On March 5 we passed along information about the March 16 meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board (Board) to further address the striped bass circle hook issue and its implementation. As is so often the case in an ever-evolving issue, in the days following that announcement we received some updates on the subject. You can read the full press release at ASMFC.org , but for those of you who prefer the Cliffs Notes version, read on.
In October of 2020, the Board approved state circle hook implementation plans with the caveat that no exemptions to the requirement would be permitted. As this decision was made rather hastily (the Board later admitted it was passed without thorough discussion since it was the end of the day and its members were tired), a slew of concerns, questions and problems were brought to the attention of the Board. Specifically, the term “bait” needed to be defined, fishing methods where a circle hook would be required needed to be clarified and how incidental catches (scenarios where a j-hook was legally used to target another species but a striped bass was landed) needed to be addressed.
Due to these questions, in February 2021, the Board created the Circle Hook Ad Hoc Committee (Committee) to address and provide recommendations on the following tasks related to the Addendum VI circle hook requirements:
- develop a definition of bait that would require the use of circle hooks;
- identify methods of fishing that would require the use of circle hooks;
- discuss how to handle incidental catch of striped bass when targeting other species with non-circle hooks.
The Committee met twice, on February 19 and March 3 by way of a webinar (you can register here), and the following recommendations were presented to the Board on March 10. These stand only as recommendations and will be discussed further by the Board on March 16 from 1 – 3 PM. A final ruling/decision on the subject should come at this meeting.
Task 1: Define Bait
“… bait, which is defined as any marine or aquatic organism live or dead, whole or parts thereof.”
Task 2: Methods Of Fishing
“This [circle hook requirement] shall not apply to any artificial lure with bait attached.”
Task 3: Incidental Catch
On the question of how to address incidental catch of striped bass when targeting other species with non-circle hooks, the Committee could not reach consensus and was split between two options:
- Option A: Allow anglers to keep striped bass caught incidentally when targeting other species with non-circle hooks with bait attached. For this option, no additional language is necessary for state circle hook regulations.
- Option B: Require anglers to release striped bass caught incidentally when targeting other species with non-circle hooks with bait attached. For this option, additional language would be necessary for state circle hook regulations. The Committee proposes the following language for this option: Striped bass caught on any unapproved method of take must be returned to the water immediately without unnecessary injury.
What This All Means
Bait has been rather clearly defined, a subject of which one wouldn’t perceive there to be such a difficult time in addressing. However, as anyone who actually partakes in the fishery knows, with striped being such opportunistic predators they can be caught on anything from chunks of fish to strips of pork skin to chicken breast (and everything in-between!)
Methods of fishing was also clearly defined as the biggest head-scratcher, again by those who actually partake in the fishery, was the Board’s apparent disconnect from the fishery of which they’re tasked with managing. There was an overwhelming lack of understanding of such common tactics as adding a worm to a tube and worm rig, putting a pork rind on a bucktail jig and draping an eelskin over an artificial lure. Fortunately these methods are now addressed in that mandatory use of a circle hook “shall not apply to any artificial lure with bait attached.”
However, the subject of the rigged eel was specifically discussed (THANK YOU to whichever Committee member or members brought up this subject) in that while specific exemptions would not be recommended, the ability for states to request such exemptions would remain a viable option. As one who regularly fishes a rigged eel, I commend the Committee’s stance here in not wanting to muddy the waters further but in allowing for the ability to states to address localized angling methods as they see fit.
And lastly, by allowing an incidental striped bass catch to be harvested you open the door for those anglers who always seek a workaround anywhere that they can to use a j-hook and simply claim they were targeting another species (proof of intent is darn-near impossible to prove.) But by the very nature of the striped bass as noted earlier, and by anecdotal evidence of anyone who has ever fished in waters of which striped bass can be found, it is quite common to hook a striped bass when it’s not the desired catch. Unfortunately I feel that this may be a case where in order to streamline the rules and make enforcement as simple as possible, it may end up going whereby incidental catch/harvest is not allowed.
Again, these remain recommendations of the Committee at this time which will be discussed further (and likely at length) by the Board on March 16 from 1-3 p.m. A final ruling/decision on the subject should come of this meeting, and of course we will advise on said results here at The Fisherman Magazine.