Dolphin Fish Regulations

Dolphin Fish

Dolphin Fish

Coryphaena hippurus


Mahi-Mahi, Dorado

Managed by:


Physical description:

The dolphin fish has bright turquiose, green and yellow patterns, which fade almost immediately upon death. This species may be distinguished from the pompano dolphin by its 55-66 dorsal fin rays, and a very wide and square tooth patch on the tongue. The body tapers sharply from head to tail; irregular blue or golden blotches scattered over sides; anterior profile of head on adult males is nearly vertical; head of females more sloping; the single dark dorsal fin extends from just behind the head to the tail; anal fin margin concave and extending to tail.

Biological description:

Dolphin are fast growing, prolific and have a short life span - an average of 5 years. Average fork lengths for males and females ranges from 34 to 55 inches. Males grow faster and usually live longer than females. The spawning season varies with latitiude. Dolphin collected in the Florida Current spawned from November through July, and those collected from the Gulf Stream near North Carolina were reproductively active during June and July. Small females may spawn 240 thousand pelagic eggs, and fish larger than 43 inches may spawn several million. Dolphin are attracted to Sargassum, a floating brown algae, which serves as a hiding place and source of food. Other sources of food associated with the Sargassum include small fish, crabs, and shrimp. Dolphin reach swimming speeds estimated at 50 knots and may also pursue fast -swimming fish, such as flying fish or mackerels. Often man made garbage is entangled in the floating Sargassum, and is consumed by dolphin. Plastic wrappers, small light bulbs, rope and string have all been removed from the stomachs of dolphin.

South Atlantic Federal Regulations


  • OPEN
  • Size Limit: 20 inch minimum fork length off FL, GA, and SC. No size restrictions in NC.
  • Trip Limit: None
  • Regulatory Remarks:
    • There is a 20-inch fork length minimum size limit for dolphin off the east coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina (effective 4/16/12) with no size restrictions elsewhere.
    • Longline fishing for dolphin and wahoo is prohibited in areas closed to the use of such gear for highly migratory pelagic species (HMS).
    • Allowable gear to be used in the fishery includes: hook-and-line gear including manual, electric, and hydraulic rods and reels; bandit gear; handlines; longlines; and spearfishing (including powerheads) gear.
    • Owners of commercial vessels and/or charter vessels/headboats must have vessel permits and, if selected, submit reports.
    • Dealers must have permits and, if selected, submit reports.
    • Longline vessels must comply with sea turtle protection measures.
    • For a commercially permitted vessel fishing north 39% N. latitude, that does not have a federal commercial vessel permit for dolphin or wahoo, there is a trip limit of 200 pounds of dolphin and wahoo, combined.
    • Operators of commercial vessels, charter vessels, and headboats that are required to have a federal vessel permit for dolphin and wahoo must have and display *operator permits.
    • To apply for a vessel, dealer, or operator permit, interested parties should contact the Permits Office, NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida, 33702, or by phone at 727/824-5326.
    • *Note: An operator permit card issued by NOAA Fisheries' Northeast Region is valid for the South Atlantic Dolphin/Wahoo fishery. Similarly, persons who already possess an operator permit card to participate in the South Atlantic rock shrimp fishery do not need to obtain a separate operator card. For additional information, visit NOAA Fisheries' Southeast Regional Office.
    • Commercial snapper grouper vessels must have onboard NMFS approved sea turtle release gear and follow smalltooth sawfish release protocol. See the Handling and Release Protocol from NOAA Fisheries or call 727-824-5312.
    • Annual Catch Limit (ACL) – This species is managed under an ACL. See current information on Commercial ACLs (quotas) from NOAA Fisheries.
  • Additional Updates:


  • OPEN
  • Size Limit: 20 inch minimum fork length off the east coast of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina; No size restrictions elsewhere.
  • Bag Limit: 10 dolphin per person/day with a limit of 60 dolphin per boat/day (headboats excluded from the boat limit - 10 per paying passenger).

​​(a) A recreational harvester may not harvest or land per day from Florida Waters or possess in or on Florida Waters more than 10 dolphin.

(b) Private Vessel Limit – The recreational harvesters aboard a vessel in or on Florida Waters may not collectively possess or land more than 60 dolphin, regardless of the number of licensed or license-exempt persons onboard.

(c) Vessel for Hire Limit – Possession of more than the daily bag limit of dolphin multiplied by the number of customers fishing aboard any Vessel for Hire is prohibited. This provision will not be construed to authorize harvest or possession of dolphin in excess of the applicable bag limit..

  • Regulatory Remarks:
    • There is a 20-inch fork length minimum size limit for dolphin off the east coast of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina (effective 4/16/12) with no size restrictions elsewhere.
    • There is a recreational bag limit of 10 dolphin and 2 wahoo per person per day, with a limit of 60 dolphin per boat per day (headboats are excluded from the boat limit).
    • The sale of bag limit dolphin is prohibited. This includes all for-hire vessels (charter and headboat) (effective 4/16/12)
    • Annual Catch Limit (ACL) - This species is managed under an ACL. See current information on Recreational ACLs from NOAA Fisheries.

Additional Updates:

Regulation Update - Effective January 27, 2016: New federal regulations will allow recreational fishermen to bring fillets of dolphin and wahoo from The Bahamas into the U.S. federal waters and update regulations that currently allow recreational fishermen to bring snapper-grouper fillets from The Bahamas into the U.S. federal waters. 

  • Two fillets are equivalent to one fish for dolphin, wahoo, and snapper-grouper species brought into the U.S. federal waters
    from The Bahamas.
  • Require fishers to retain skin on the entire fillet of dolphin, wahoo, and snapper grouper species.
  • Require fishing gear to be stowed while transiting the U.S. federal waters from The Bahamas. A vessel carrying fillets of dolphin, wahoo, or snapper-grouper species lawfully harvested in Bahamian waters would not be allowed to stop in the U.S. federal waters during the transit.
  • Require stamped and dated passports, as well as valid current Bahamian cruising and fishing permits to prove that the recreational fishers were in The Bahamas.
  • Not allow recreationally caught dolphin, wahoo, or snapper-grouper from The Bahamas to be sold or purchased in the U.S.
  • Not exempt recreational fishermen from any other Federal fishing regulations such as fishing seasons, recreational bag limits, size limits, and prohibited species.

​​For state of Florida regulations regarding bringing recreationally harvested dolphin and other species back from The Bahamas, see: