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Recreational Fishing Regulations

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Frequently Asked Questions



Q. Where can I get a recreational fishing license?
Q. Do I need a saltwater fishing license?
Q. Do I have to buy a year-round fishing license?
Q. Ok, I have my license. What can I catch?
Q. Do you have any tips on where or how to fish?
Q. Do I need a license to crab for fun, or for dinner?
Q. I want to build a dock or a pier. Do I need a permit? If so, how do I get one?
Q. How long does it take to process a Joint Permit Application?
Q. What should I do if I see a boat accident or someone fishing illegally?
Q. When does the Commission’s board meet and how can I find out what they decided?
Q. What should I do if I spot a stranded marine animal?
Q. I don’t see my question answered here. What should I do?


Q. Where can I get a recreational fishing license?

A. They can be bought either online or over the phone through the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. 
The phone number is 1-866-721-6911 (available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except holidays).  Or you
can buy a license online at Recreational Fishing License.  Licenses also are sold at hundreds of locations across
the Commonwealth.  The one closest to you can be found by clicking here.


Q. Do I need a recreational saltwater fishing license?

A. Yes, unless you meet the requirements spelled out in the Code of Virginia for an exemption from having to purchase
a recreational saltwater fishing license.

Those exemptions include:


Q. Do I have to buy a year-round recreational fishing license?

A. No, you don’t.  We have a wide variety of short-term and lifetime fishing licenses available for purchase.  For a
complete list of all recreational saltwater licensing  visit us online at Virginia Saltwater Recreational Fishing Licenses


Q. Ok, I have my recreational saltwater license.  What can I catch?

A. This license is for finfish only.  Sizes, seasons, and creel limits on the species regulated by the Virginia Marine
Resources Commission can be found here.


Q. Do you have any tips on where or how to fish?

A. Our Saltwater Angler’s Guide contains extensive information on how to fish, where to fish, and best conservation
practices. Here's one:  Please use circle hooks because they are easier on the fish. The guide also lists
many of the public boat ramps and piers, and shows where the Virginia Marine Resource Commission’s artificial
reefs are located. Those man-made reefs provide habitat that attract fish of all sizes and are very popular fishing
destinations.  The Angler’s Guide can be found here.   Roughly two dozen boat ramps and piers have been partially
funded by the agency since 1995.  Where they are, and directions on how to find them, can be found online here.
In-depth information on our artificial reefs and be found online here.


Q. Do I need a license to crab for fun, or for dinner?

A. You don’t need a license to crab recreationally in Virginia’s saltwaters as long as you don’t use commercial fishing
gear.  Hand-netting, dip-netting or chicken-necking for crabs is permitted as long as you don’t take more than one
bushel of hard crabs or two dozen peeler crabs in a day.  Also, you can set up to two crab pots per person recreationally
without a license.  They must be properly buoyed and marked with an “R” for recreational and some way to identify
they are your property.  Annual recreational crabbing licenses are available for $36, allowing you to set up to five
crab pots. Crab size, season and our Blue Crab Sanctuary provisions apply to everyone who crabs in Virginia waters. 
Those regulations can be found here.  What you catch recreationally must be for personal use only.  Any sale would
make your crabbing activity a commercial fishing operation and subject to commercial crabbing regulations,
including possession of a commercial fishing license.


Q. I want to build a dock or a pier. Do I need a permit? If so, how do I get one?

A. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission holds almost all the saltwater bottom lands in public trust on behalf of all citizens of the Commonwealth.  If you would like to use or disturb those water bottoms, such as to build a pier or dock, or to dredge a channel or install a mooring buoy, you’ll need to fill out a Joint Permit Application and send it to us.  We will act as a clearinghouse and send a copy to the other local, state or federal agencies that have applicable regulatory authority.

The application, and instructions on filling it out, can be found here.  If you have a question about the permitting process in a specific area of the state, you can click here to see the territory assignment for our Habitat Engineers.  They can answer your questions.


Q. How long does it take to process a Joint Permit Application?

A.  It depends.  Our ten Habitat Engineers process a staggering 3,000 (and growing) applications a year.  We try to process simple projects within 45-60 days.  More complicated projects can take 60-90 days.  Some unusually complex projects can take longer.  Please keep in mind that seemingly simple projects can be complicated by navigation issues, property line boundaries, neighbor objections, existing oyster grounds and the need to preserved underwater grasses that are crucial habitat for many marine creatures.  We can help with those issues.


Q. What should I do if I see a boat accident or someone fishing illegally?

A.  To report emergencies, boating accidents and fishing violations, please call the Virginia Marine Police Dispatch Center toll free at (800) 541-4646.


Q. What should I do if I spot a stranded marine animal?

A.  To report a stranded marine animal, please call the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response team toll free at (757) 385-7575. [Poster | Website]

 

Q. When does the Commission’s board meet and how can I find out what they decided?

A.  The nine-member board appointed by the governor usually meets on the Fourth Tuesday of every month to set fishing regulations, both recreational and commercial, and to rule on disputed water bottom-use applications.  These meetings in the fourth floor meeting room at the agency’s headquarters, located at 2600 Washington Avenue in Newport News.  Directions can be found here.  Our meetings are open to the public and routinely begin at 9:30 a.m.  Fishery issues often are handled after the lunch hour.  A public comment period allows anyone to speak on an issue that pertains to the Commission’s jurisdiction.  The Virginia Marine Resources Commission does not discriminate against individuals with disabilities.  If you need reasonable accommodations due to a disability, please contact Jane McCroskey at (757) 247-2215 at least five work days prior to the meeting date and identify your needs.  Because we believe strongly in open government, meeting agendas are posted online at least a week before a meeting and board actions routinely are posted under “What’s New” on our website’s home page the day after the meeting.  Also, we take the extraordinary step to post audio of each agenda item’s discussion, often 24-48 hours after the meeting.


Q. I don’t see my question answered here. What should I do?

A.  The answer is probably on our website.  You can search our site using the "Search this Site" feature in the upper right-hand corner or you can view our site index here.  We post a tremendous amount of information, including commercial fishing regulations and commercial harvest data, who sits on our advisory panels, fishing newsletters, weather and fishing reports, tides and charts, what to do if you catch a tagged fish, a barter board for commercial fishing gear and licenses, as well as extensive information on our annual saltwater fishing tournament and award program for remarkable catches.  We have tried to organize our website in readily identified subject matters, and have installed a search engine in the upper right corner of each webpage for hard-to-find information.  Please make your search as detailed as possible and put key words or phrases in quote marks before searching.  If you still can’t find the answer, please call us.  We work for you.  We believe in open government.  Our staff directory is posted in several prominent locations on our website and can be found here.



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