Finally! There’s clarification on the murky mandates on the circle hook front.
Today the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council (ASMFC) approved the guidance for state implementation of circle hook measures for the recreational fishery, “Circle hooks are required when fishing for striped bass with bait, which is defined as any marine or aquatic organism live or dead, whole or parts thereof. This shall not apply to any artificial lure with bait attached.”
I attended today’s three hour ASMFC Atlantic Striped Bass Mgmt Board Meeting and this is what I can share.
Timeline Of Circle Hook Reqs
To reduce the discard mortality of striped bass, in-line circle hooks are required when recreational fishing for striped bass with natural bait, live or chunk. This is nothing new. It was approved in October 2019 by ASMFC with an implementation mandate deadline of January 2021. States implemented but lots of questions and debates bubbled up! “Things got hairy” at the ASMFC February meeting when things went “‘Round In Circles”.
At that meeting an ad hoc committee was developed to define bait (Task 1), identify methods of fishing that would require circle hooks (Task 2) and also iron out how to handle incidental catch (Task 3). The goal was to create a binding component with consistency across the geographic range of the striped bass fishery. Remember states can always be more conservative, so only time will tell what each state chooses to do.
Bait Definition – Task 1
“Bait is defined as any marine or aquatic organism live or dead, whole or parts thereof.”
Thankfully this wording is specific and to the point. It allows tube and worm fishing. It allows the use of pork rind (as well as squid for that matter) when bucktailing for striped bass. It allows eel skin plugs. And best of all… It allows hair and feathers for the dressing of hooks; flies, teasers, tails. The removal of the reference to terrestrial animals or plants was a huge win (motion failed 1-11) for the fly fishing community!
Personally I was happy to see they did not get too far into the muck and mire with this. It could of got very wordy. Then in turn, hard to understand and adopt by masses. Processed baits like Gulp, FishBites, among others that include fish oils could have been looped in, but they were NOT.
While this might not seem like a big thing on the surface. I personally feel it is huge. Why? It sets precedence when circle hook mandates come down on other species. Yes I see them coming to fluke. How else do recreational anglers reduce dead discard?
Methods Of Fishing – Task 2
There was agreement that the circle hook requirement was intended to focus on static bait fishing where gut hooks are common. It was never intended to apply to classic sustainable methods of active fishing (troll, cast and retrieve, vertical jigging) artificial lures with bait attached. There was consideration to specify active fishing methods. The result was the second sentence, “This shall not apply to any artificial lure with bait attached.”
Rigged Eel Debate
There was discussion on rigged eels. Eels are marine organisms and even when rigged they are not considered an artificial lure; therefore, rigged eels fall into the bait category and must be rigged/fished with circle hooks. There could be future exemptions if requested and pursued by states but for now this is how it sits.
Snag & Drop Fishing
Snag and drop fishing is prohibited. Snagged bunker must be brought in and re-hooked using an inline circle hook. If the scenario plays out where a bass hits a snagged bunker while it is being retrieved, the fish technically must be released. Some anglers will be very disappointed by this however it is a win for the striped bass. Snag and drop fishing was a very popular and effective method BUT it had a very high mortality risk.
Incidental Catch – Task 3
The handling of striped bass incidental catch when targeting other species with bait and non-circle hooks boiled down to two options, To Keep Or Not To Keep.
- A – Allow anglers to keep striped bass that are incidentally caught
- B – Require anglers to release striped bass that are incidentally caught.
There’s valid argument on both sides and the has been in hot debate for months. Why? Proving an anglers intended target species is near impossible; therefore enforcement must focus on possession not intent to target.
Striped bass fishing commonly overlaps other species such as perch early season and bluefish during the season among other species. Plus the social media buzz from wiseass naysayers added fuel to the fire. For example the all too common, “I’ll still use j-hooks while chunking. I’m targeting bluefish,” jeering statements. Due to these loop hole seekers, allowing incidental striped bass catches would make the circle hook law unenforceable.
Fortunately the ASMFC put an end to it with a 12-1 vote for Option B.
Striped bass caught on any unapproved method of take must be returned to the water immediately without unnecessary injury.
In the case of fishing the surf with a mullet rig. It’s the anglers intent to target bluefish with a classic skewer style mullet rig with split double fang hook baited up with a fresh or frozen finger mullet. An incidental striped bass catch is not uncommon. When it occurs, the striped bass must be release. Anglers hoping for a striped bass while fishing mullet rigs should think about rigging up with a circle hook. In the mullet run time frame most striped bass are small but there are keeper size fish in the mix. Take the same rig and use a split ring to attach an inline circle hook to the skewer. Be sure to have a split ring plier because the hook needs to be removed each time for baiting.