Update: Pending approval from the Secretary of Commerce, the requirement to have and use venting tools will be eliminated in Gulf of Mexico federal waters. An effective date for this rule change is currently to be determined. If approved by the Secretary, FWC will consider consistency for Gulf state waters at a future Commission meeting.
State and federal regulations require all commercial fishers and recreational anglers fishing for any reef fish species in the Gulf of Mexico to use circle hooks, dehooking devices and venting tools. These rules became effective on June 1, 2008 in all waters of the Gulf of Mexico and affect all reef fish species including groupers, snappers, amberjacks, triggerfish, porgies, sea bass, hogfish, and tilefish. As of July 29, 2009, regulations require recreational and commercial fishers to use dehooking devices when fishing for reef fish in federal waters of the Atlantic off Florida. Consistent regulations have been in effect in state waters of the Atlantic since January 19, 2010. Effective March 3, 2011, non-stainless steel circle hooks must be used when fishing for reef fish with hook and line gear and natural baits north of latitude 28°N in Atlantic federal waters.
The intent of these rules is to help conserve fishery resources by minimizing mortality associated with releasing fish that are not going to be harvested due to regulations or for other reasons. Fishers and anglers are being asked to be responsible to acquire and use the required gear when fishing for reef fish species.
Additionally, common sense should be used in abiding by these rules. For instance, if a hook is too far embedded in the throat or gut of the fish, it is much better to cut the line from the hook rather than try to remove the hook with a dehooking device. The non-stainless steel hooks will disintegrate in a relatively short period of time and should cause the fish less harm. Also, fish should only be vented after one or all of the following characteristics are noticed on a fish: the stomach protrudes from the mouth, the eyes are bulging, the belly region is swollen, or the intestines are sticking out of the anus.
The rules require fishers on all vessels fishing for reef fish in the Gulf to possess and use non-stainless steel circle hooks when natural baits are used. A circle hook is a fishing hook designed and manufactured so that the point is not offset, but turned perpendicularly back to the shank to form a generally circular or oval shape.
At its June 2010 meeting, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved a management measure that would require persons aboard vessels fishing for reef fish in Atlantic federal waters north of 28° latitude (near Melbourne) to use non-stainless steel circle hooks. This requirement went into effect March 3, 2011.
Fishers on all vessels fishing for reef fish in state and federal waters of the Gulf and Atlantic, are required to possess and use a dehooking device to remove hooks embedded in reef fish with minimal damage. The dehooking device must be constructed to allow the hook to be secured and the barb shielded without re-engaging during the removal process. It must be blunt and all edges rounded, and it must be of a size appropriate to secure the range of hook sizes and styles used in the reef fish fishery.
The current rules require fishers on all vessels fishing for reef fish in the Gulf to possess and use a venting tool to deflate the swimbladders of Gulf reef fish to help release the fish with minimum damage. This tool must be a sharpened, hollow instrument, such as a hypodermic syringe with the plunger removed or a 16-gauge needle fixed to a hollow wooden dowel. A tool such as a knife or an ice-pick may not be used.
The venting tool must be inserted into the fish at a 45-degree angle approximately 1 to 2 inches from the base of the pectoral fin and be inserted just deep enough to release the gases so that the fish may be released with minimum damage.
Pending approval from the Secretary of Commerce, the requirement to have and use venting tools was eliminated in Gulf of Mexico federal waters. Since the rule was implemented in federal waters in 2008, alternative methods for improving the survival of released fish have been developed. An effective date for this rule change has yet to be determined. If approved by the Secretary, FWC will consider consistency for Gulf state waters at a future Commission meeting.