Striped Bass Circle Hook Regulation & Implementation
I held off posting my circle hook blog in hopes Wednesday’s (Feb 3rd) Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board (SBB) Meeting would have clarified major concerns raised by recreational anglers in regards to the new circle hook mandates.
After listening to the entire 5 hours and 15 minutes meeting, I’m disappointed to share that there was no outcome. Literally what started and could have ended in short fashion went ‘Round In Circles! Yes I get it, parliamentary procedure via Robert’s Rules Of Order must be followed. But there had to be a better way. All 280 in attendance (for the most part) went unheard and unanswered. Why? Because public comment was cut out due to time constraints.
What was done? They created a new ad hoc committee (created for a particular purpose) established to develop a definition of “BAIT” that would require the use of circle hooks and method of fishing that would require the use of circle hooks and how to handle incidental catch. The committee will report back to the SBB at a special meeting in early March, hopefully sooner in. This group will clarify for the States the intent of the circle hook provision. Maybe this is and will be the better way? I sure hope so.
So we wait until then for clarification.
If you didn’t know… yes the rules are set!
2021 Circle Hook Regulations For Striped Bass Fishing With Bait In NJ
Are You Fishing For Striped Bass With Baits? If so you must fish an in-line circle hook. J-hooks are prohibited when bait fishing for striped bass. Snag and drop fishing with weighed treble hooks is history!
For New Jersey Anglers – Circle Hook Regulation As Per NJDEPEffective January 1, 2021
In-line (non-offset) circle hooks must be used when fishing for striped bass with natural bait in all state waters.
This new regulation is Part Two of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) management plan which started in 2020 with cuts to the Striped Bass bag limit and minimum size. It’s purpose is to decrease release mortality.
So What Are The Major Concerns?
Long story short, recreation anglers do not want new regulations to destroy historically productive and sustainable fishing methods.
There’s a very specific style of fishing that this new circle hook mandate was intended to regulate… Stadic Fishing to prevent gut hooking events. Anecdotal evidence from many experienced anglers up and down the “Striper Coast” all agree, when natural baits (fresh or live) are dead sticked for striped bass with traditional J-hooks, deep hooking or gut hooking is highly likely. However, with inline circle hooks these risks are almost eliminated.
On the other hand with Active Fishing, when anglers engage in trolling or fishing with rod in hand (cast and retrieve), fishing a J-hooks is different and poses little risk to fish with regards to deep hook or gut hook situations. Anglers trolling tube and worm rigs, jigs tipped with a pork rind strip or a surfcaster swimming an eel skin lure rarely if ever gut hook striped bass. These new rules punish some classic and sustainable approaches to striped bass fishing.
A LOT of time was spent presenting the tube and worm fishery’s case but little to no time was spent discussing the topic of incidental catch. I already know the situation here on the Jersey Shore with surfcasters fishing fresh mullet on mullet rigs come fall. While these rigs are made for bluefish and the angler intent is to target bluefish, striped bass and fluke are occasionally caught. Do these striped bass have to be released? If not addressed this debate will rear its head time and time again. Another common incidental is spring clamming for black drum in the bay. For this reason I was very happy to see the last minute addition of incidentals to the motion for the new committee to address.
Diving In Deeper
The clear oversight is obvious when looking back at the last ASMFC meeting (10/21/20) when the coast-wide circle hook mandate first released. One, a lack of comprehensive knowledge of the striped bass fisheries methods of fishing. Two, a poor definition of bait. Due to this each state moved forward with their interpretation which varied from state to state. Some states like Maine and Massachusetts asked for exemptions in order to save their classic and popular modes of fishing, tube and worm.
What is the definition of “BAIT”?
Maryland has published, BAIT is “any item that emits an odor or scent such as worms, minnows, crayfish, insects, and food items. The addition of any scent to an artificial lure or fly to make it smell like bait, makes it bait.” That’s very broad reaching!
Here in New Jersey, the state spells out “natural baits” and separately released their interpretation… “Natural bait is anything whole, living or dead organisms (animal or plant) or parts thereof.” Thankfully artificials/synthetics like plastisol grubs/shads/eel (imitations), Gulp and Jig Strips among others are not considered natural bait.
This gets hairy!
Again no pun intended and very concerning. Natural hairs and hackles/feathers are a mainstay in the fishing tackle world, dating back to the 13 century!
As one can see due to the ambiguous nature of the law there’s a lot that can be discussed, debated and extrapolated. The bottom line is, there must be clarification and it must be done soon. We all need to embrace the new laws and work together as a unified Striper Coast to safeguard striped bass.