MOREHEAD CITY — Recreational and commercial fishermen may see new requirements for circle hooks on a species-by-species basis in the future.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission met online Feb. 25 via Webinar, during which the commission unanimously agreed to maintain current circle hook requirements while considering additional rules on a species-by-species basis through the fishery management plan process. Circle hooks are a type of gear recommended by conservationists and marine scientists to reduce dead discards.
N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Executive Assistant for Council Steve Poland delivered a report on a commission-requested study on the effectiveness of barbless circle hooks. According to the report, current scientific opinions support the use of hook modifications to reduce discard mortality.
“The general consensus is the science supports circle hooks,” Mr. Poland said. “However…science also suggests not all circle hooks are created equal.”
Existing state and interstate regulations require circle hooks for some fisheries, but not all. The DMF requires them in areas of Pamlico Sound when fishing for red drum. Meanwhile, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission requires non-offset circle hooks when fishing for sharks in state waters and when using natural bait to fish for striped bass in the Atlantic Ocean. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council also has some circle hook regulations, requiring the hooks when fishermen are in possession of snapper-grouper species in South Atlantic Ocean waters.
Mr. Poland said size is a factor in how effective circle hooks are, but a lack of standardization in the tackle industry makes it hard to regulate the hooks by size. In addition to regulating by size, Mr. Poland said types of bait are also worth considering.
“The burden is also on the angler to determine if the bait they’re using is live or synthetic,” he said.
During the commission’s deliberations over how to regulate circle hook use, Commissioner Sam Romano, who occupies a commercial fishing seat on the panel, moves forward to go through the FMP process.
“We have good intentions, but I feel like we’ve bitten off more than we can chew,” Mr. Romano said, referring to the suggestion of creating blanket regulations for circle hooks in all fisheries. “I think there’s got to be a better option that won’t frustrate tackle shops and the Marine Patrol.”
Commissioner Pete Kornegay, who occupies a science seat on the board, said he was concerned about the difficulty of enforcing circle hook rules, since it would require a Marine Patrol officer to determine what a given fisherman is trying to catch.
Marine Patrol Col. Carter Witten said whatever fish are in a fisherman’s possession determine his intended catch, according to existing regulations.
MFC Chairperson Rob Bizzell, who occupies a recreational seat on the commission, also seemed to support using the FMP process. He said he’s “nervous about painting this all with one brush.”
“Let’s consider them (circle hooks) in the rulemaking process,” he said, noting his concern with how lengthy the rulemaking process can be.
“With all these FMPs, we’re looking at years and years (of study and rulemaking),” he said.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.