Freshwater Fish Selling: Do You Need a License?

Selling freshwater fish caught from lakes, rivers, or streams can be an enjoyable way for anglers to earn some extra income from their fishing hobby. However, there are important licensing requirements and regulations to follow, depending on your state. This article provides a comprehensive guide on when you need a license to sell freshwater fish and tips for staying compliant.

When a Fishing License Is Required

In most cases, you do need a recreational or commercial fishing license to legally sell freshwater fish, regardless of the quantity being sold.

Selling fish without a license can result in fines or other legal punishments. To sell freshwater fish legally, you must first obtain a fishing license by contacting your state’s wildlife agency.

These agencies provide the necessary application forms, fees, and regulations for selling fish. The most common license types are:

Always check your own state’s specific rules before catching and selling any fish. Permit costs and regulations for selling fish vary widely across different states.

Exemptions Where a License May Not Be Required

While most states require fishing licenses to sell freshwater fish, some anglers may be exempt from licensing in certain situations:

Age Exemptions

  • In some states, children under 16 years old may not need a fishing license. However, age-based exemption regulations vary significantly, so verify the rules with your state wildlife agency.

Military Veterans

  • Qualified military veterans may be exempt from fishing license requirements completely or eligible for discounted licenses in some states with proper documentation of service. Check your eligibility status for exemptions by contacting your state’s wildlife department.

Special Fishing Events

  • State-sponsored special events, like free youth fishing days or senior fishing days, may offer short-term license exemptions to event participants. Check with your state wildlife agency for recreational fishing events in your area that may waive licensing requirements.

Even when exempt from needing a fishing license, following all other state regulations around catching and selling freshwater fish is still legally required.

Tips for Legally Selling Your Catch

If you plan to sell freshwater fish caught recreationally or commercially, keep these tips in mind:

  • Properly store fish using ice or refrigeration to keep it fresh and safe for consumption. Spoiled fish can cause serious food poisoning.
  • Learn and follow all regulations in your state for legally catching and selling fish. Violations of these rules can mean heavy fines.
  • Honestly communicate to all customers where their purchased fish was caught and when to provide transparency around freshness and origin.
  • Keep detailed sales records for tax-reporting purposes. Failure to properly report income from fish sales to avoid taxes can mean facing tax evasion penalties.

Additional Considerations Before Selling

Beyond licensing, anglers getting into selling freshwater fish should note:

  • Review your local zoning laws to ensure selling fish from your property or residence is permitted based on land use regulations.
  • Consider taking food handling training to learn how to safely store, transport, and sell fish for consumption. Improper food safety practices risk causing serious gastrointestinal illnesses.
  • Strongly consider purchasing business insurance to cover liability from selling consumable goods. Even when properly licensed, injury lawsuits or other legal action can still happen.

In 2024, some states are also implementing new regulations around reporting requirements for commercial fishing licenses. Be sure to stay updated on the latest rules and restrictions in your jurisdiction.


With the appropriate licensing from your state wildlife agency and the diligent following of regulations around catching and selling freshwater fish, anglers can legally and safely earn income from their catches. Be sure to check if you qualify for any fishing license exemptions in your area. Pay close attention to requirements around storage and transportation, transparency with buyers, record keeping, and insurance. With informed preparation and responsible practices, selling freshwater fish can be an enjoyable and profitable side business for passionate anglers.

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