Jul/Aug 2010Get In The Salt

South Carolina's coastal areas provide numerous opportunities for anyone interested in putting some of the ocean's bounty on their dinner table.

Saltwater fishing in South Carolina offers a wealth of opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy our state's natural resources. From deep-sea fishing offshore in the Gulf Stream to digging for clams with mud between your toes on one of the state's public shell fishing grounds, there are an almost endless number of ways for fishers young and old to enjoy what our state's coast has to offer. The DNR Marine Division's Saltwater Recreational License program Web site offers a wide variety of information on saltwater fishing opportunities in South Carolina, including basic how-to publications for various species, identification guides, scientific reports, species life histories and more. Visit www.saltwaterfishing.sc.gov.

Licensing and Regulations

Changes to the Saltwater Recreational Fishing License that became effective July 1, 2009, require all individuals age 16 and older who recreationally harvest fish, oysters, clams, shrimp and crabs to have a saltwater recreational fishing license. This includes individuals recreationally fishing from shore and recreationally shrimping or crabbing. Fishers exempt from this requirement include individuals fishing from a licensed public fishing pier or a licensed charter vessel while under hire; individuals 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 individuals shrimp baiting (which requires a separate shrimp baiting license). The new license requirements allow better access to information about recreational catch, which will lead to better management of South Carolina's valuable marine resources. Revenue generated from Saltwater Recreational Fishing License sales is used for the direct benefit of South Carolina's marine recreational fisheries.


The South Carolina shrimp harvest is comprised primarily of two species of the penaeid shrimp family, brown shrimp (Farfantepenaeus aztecus) and white shrimp (Litopenaeus setiferus). A third species, the pink shrimp (Farfantepenaeus duorarum), also occurs in state waters, but is a minor component of the South Carolina shrimp harvest. During most years, white shrimp make up the bulk of the recreational catch and are primarily caught from May to December, with the largest catches typically seen during the fall shrimp baiting season. Brown shrimp, which are less abundant than white shrimp, are typically caught in the state's tidal creeks from June to August. A variety of gear types can be used to recreationally catch shrimp, but the most common methods include cast nets, drop nets and hand seines. Casting for shrimp over bait has become the most significant method of recreational harvest in recent years. The shrimp baiting fishery, which targets white shrimp, is set by law to last 60 days and opens at noon on the last Friday on or before September 15. Possession limits for shrimp taken without the use of bait are: (May 1 – Dec. 15) daily catch limit of 48 quarts whole or 29 quarts headed per boat, per person if no boat is used, or per seining party; (Dec. 16 – Apr. 30) 12 dozen dead or live shrimp per boat. The daily catch limits for shrimping over bait during the established 60-day season are 48 quarts whole shrimp or 29 quarts of headed shrimp per boat (or per person if no boat is used).


Blue crabs can be caught during all twelve months, but become inactive in winter when water temperature falls below 50-55 degrees F. As temperatures rise in March and April, catch rates increase rapidly. The best time of year to harvest large, heavy crabs is usually from October to December. Mature females are typically near the ocean, but large males are most common in the rivers and creeks.

Recreational blue crab fishermen employ several gear types and methods. South Carolina law allows individuals with a saltwater recreational fishing license to fish two crab pots if they are properly marked with yellow floats bearing the owner's name. Drop nets and collapsible traps, usually baited with herring, can be fished from docks and bridges. Another effective recreational method called dipping requires a long-handled dip net, several yards of string and bait. Using any of these methods, crabs with a minimum five-inch-wide carapace (measured from point-to-point) may be harvested. Females with egg mass must be returned to the water immediately.


Shellfish (oysters and clams) may be harvested recreationally from state shellfish grounds and public shellfish grounds with a Saltwater Recreational Fishing License. Recreational harvesting is allowed on culture permit grounds (formerly leases), but only when the harvester has written permission (in their possession) from the culture permit holder. The shellfish season is typically open September 16 through May 15, but may be shortened or extended by the DNR.

Two U.S. bushels of oysters and/or one-half U.S. bushel of clams may be harvested per person, per day from state or public shellfish grounds. Clams must be at least one inch thick. No person may harvest shellfish recreationally on more than two calendar days per any seven day period. There is a maximum possession limit of three personal limits per boat or vehicle or boat and vehicle combination, regardless of the number of people on the boat or in the vehicle.

Tag & Release

Since 1974, the Marine Resources Division's Office of Fisheries Management has operated a tagging program that utilizes recreational anglers as a means for deploying external tags in marine game fish. Technically known as an angler-based tagging program, the South Carolina Marine Game Fish Tagging program has proven to be a useful tool for promoting the conservation of marine game fish and increasing public resource awareness. In addition, the program has provided biologists with valuable data on movement and migration rates between stocks, growth rates, habitat utilization, and mortality associated with both fishing or natural events.

For the last several years, the program has maintained a group of 225 trained volunteers and continues to evolve in order to meet the needs of fisheries managers and promote resource stewardship in support of the SCDNR mission.

Anglers are encouraged to report all tagged fish they encounter and to release those fish with the tag still intact. After all, one fish released is one more that can be caught again.


Enjoy the best of the Palmetto State's great outdoors! Subscribe to the SC Wildlife Magazine!

For Wildlife Watchers

The Eastern oyster's vital role in South Carolina estuaries is underscored by SCDNR Biologist Nancy Hadley, "Oysters are ecosystem engineers - they build habitat; they control water quality; they modify their environment. They are keystone species, like coral reefs. more...