon.
  4. Also in the medium-mercury range are saltwater trout, bluefish, lobster, halibut, haddock, snapper and crabs. Grouper and orange roughy are at the high end of this group. FDA's advisers said women of childbearing age probably should limit these fish to a serving a week.

The FDA advises women of childbearing age to avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tile- fish, which contain the most mercury of species tested to date.

Go easy on fried and breaded fish like fish sticks; heart-harming grease outweighs the omega-3s.

Check local mercury advisories if you're eating fish from local lakes and ponds, which can be much more polluted than the sources of commercial fish.

For most men and post-menopausal women, mercury concern plummets and the main message is to eat a variety of fish and more of it, the heart association says.

'If they're eating the same fish day after day, that's probably not wise, ' said Harris, a researcher at the Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo. 'It's probably good to mix it up.'

Fishy Mercury Warning

Thursday, December 25, 2003
By Steven Milloy
Fox News

The Food and Drug Administration just issued a new warning to pregnant women about mercury in seafood. You can 'protect your baby' from developmental harm by following three rules, claims the FDA.

But there's no evidence that the rules will protect anyone and they're only likely to foster undue concern about an important part of our food supply.

'Do no eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury, ' is the FDA's first rule.

It's certainly true that such larger fish tend to have higher levels of mercury in their tissue since mercury levels tend to accumulate up the food chain. But unless women are consuming fish that have been exposed to industrial-level concentrations of mercury for extended periods of time - as Japanese women in the vicinity of Minamata Bay did during the 1950s - it's not at all clear that consuming large fish is any sort of health risk.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health recently reported in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ( Feb. 2002 ) that they could not find mercury-related health effects among a group of regular swordfish consumers.

Although a 'significant relationship between fish consumption and blood mercury concentrations' was identified by the researchers, 'higher blood mercury concentrations were, however, not associated with specific patterns of health complaints.'

There is also no evidence of a general threat to infants and children from typical maternal consumption of fish with typical mercury concentrations.

'No evidence of adverse effect from either pre- or post-natal exposure to methyl mercury, ' is how Thomas W. Carson of the University of Rochester School of Medicine characterizes the results of an ongoing study of children in the Seychelles Islands.

In fact, 'a surprising finding in the results of the examination of children at 66 months of age was that several [intelligence] tests scores improved as either pre- or post-natal mercury levels increased linear regression analysis reveals statistically significant beneficial correlations, ' noted Dr. Carson.

That's exactly the opposite situation of what the FDA claims as the basis of its warning!

Aside from Minamata Bay, not a single clinical case of mercury poisoning associated with fish consumption is to be found in the scientific literature, according to Dr. Carson.

It seems the FDA is warning ( scaring? ) us about a scenario that has, essentially, never occurred.

The FDA's other two rules are similarly not grounded in science.

'Levels of mercury in other fish can vary. You can safely eat up to 12 ounces ( two to three meals ) of other purchased fish and shellfish per week. Mix up the types of fish and shell fish you eat and do not eat the same type of fish and shellfish more than once a week, ' warns the FDA's second rule.

Now where did the 12 ounces-per-week figure come from? Is there evidence that consuming 13 ounces per week - or for that matter, 130 ounces per week - is dangerous? Is there evidence that eating the same type of fish and shellfish more than once a week is harmful?

The FDA's 12 ounces-per-week rule is simply arbitrary.

The third FDA rule reads, 'Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local rivers and streams. If no advice is available, you can safely eat up to 6 ounces ( one meal ) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.'

The FDA apparently wants us to think that any given local body of water is potentially a Minamata Bay situation, where tons of mercury were dumped into the water over the course of two decades. But even if such situations existed in the U.S. - and they never have - the Minamata Bay mercury poisoning victims no doubt consumed much more fish than one six-ounce meal per week.

Seafood is most definitely part of a healthy diet. Further, the seafood industry is a large part of our economy. Unless the FDA has a science-based health warning to issue, it ought to clam up.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams ( Cato Institute, 2001 )

Respond to the Writer

USFDA Methyl-Mercury Advisory Levels

Omega-3 ounces
per serving
Tuna, white *
Tuna, light *
0.68 - 1.83
0.98 - 1.70
0.37 - 1.17
0.40 - 1.00
0.07 - 0.41
0.34 - 0.40
* Canned; a serving is three ounces


National Marine Fisheries Service ( NMFS )
NE Region
1 Blackburn Pl.
Gloucester MA 01930-2298
  • possession limits: 508-281-9260
  • federal permit applications: 508-281-9370
  • local NMFS law enforcement: 609-390-8303 or 908-528-3315
  • Tuna Quota updates: 301-713-1279
NJ Department of Environmental Protection
Division of Fish, Game & Wildlife
CN 400
Trenton NJ 08625-0400
  • information: 609-292-2965
  • marine fisheries: 609-292-2083
  • shellfisheries: 609-984-5546
  • law enforcement: 609-292-9430
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council ( ASMFC )
Mid Atlantic Fisheries Management Council
Mid Atlantic Fisheries Management Council

For additional Health Advisory information, contact:

NJ Department of Environmental Protection

Here are all the New Jersey Marine Digests in pdf, back through 2000. The state's website is just so painful and slow to find anything on:

Regulatory Contact List


New Jersey:

New York:





I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted



since 2016-09-11