TRENTON – To help maintain and grow striped bass levels, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will require anglers to use circle hooks when catch-and-release fishing for striped bass with natural bait, staring Jan. 1, 2021, the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife announced Wednesday.

The requirement stems from changes the Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board made in 2019 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan, to address overfishing. The board, part of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, reduced New Jersey’s striped bass bag limit in 2020 to one fish, between 28 inches and less than 38 inches long, and required states to implement mandatory use of non-offset (inline) circle hooks when fishing for striped bass with natural bait by Jan. 1, 2021.

“The vast majority of striped bass caught in the recreational fishery in New Jersey and all along the coast, are released,” Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources Ray Bukowski said. “We know release mortality is a substantial contributor to overall striped bass mortality, and circle hooks have been shown to increase survival of released fish. These new regulations are expected to be a significant step forward in our efforts to rebuild and protect one of New Jersey’s most sought-after species.”

A ‘circle hook’ is defined as a non-offset (inline) hook where the point is curved perpendicularly back toward the shank. The term ‘non-offset or inline’ means the point and barb are in the same plane as the shank.

Use of circle hooks can reduce the number of fish that die due to stress or injuries from being caught and released. Specifically, circle hooks are designed to reduce occurrences of “deep hooking” or “gut hooking.” Studies have shown that gut hooking is a major cause of release mortality. Requiring the use of circle hooks when fishing with natural bait is the first step to reduce release mortality in the striped bass fishery. Release mortality contributes significantly to overall fishing mortality in the recreational striped bass fishery.

“There are other ways anglers can help reduce release mortality in recreational fisheries by using proper fish handling and release techniques,” said Joe Cimino, Division of Fish and Wildlife Marine Fisheries Administrator. “All of the states are working together to increase education and awareness, but ultimately we need anglers to assist us in this effort.”

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Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.