Boating lobstermen, while out on the water, can readily communicate (by marine radio telephone) with the Harbor Masters of Gloucester and Rockport, the Massachusetts Marine Patrol, the local wardens and police, and the enforcement personnel of the Department of Natural Resources. Similarly, many people in homes along the coast of Cape Ann can communicate by telephone with some of these law enforcement groups. Although one-sided, and at the very least unfair in its eventual use of public funds to scrutinize one class of people, this situation does exist. What it means is that regardless of where divers may be in the waters of Cape Ann , they are being observed.


  Scuba divers and skin divers may not use underwater weapons of any type in the waters of the beaches that are under the jurisdiction of the Director of Public Works (this does not relate to divers' safety knives, but only to spears and spearguns).

  Dressing or undressing in cars is forbidden.

  Divers in the tidal waters of Gloucester (harbors, rivers, coves and along the coast between high tide and low tide) must display a Divers Flag of dimensions not less than 13 inches by 17 inches (which dimension is the width and which is the height is not specified), must surface within 25 feet of the flag, must maintain a minimum distance of 25 feet between the flag and any fishing and lobstering buoys, and must make every effort to surface and stay clear "when boats are hauling traps" (those are the words that the Director of Public Works used). COMMENT : To require that a displayed Divers Flag be maintained at least 25 feet away from lobster trap buoys is to require the impossible. Practically every part of the coast has an excess of lobster trap buoys immediately off shore...they are everywhere. Although colorful, they are a menace. In most cases it's not possible to be 25 feet away from every buoy, there are just too many of them...and they move. Also, to require that one class of people (scuba divers) surface and stay clear while another class of people (boating lobstermen) haul traps is blatant discrimination.


   The violation of any of these regulations shall be punishable by a fine of $100.00.

  Diving is prohibited at all times in the Granite Pier anchorage area and in Rockport Harbor .

  No spearfishing shall be allowed at beach areas within 200 yards of mean low water.

  The use of inner tubes, air mattresses, rubber rafts, and other floats is prohibited on all beaches.

  Dressing or disrobing in public is prohibited.

STATE DIVERS FLAG LAW (condensed...with comments)

   The Divers Flag as referred to in the following paragraphs has a red field with a white diagonal stripe. The flag shall be "12 inches by 15 inches" (which dimension is the width and which dimension is the height is not specified...a square flag measuring 15 inches by 15 inches would satisfy the law).

  Divers diving singly or in groups, shall display the Divers Flag, of suitable size and from a suitable support (float or boat). Divers shall remain within 100 feet of the flag while at or near the surface. When in sight of the flag, boats must proceed with caution. When within 100 feet of the flag, boats must not exceed a speed of 3 miles per hour. The fine for breaking the law is "not less than ten nor more than fifty dollars". The implications of this law are that any number of divers may be represented by only one displayed flag, and that while underwater they may be farther away from the flag than 100 feet. Additionally, boats may come right up to the flag at any speed which does not exceed 3 miles per hour.

   COMMENT : Towing a flag on a float is the most dangerous thing that we as divers do to ourselves. For safety's sake, when displaying the divers flag from a surface float, the support should be of sufficient size to provide a hand-hold and to be able to maintain several divers at the surface. An inner tube is ideal for this purpose.   


   The day shape as referred to in the following paragraphs is a replica of the International Code flag "A" (CODE ALPHA) 3.3 feet in height and width, and rigid. The International Code flag "A" is a two color flag...the staff half is white and the fishtail trailing edge is blue.

  Navigation Rule 27 (U. S. Coast guard Navigation Rules, International - Inland, COMDTINST M16672.2), requires that the Alpha flag replica be displayed on a small vessel which as a result of being engaged in diving operations is limited in its ability to maneuver. This rule applies to all waters, Inland and International.

  The Alpha flag replica when deployed on a vessel does not signal that divers are in the simply identifies the vessel as one whose ability to maneuver is restricted. Not all boats used for scuba diving are restricted in their ability to maneuver. We often maneuver our dive boat, EASY DIVER, while our divers are in the water; to reset our anchor, or to go to the assistance of one of our divers. Because most boats used for scuba diving are not restricted in their ability to maneuver they are not required to display the Alpha flag replica.

  As previously noted...towing a surface float is the most dangerous thing that we as scuba divers do to ourselves. Consequently, we must minimize all the risks associated with this act. Towing a float with the wrong flag (the Alpha flag), or towing a float with two flags (the divers flag and the Alpha flag) is unnecessarily dangerous. Scuba divers should not fly Alpha flags from their surface floats. There is no requirement (that is, there is no law, no ordinance, no rule, no regulation...local, state or federal) that says that scuba divers must deploy Alpha flags. Only vessels, which, due to diving operations are restricted in their ability to maneuver, are required to deploy the Alpha flag...and that flag is the so-called "replica" (meaning it is 3.3 feet by 3.3 feet, and rigid).


  The laws which relate to marine fisheries (both state and local) are unfortunately numerous and complex. And, those portions which can be applied to divers are exasperatingly involved. Anyone interested in learning the full extent of the laws should contact the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement (DFWELE), Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), DFWELE Sport Licensing, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 100, Boston, MA, 02144 (1-617-626-1520, FAX 1-617-626-1509) as well as the pertinent departments of the City of Gloucester, MA, 01930, and the Town of Rockport, MA, 01966. Of particular interest to recreational scuba divers are the leaflets published by The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries: Diver Information and Recreational Fishing Information . These publications are available from the Division of Marine Fisheries at the above address or by visiting the Division’s web site at What is presented in the following paragraphs is a distillation of information which may be of immediate value to recreational divers who plan to take fish, lobsters, etc., (non-commercial), from the waters of Cape Ann .

   In general, the taking of lobsters and crabs, as well as the taking of certain fin-fish, is regulated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts . The taking of shellfish (clams, oysters, quahaugs, scallops, mussels, and periwinkles) is regulated by the City of Gloucester and the Town of Rockport .

  Citing the General Laws relating to marine fish and fisheries, state police officers, certain administrators of the Division of Marine Fisheries, and officers of the Department of Natural Resources, feel they may without warrant, search motor vehicles, boats, and buildings (other than dwellings) and may seize for forfeiture any motor vehicles, boats and personal property (scuba gear, etc.) used in violation of the laws. Ignorance of the laws is not a recognized excuse. Punishment has been swift and severe. Skin and scuba divers are advised to be aware of the laws, and to be properly licensed (where required) before considering the taking of lobsters, crabs, shellfish and finfish.     


With respect to the laws pertaining to the taking of lobsters and crabs, both the full-time police officers and the duly appointed shellfish constables (wardens) of the City of Gloucester and the Town of Rockport feel they have the same powers of search and seizure as described above.

The range of fines for lobster law violations are: for each illegal size or mutilated lobster possessed = $25.00 to $50.00; for each egg bearing lobster possessed = $150.00 to $500.00 (1 st offense), $500.00 to $1,000.00 (for each subsequent offense); for removing eggs from egg bearing lobsters = $250.00 to $1,000.00 (1 st offense), $1,000.00 to $2,000.00 (for each subsequent offense). Imprisonment can be for a period of time from 60 days to one year. Both fines and imprisonment may be levied. Fines and jail terms are also levied for failure to properly display permit numbers and for failure to exhibit a permit when approached by an officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and/or a duly appointed shellfish constable (warden) of the City of Gloucester or the Town of Rockport .

  A permit (so-called Non-Commercial, available to any resident of Massachusetts who is over 17 years of age) is required to take lobsters. Interested scuba divers who are under 17 years of age need written consent of a parent or guardian. Application for a non-commercial lobster permit is made to the Division of Marine Fisheries, DFWELE SPORT Licensing, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 400 , Boston , MA 02114 . Current fee as of November 2003 was $40.00, check payable to The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Although there are several types of lobster licenses, the Non-Commercial permit is the one most popular with the small cult of recreational skin and scuba divers who enjoy this feature of our activity. The Non-Commercial permit allows the bearer to provide for his or her family or self, but does not allow for the sale of any portion of the catch.

  Spearing lobsters is illegal...if it's to be done at all, the taking of lobsters must be by hand or trap.

  The legal minimum size of lobsters which may be taken is 3-1/4 inches. The legal maximum size of lobsters which may be taken is 5 inches. The measurement is taken along a line parallel to the center line of the lobster's body, from the rear of the eye socket to the back of the body shell (measure both sides...both such dimensions must conform to the legal size[s]). This was verified on June 15, 1995 , during a visit to the Division of Marine Fisheries. One may keep up-to-date on this subject by telephoning the appropriate officials at 1-617-727-3193.

Lobsters must be measured (gauged) as soon as they have been caught (that is, before they are put into a bag). The law says "immediately". There is no reason for divers to be swimming about with illegal size lobsters in their possession. Lobsters may only be taken between the hours of 1/2 hour before sunrise and 1/2 hour after sunset.

  Licensed diving lobster-persons must display their license numbers on their scuba tanks (if they are scuba diving) and upon both faces of an upright panel supported at the surface in the vicinity where they are fishing. The upright panel must be white and a minimum of 12 inches wide by 12 inches high. The license numbers must be a minimum of 3 inches high, be on both faces of the panel, and be in black characters. The descriptive literature available from the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement indicates that a diver's lobster license numbers can be displayed in the white stripe of his or her divers flag.

  Certain areas around Cape Ann , such as designated mooring areas, or within the confines of harbor channels, are off limits to lobstering.

  Mutilation of any lobster which affects its measurement, or the possession of lobster parts, shall be prima facie evidence that the lobster was less than legal minimum size.

  Edible crabs may be taken for personal consumption and for use by ones immediate family without the requirement for a license provided that such edible crabs are not caught by trap and that not more than 50 are caught in any one day. There is a "closed season" on edible crabs and blue crabs (for licensed and unlicensed crabbers)...they may not be taken during the period January 1 st to April 30th. There is no minimum size for edible crabs. The minimum length dimension for blue crabs, measured across the shell from tip to tip of the posterior-most longest spines along the lateral margins of the carapace, shall not be less than 4-1/8 inches. Taking crabs during the period between one half hour after sunset to one half hour before sunrise is illegal. No crabs bearing eggs may be taken.


  Laws relating to shellfish and sea urchins are established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with the required permits being issued by the City of Gloucester and the Town of Rockport . Both Gloucester and Rockport have appointed shellfish constables (wardens) but only Gloucester issues permits for fishing (taking) shellfish from its waters. For regulations and permits the reader should consult the local authorities.

  The laws are unclear with respect to the taking of shellfish while underwater (such as by skin diving and scuba diving). However unclear they may be, there are no specific restrictions which apply to divers.

  Pollution problems often cause various areas of the coast to be "closed" to shellfishing from time-to-time. From a legal standpoint, as well as a personal health standpoint, interested sport divers should familiarize themselves with the up-to-the-minute regulations before even touching any shellfish.


   Under Section 17-A Chapter 130 (General Laws relating to Marine Fish and Fisheries), it has been established that no rule or regulation shall require a license for the taking of finfish from the coastal waters for non commercial purposes.

  Striped bass and shad may not be speared.

  Minimum lengths for some fish are listed here:


  The taking of Irish Moss (a commercially valuable seaweed) requires a permit acquired from the Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries, Commonwealth of Massachusetts .