Like most questions involving licensing, this one isn’t as simple as it sounds. The short answer is yes, and no. Isn’t dealing with government agencies fun? Hawaii offers a myriad of fishing opportunities, so you’ll probably want to work this out if you’re going there soon. Just try not to get too frustrated when you attempt to work all this out.

Fresh Water Fishing

To clarify: you need to purchase a $26 non-resident fishing license from the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources if you plan to go freshwater fishing. This license doesn’t get mentioned much in tourism brochures because most people visiting Hawaii are more interested in saltwater fishing. It is definitely worth taking note of, however. The fine for fishing without a license isn’t all that steep. Yet, most violations of state, in any state, will require the violator to personally appear before a judge on the designated court date. Moreover, this might be a week or a month from the day you got the ticket. So, when it comes to $26, paying for a license is a heck of a lot less financially stressful than a plane ticket back to Oahu to pay your fine.

Salt Water Fishing

Hawaiian fish

Image credits: chrishawaii via Pixabay

When it comes to saltwater fishing, no license is currently required in Hawaii for either tourists or residents. That being said, the Hawaiian Legislature is currently working on drumming one up and promises to bring it to fruition soon. When this license does pop up, you won’t buy it from the same agency that you got your freshwater license from. But, instead, from the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. No word yet on what it will cost, but it should be pretty affordable. The state would be better off keeping the cost low and counting on plenty of volumes to bring in revenue.


Okay, so, before you throw your hat in the air at the prospect of going fishing in Hawaii without a license (for a limited time) don’t get too excited. This isn’t a fevered, tropical free-for-all we’re talking about here. There are specifically regulated fishing areas in the ocean around every island. Inside these areas, only certain types of fishing are allowed, and only certain species can be harvested. If you reel in something you can’t identify, you have to toss it back. Even if it is trying to bite your hand off. The species you are allowed to keep have to be a certain species and a certain size, depending on which area you’re fishing in.

The Division of Aquatic Resources offers an extensive regulation booklet on the subject. Therefore, it is definitely in your best interest to digest the information contained within it. The local commercial fishermen do not take lightly to anglers breaking the rules. Nor, do the game wardens. Oh, speaking of commercial fishermen, whatever you do, don’t sell anything you catch in Hawaii. Selling even one fish requires a commercial fishing license, and you certainly can’t afford that for your visit.

Other Oddities

lunging shark

Image credits: Alex Steyn via Unsplash

In case you’re wondering, you can catch sharks in Hawaii if that suits your fancy. Just make sure you have a big enough boat. Speaking of boats, if you take a charter fishing trip, you’ll want to read the fine print. Some charter companies wish to keep the fish you catch while on board the charter boat. Just something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of catching dinner. Although, most folks find it tough to fry fish in a hotel room, so it probably doesn’t come up much. Oh, yes, it is illegal to harass or injure a surfer while fishing in Hawaii, no matter how annoying they act.

The Last Word

As a final thought, it’s likely worth mentioning that you may pluck all species you like from the ocean in Hawaii, and keep the critters, as long as you are doing it to stock your aquarium. Once again, a shark seems like a poor choice, and jellyfish are known to make terrible pets, no matter how snuggly they might appear. We also have no idea if a seahorse will survive in a plastic bag for the 10-hour flight back to the mainland. All things considered, it might be best to just skip the whole thing and leave whatever is out there swimming around to its devices. A seahorse probably wouldn’t be happy in Iowa anyway.