There has been a lot of static surrounding the requirement by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to require the use of circle hooks for all bait fishing for striped bass along the Atlantic Coast effective January 1, 2021. It seems there has been more talk about how to circumvent the regulation than how to adapt to it, and that is unfortunate. The basic premise for the regulation is sound and in-line circle hooks have proven to be an effective way to reduce release mortality in the striped bass fishery where bait is used. Anyone who shares any concern for maintaining a healthy striper fishery should have no issue with the intent of the regulation, and in fact, anglers should have already adopted the use of non-offset circle hooks, especially when fishing baits such as clams and chunk baits such as bunker, mackerel, herring, etc. As far back as three years ago, one Long Island bait shop was giving a pack of circle hooks to any customers purchasing clam chum for stripers. There is no debating that the use of non-offset circle hooks greatly reduces the chance of gut hooking a fish, and when used properly, a circle hook will slide from the stomach and lodge in the fish’s jaw. There is no setting the hook with circles. Rather when a fish picks up your bait, you let the fish run until your line comes tight, or reel in your slack until the line comes tight, and then continue reeling and fighting the fish.
Where the ASMFC went wrong and weakened the intent of the regulation was by not allowing exemptions for such techniques as eel skin plugs, rigged eels and even bucktails dressed with pork rind. First of all, there is no excuse for not exempting these techniques from the regulations and it is hard to comprehend that back in October, ASMFC representatives from each state, NMFS and USFWS voted 15 to one to prohibit any states from gear or user exemptions. In fairness, while I’ve had readers request information on locating bucktails fitted with circle hooks, there is a very simple solution. Although ASMFC classifies pork rind as a natural bait, there are other options such as Fat Cow Strips and Otter Tails that are equally effective as pork rind and they do not have to be stored in liquid or salt brine. They can be left on your hook, used again the next day, and be just as flexible as the day before. The reality is that in 60 years of targeting striped bass, I have never had a bass ingest a bucktail, skin plug or a rigged eel, and limiting the use of these techniques is contrary to the intent of the regulation.
Each state must now meet the requirements of ASMFC’s coastwide regulation for the use of in-line circle hooks when bait fishing for striped bass. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released their new proposed regulation for public review and comment through March 8, 2021. The Atlantic coast-wide harvest of striped bass is managed by ASMFC, which initiated and approved Addendum VI to Amendment 6 of the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic Striped Bass to reduce harvest, end overfishing, and bring fishing mortality to the target level. New York adopted recreational slot size limits regulation changes in 2020 that reflect ASMFC’s Addendum measures and are in accordance with the FMP. In marine waters the recreational slot size remains at 28-35 inches total length and 18 to 28 inches total length in the Hudson River. The possession limit is one fish per angler. The recreational striped bass seasons runs from April 1 through November 30 in the Hudson River and tributaries, and April 15 through December 15 in marine waters south of the George Washington Bridge.
The full text of the proposed regulation can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/106216.html. If you would like to see any changes or exemptions to the regulations, now is your chance to be heard. Comments on the proposed circle hook regulation should be sent to email@example.com or by mail to: Division of Marine Resources, 205 N. Belle Mead Rd. Suite 1, East Setauket, NY 11733. The public comment period closes on March 8, 2021. After reviewing public comments, DEC will be adopting and publishing a final regulation.