SPORTS

Fisheries bill addresses climate impacts on fish

By CAPTAIN DAVE MONTI
Posted 12/24/20

Hats off to United States Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Chair of the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, and Ed Case (D-Honolulu), subcommittee member. Last week the Congressmen introduced a discussion draft of a bill to reauthorizes

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SPORTS

Fisheries bill addresses climate impacts on fish

Posted

Hats off to United States Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Chair of the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, and Ed Case (D-Honolulu), subcommittee member. Last week the Congressmen introduced a discussion draft of a bill to reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the primary fishing law of this nation, that addresses climate change impacts on fishing as well as other important fisheries conservation issues.

As a charter captain and recreational fishermen I know that the Magnuson-Stevens Act has served us well to rebuild fish stocks, however, with climate change impacts, warming water and fish stock movements the fish I catch today are different in type and abundance than the fish I caught ten years ago. The fishing laws of this national need to be reauthorization to provide management and fishers with the tools they need to address stock shifts, habitat degradation due to rising water and a host of other climate change impacts.

Cold water fish in our region such a as winter flounder, American lobster and cod have left for colder deeper water north and further offshore. Yet warmer water fish stocks have moved up the coast such as black sea bass, scup and summer flounder in greater abundance.

This draft reauthorization bill is the culmination of a year-long listening tour Rep. Huffman led to get feedback on the legislation – part of Congressman’s effort to foster a uniquely transparent, inclusive, science-based approach to updating this important law governing fisheries in American waters.

“This draft includes important and timely updates to the MSA as well as provisions to strengthen communities and support those whose lives and livelihoods depend on healthy oceans and fisheries,” said Reps. Huffman and Case. “With the growing impacts of climate change, difficulties due to the ongoing pandemic, and rapidly evolving needs in fisheries management and science, amending and reauthorizing the MSA remains a top priority. We’re looking forward to the next phase of this process and receiving constructive commentary to inform and shape the bill’s introduction next year.”

In an effort to include as many opinions and viewpoints as possible, Rep. Huffman and Rep. Case held eight listening sessions and covered seven management regions on their nationwide fisheries listening tour. They heard from 80 different experts and stakeholders, in addition to public comments from dozens of members of the public in person and online. I was one of the 80 people national that testified at congressional hearings held by Congressman Huffman’s subcommittee.

A copy of the nearly 200 page MSA reauthorization discussion draft and a link to a bill summary can be found on Congressman Huffman’s website at https://huffman.house.gov .

Circle hooks must now be used when bait fishing for striped bass

Non-offset, inline circle hooks are now required when fishing for striped bass using natural baits. This new regulation takes effect Jan. 1, 2021 coastwide and there are no gear or mode type exemptions allowed. As a formality the new regulation was brought before the RI Marine Fisheries Council on Dec. 7, they voted to approve recommending the circle hook regulation to DEM Director Janet Coit so that Rhode Island regulations are in compliance with coastwide regulations.

Changes to the Atlantic Striped Bass Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) implemented coastwide harvest reductions in 2020 as striped bass were overfished and overfishing was occurring. Changes in the plan also required the mandatory use of circle hooks when fishing with bait to reduce release mortality in recreational striped bass fisheries. As per the FMP, states are required to implement circle hook requirements by Jan. 1, 2021.

The new circle hook requirement includes but is not limited to such angling techniques as live lining or fishing with chucks of Atlantic menhaden, tube and worm, fishing with eels, eel skin rigs, as well as the addition of pork rind, or squid to a bucktail jig and all other scenarios where a natural bait is added to an artificial lure when targeting striped bass.

A "circle hook" is defined as a non-offset hook where the point is pointed perpendicularly back towards the shank. The term "non-offset" means the point and barb are in the same plane as the shank … when the hook is laying on a flat surface, the entire hook and barb also lay flat.

The recreational angling community was for the most part in support of more restrictive striped bass regulations to rebuild the stock as quickly as possible. A reduction from a two fish to a one fishing limit occurred and last year a slot limit was established with a regulation of one fish/person/day with a slot fish more than 28 inches and less than 35 inches.

However, the circle hook regulation applying to tube and worm fishing took many unaware anglers by surprise as fish caught by this mode are usually hooked in the mouth, particularly when the bait is moving though the water when trolling. The fish generally hooks itself on the limp as the bass hits the bait on the run with little time to swallow it before it is hooked.

Thousands of anglers have testified that it is their experience that when trolling with tube & worm striped bass hook themselves in the mouth. And, striped bass do not hook themselves in the gut or throat so release mortality is reduced when using this method. Additionally, there has been concern about the industry retooling to meet the law as the present inventory of tube & worm rigs in tackle boxes and on the shelf at tackle shops do not have circle hooks on them.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) would have to approve a change in the Fisheries Management Plan to change the law and then states would have to amend their regulations. The ASMFC winter meeting is schedule for Feb. 4 -6. In Rhode Island anglers are meeting with DEM Marine Fisheries Division staff to garner a better understanding of the law and what if anything can be done to change it with a circle hook provision exception for tube & worm rigs if desired. At deadline, the RI Saltwater Anglers Association’s Legislative Committee was scheduled to meet with DEM officials to explore the provision. Where’s the bite?

Cod fishing off Rhode Island and Massachusetts south of Cape Cod is a good bet this holiday week and in January. Party boats fishing for cod this winter include the Frances Fleet at www.francesfleet.com, the Seven B’s at www.sevenbs.com, and the Island Current at www.islandcurrent.com .

Freshwater. Anglers are targeting largemouth, pike and trout this week. In Rhode Island the DEM restocked ponds select waterways with trout last week. For updates on stocking in Rhode Island visit DEM’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RIFishwildlife/, or call 401-789-0281.

Dave Monti holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association, the American Saltwater Guides Association and the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at dmontifish@verizon.net or visit www.noflukefishing.com.

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