Thankfully, the Year of COVID is quickly coming to a close; honestly, it couldn’t have happened soon enough! Looking back on the past 12 months there are a few interesting takeaways I have as a fisherman. First, there’s the addition of social distancing to our 21st century vernacular, which I read as keeping strangers at least one full rod’s length away at all times. That’s a good reminder when bass are blitzing sand eels, or for when finding a spot for the next trout opener.
Interestingly enough, recreational fishing became a recommended family activity during the pandemic, with gubment officials recognizing the inherent benefits of communing outside with nature. When there’s another national run on protein with fistfights in supermarket aisles over the last frozen pot pie, it’s a comfort knowing that an angler can provide family sustenance.
My wife learned something too this season, a partial answer to a nagging question she’s posed for years – “Is there anything that will stop you from fishing?” Well honey, it seems we can cross apocalyptic global pandemic off the list!
The New Year will bring new regulations for recreational fishermen. First of all, new circle hook regulations will be put in place in the Atlantic striped bass fishery. As per the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, all Atlantic states must implement mandatory circle hook requirements when fishing with bait as of January 1. There has already been a “non-offset” circle hook regulation in place in New Jersey along the Delaware from the Salem River to the U.S. Route 1 Bridge for anglers fishing natural baits during the spring striper spawn.
As written, the rule states “Hook and line fishermen are hereby restricted to the use of non-offset circle hooks while fishing with any natural bait [within the Delaware River or its tributaries from April 1 through May 31 of each year. This restriction shall apply only to hooks of size two and larger and shall not apply to hooks of smaller sizes (such as those normally used for white perch fishing)]”. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) is proposing to remove “within the Delaware River or its tributaries from April 1 through May 31 of each year” to meet the requirement that non-offset circle hook will be mandatory while striped bass fishing with natural baits “in all water bodies year round”.
The NJDEP is also looking to modify the state’s official definition of a circle hook to include “a non-offset hook where the point is pointed perpendicularly back towards the shank,” with “non-offset” to be defined as “the point and barb are in the same plane as the shank.” Expect the final rules to be in place by the time you’re clamming and worming the sod banks on March 1.
Finally, the NJDEP had been working under the premise that we’d see an 8% increase in summer flounder quota and 9% increase in sea bass for 2021. In terms of fluke in particular, such an increase could result in an additional two weeks of fluke fishing over 2020. In fact, at the November 5th meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) there was discussion about using the increase to devise options for lower size limits, a slot fish, or perhaps even the splitting the state into separate fluke regions, north and south or inshore and offshore.
Regrettably, NOAA’s inability to coordinate proper recreational data collection efforts in 2020 due to the pandemic could undermine any ability to realize an increase in sea bass or fluke. Because there’s little faith in the government’s own data (or lack thereof), it appears as if status quo could be the best news we receive at the next Council meeting slated for January 7, 2021.
So good riddance to 2020, and a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and blessed New Year to all.