Bringing Fish Back from The Bahamas

Many recreational fishermen have called in asking for clarification about regulations for bringing fish back to the U.S. from fishing trips in The Bahamas. The following information might be helpful to those of you interested in planning such trips.

Some key things to note before we get into the details:

  • Bahamian and U.S. fishing regulations are not always the same.
  • Regardless of where fish are harvested, you must abide by the regulations for the waters you are in when those fish are aboard your vessel.
    • Example 1: Harvest of Nassau Grouper is prohibited in the federal waters of the South Atlantic, but you are allowed to harvest Nassau Grouper in The Bahamas. You may catch and eat Nassau Grouper in The Bahamas, but do not bring the species back to the United States.
    • Example 2: Be aware of seasonal closures and prohibitions. If you are fishing in The Bahamas during the U.S. federal shallow-water grouper closure (1/1 - 4/30), do not bring those fish back to the U.S.
  • Vessels must have valid Bahamian cruising and sportfishing permits. Visit for more information (these permits must be on the vessel in U.S. waters when bringing fish back from The Bahamas).
  • All persons aboard the vessel must possess a valid government passport with current Bahamian stamps and travel dates.

While fishing in The Bahamas, you are responsible for following Bahamian regulations. But if you intend to bring those fish back to the U.S. by water, you'll need to make sure that you are adhering to the federal regulations of the United States (keep in mind that these regulations are regionally specific - we're focusing on the federal waters off NC, SC, GA, and the Atlantic coast of FL).

If you plan to fish in The Bahamas, stay overnight, and then return to the U.S., you'll likely have some questions about how bag limits will apply to you.

  • Private Recreational Fishermen:
    • Permitted to retain 1 day's bag limit for a given species, no matter if you spend more than one day fishing abroad.
      • Language from the Code of Federal Regulations: "bag limits apply to a person on a daily basis, regardless of the number of trips in a day. Unless specified otherwise, a person is limited to a single bag limit for a trip lasting longer than one calendar day. Unless specified otherwise, possession limits apply to a person on a trip after the first 24 hours of that trip."
  • Charter/Headboat
    • Permitted to retain the bag limit for the number of days fishing in The Bahamas.
    • Note: be able to prove the length of the charter in order to support the number of fish you've retained.

All species in the Snapper Grouper Complex, as well as dolphin & wahoo, may be brought back from The Bahamas as fillets. Keep in mind that 2 fillets, regardless of their size, are equivalent to 1 fish. Additionally, the skin must remain on the entire fillet.

So what's included in the Snapper Grouper Complex? It's not just limited to species with the words "snapper" or "grouper" in their names. The complex also includes jacks, porgies, tilefishes, grunts, and others. Take a look at the list below:




Remember to check for bag limits and seasonal harvest restrictions before bringing fish back from The Bahamas.

Click here for a PDF version of this list of species

Click here for additional resources, including the following:

  • Snapper Grouper Regulations Fact Sheet
  • Fish Rules Mobile App
    • which hosts regulations for the federal & state waters from Maine through Texas AND regulations in Bahamian waters.
  • Rack Card: Bringing Fish Back from The Bahamas

Please remember that harvest of warsaw grouper, speckled hind, red snapper, and Nassau grouper is prohibited in federal waters of the South Atlantic.

All other fish species managed by the South Atlantic Council must be brought back according to federal regulations:

The Highly Migratory Species Division of NOAA Fisheries manages billfish, tunas, and sharks. If you bring back these species from The Bahamas, you'll need to know their associated federal regulations. Visit the HMS website for details:

It's important that you check in with your local law enforcement officers to make sure that everything you have planned falls within the confines of state law. Some states have landing limits that may in fact be more restrictive than the federal regulations for that species.

If you have questions, please don't hesitate to call us, NOAA Fisheries, or your state agency law enforcement division.


Download Fish Rules Mobile App

Consider using the Fish Rules Mobile App when you're fishing in U.S. waters and in The Bahamas. The mobile app, which will allow you to access regulations while fishing out of cell range, hosts regulations for state & federal waters from Maine through Texas, as well as regulations for Bahamian waters. To learn more about how the set up the app to work for you, visit