Marine Resources Committee Report: Natural Bait, Striped Bass & Circle Hooks

New York’s Marine Resources Advisory Council held its November meeting on the 17th.  Most of the issues addressed related to various commercial fisheries, but one topic important to recreational fishermen was on the agenda. That was New York’s proposed regulation requiring anyone fishing for striped bass with natural bait to use circle hooks, beginning with the 2021 season.

The proposed regulation is still with the DEC’s attorneys.  However, the language provided at the meeting is unlikely to change significantly before the proposed rule is published and the 60-day comment period begins.

There are three parts to the rule:
1)  Non-offset circle hooks will be required for anyone fishing for striped bass with “natural bait.”  Anyone who catches a striped bass on bait, while using a J-hook, offset circle hook, or treble hook must release the fish.
2)  The regulation will define a “non-offset circle hook.”
3)  The definition of “natural bait” will be the same one currently used by the DEC in its freshwater regulations:

Natural bait means all baits which entice or might be ingested or swallowed by fish including, but not limited to, fish (dead or alive), fish eggs, worms, shellfish, crustacea, amphibians (frogs and toads), insects (including all stages of development such as larvae, pupae, etc.), pork rinds, liver, meat, corn or other vegetable matter, tapioca, candy, cheese, bread and putty or dough-like scented baits.

There are a few things to note with respect to the proposed regulation, as presented to MRAC on the 17th. The first is the fact that pork rind, often used on bucktails cast for striped bass, will require a circle hook. While that may not be as much as a problem as it once was, given that Uncle Josh, the company that made most of the pork rind used by anglers, went out of business a few years ago. The other is that there is no mention in the regulations of when an angler will be deemed to be “fishing for striped bass.”  That could create some enforcement difficulties, as a person can easily claim to be targeting weakfish, bluefish, summer flounder, etc. with a J-hook when actually targeting striped bass in contravention of the regulation. 

Lt. Sean Reilly, who heads the DEC’s Marine Enforcement Unit, confirmed that the question of whether an angler is fishing for striped bass will be determined on a case by case basis, depending on the totality of the circumstances. Thus, a fisherman who is dropping a green crab onto a wreck or rock pile, or who is drifting a strip of squid and a spearing over sand bottom, and happens to catch a striped bass won’t run into trouble, so long as the bass is promptly released. On the other hand, a fisherman dragging an eel through a Montauk rip in the middle of the night, without a wire leader, is likely to be found in violation. There are obviously shades of gray that may complicate the enforcement issue, but the DEC seems confident that it will be able to adequately address the issues likely to arise.

As mentioned before, the proposed regulation has not yet been released for public comment. Once it is, there will be a 60-day comment period before the rule may be published in final form. Unless something unexpected occurs, the regulation will be in place for the start of the striped bass season on the Hudson River.

-Charles Witek, NYSCC Marine Resources Committee Chair

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