Massachusetts Aims to Reduce Striped Bass Catch and Release Mortality

1/30/2019 UPDATE: The Division of Marine Fisheries has scheduled two public hearings to take comment on these proposals. Read full text of the proposals here

February 25, 2019 (6PM)
Admiral’s Hall, MA Maritime Academy
101 Academy Drive Buzzards Bay, MA 02532

February 27, 2019 (6PM)
DMF’s Annisquam River Station
30 Emerson Avenue, Gloucester, MA 01930

The Division of Marine Fisheries will also accept public comment through 5PM on Friday, March 1, 2019. Please address all written comments to Director Pierce and submit to DMF by e-mail at or by post to 251 Causeway Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114.


By Michael Armstrong, PhD, Assistant Director

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) will be proposing to implement two new conservation measures for the striped bass fisheries aimed at minimizing the number of fish that are killed through hooking and releasing. The proposed measures would prohibit the use of gaffs and mandate the use of in-line circle hooks when using live or cut natural baits.

The Massachusetts recreational striped bass fishery is primarily catch and release. Our anglers release about 93% of all the striped bass they catch. Discards in the commercial striped bass fishery, though difficult to quantify, are also believed to make up a significant share of the catch, especially given the larger minimum size for that fishery. Studies have shown that about 9% of released striped bass will die from the effects of hooking and handling (called release mortality). Given that recent stock assessments have shown that fishing mortality is increasing, we think it is time to institute some broad-based and effective measures to lower the mortality rate and ensure the future health of the striped bass stock.

We have heard from many anglers that feel a no-gaffing rule in the striped bass fishery is a no-brainer. Using a gaff to assist in bringing your catch aboard causes significant injury to the fish and there is often no way to tell the precise length of this fish until it is removed from the water. Given that our fisheries release large numbers of striped bass that are just below the legal size limit, we feel it is irresponsible to continue to allow the practice. Numerous other Atlantic coast states have already implemented such a provision in their striped bass fisheries, including Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia.

The mandatory use of in-line circle hooks is the single most effective way to decrease mortality in striped bass. There are many studies that demonstrate the efficacy of circle hooks in lowering release mortality in striped bass and other species. Deep hooking (i.e., when the hook catches in the esophagus or gills rather than the lip) is the major contributor to release mortality. It has been demonstrated that the use of circle hooks, as compared to j hooks, greatly reduces the incidence of deep hooking and therefore mortality. The latest catch estimate from the revised Marine Recreational Information Program (see page 7) indicates that Massachusetts recreational anglers released almost 13 million striped bass in 2017. If we apply the release mortality rate of 9%, that means over 1 million striped bass died after being released. That’s compared to only 300,000 that were taken home and eaten! Clearly the mortality resulting from fishing in Massachusetts can have an effect on the striped bass population. That’s why DMF is proposing the mandatory use of circle hooks for anglers using certain natural baits. A study in Maryland found a 90% reduction in mortality when using in-line circle hooks. Imagine if we could reduce the number of release deaths from over a million fish to 100,000!

DMF will be bringing the proposal to implement these two conservation regulations to public hearing this winter. We seek the public’s input on certain aspects of how the regulations will apply. For instance, should the gaffing and circle hook rules apply to the recreational, for-hire, and commercial sectors universally or should some groups be exempt; should artificial lures with bait (e.g., tube and worm) be included? We hope to see you at the public hearings and let us know your opinion.


67 on “Massachusetts Aims to Reduce Striped Bass Catch and Release Mortality

  1. Dan

    Gaff elimination yes, hooks no. Deeply hooked fish means you cut the line and return the fish to the water quickly.

    I believe fish that are manhandled are more the issue with mortality.

    1. John N Costa

      I have used circle hooks for years (30) and have a lot of success with them. Circle hooks were first invented and used by the Japanese over 50 years ago. Do I miss a few hits most definitely, but my hook ups are more than my misses. My hook ups with a circle hook are usually in the corners of the mouth just behind the bone, or in the upper and lower jaw bones. As for gaffing fish, use a damn net it far more gentler on a fish and can be released unharmed, as for measuring the fish while in the net, unhook the fish, have a fish tape measure, (they found in any Tackle shop), mounted on the transom or a measuring board long enough and wide enough to handle any striper. once measured if it’s a keeper it’s up to you whether you keep or release the fish, but do it quickly. If you do not know how to release a striper properly, ask someone who knows. Most of us on this site have experience in this matter or give a call to Mass DMF and they will tell you how. GO PATS!

  2. chris mendes

    its a good idea to save all fish and let them get bigger for the future to come i mean in the swim baits can be change but options on size hook maybe better for less fish death on fishing boats commerical wise should find a way better why to do to if shore or boat guys have to change so they need to find a better way to nets wise and less fish death number can com back to its takes two sides to work as much to do for the fish and the ocean

  3. Germain

    Gotta start somewhere, so that’s good to see. Now to reduce the overall harvesting of stripedbass and maybe we’ll see them rebound, got to act now before it’s too late.

  4. Eric

    Gaffs yes, hooks no. The only reason circle hooks will drop mortality is because they land fewer fish, period. Hooks bouncing around the jaw of big fish in hopes that it will catch the lip is bad fishing. They can spin the “evidence” any way they want to produce the results that best support their case. Circle hooks drop fish. Set the hook quick, land it quick, release it quick.

  5. Chris

    Circle hooks for live and cut bait are a no brainer too. Circle hooks are just as effective and drastically reduce the chance for injury to the fish. Just the act of fighting a fish that is gut hooked will greatly decrease it’s chance for survival no matter how short you cut the line or how quickly you release the fish.

    1. Dean Krah

      We been restricted to circle hooks for a few years now, The State is considering dropping the requirement this year.They don’t perform as well as expected.except for missed hook ups”And in real shallow water(2-3 ft) where a lot of our legal fish are caught circle hooks have a lot problems for us guys that fish mostly live and cut mackerel.Bass are very pressure shy and fresh Mack’s are one the hardest baits to pull hook out.Does save a lot fish on missed hooks ups tho. 45+ years experience

  6. Tidehunter

    A circle hook in a pogie is about as useless as a bent nail. Unless you enjoy pulling a pogie out of a bass’ mouth without hooking it. Cut bait, mackerel, different story.

  7. Chip

    Of course it should be a law. I am in RI, but have never used a gaf on a striper ever. And I exclusively use circle hooks 100 % of the time. So much easier, and faster to release fish. And I dont lose many fish . Everyone should use them.

      1. nj vincenz

        i bridle my live baits with a 5/0 offset wide gap circle hook

  8. Jason Keenan

    Now imagine if they also got rid of all the catch and release tournaments. Those guys are pulling everything over 40” out of the water for pro long times . Taping the fish getting qualifying photos. Several most likely bc it’s never as easy as one two shots. When your not fishing for getting the most inches you definitely release your fish fast

  9. James

    I feel like a slot limit for striped bass would also help protect the larger breeder females

  10. Bruce Peters

    I have run a charter boat for 22 years from Chatham. Prior to that, I fished stripers commercially. The only rule for circle hook use on striped bass should be in chunk baits or live mackerel. I have used an octopus style J hook with a single sand eel in the rips for 25 years, and the number of gullet hooked fish ive caught is minimal. (less than 20 in the last 10 years). I have gaffed all of the fish to go in the box, and if they look borderline legal, I lean over and lip the fish, like a largemouth. All of the gaffing problems, I have observed happen in the commercial derby fishery, where many of the more recent participants either don’t have the experience or are just too uncaring about the fish to bother lipping a possibly undersized catch. My two cents worth.

    1. james sager

      I agree whit ya Bruce I always lip and I use a hand gaff.Derby guys leave your long gaff home and go buy a hand gaff and you use that under bottom lip also

    2. Stephen Ryan

      I used to reach over and lip small bass, never again. My hand was less than a foot away from the small bass I had on, when a big bull gray
      seal appeared out of nowhere, and grabbed my bass. A fraction of a second later, that seal would have had my hand. I bought a net when I got in. White sharks are hitting the bass boatside also. I don’t put my hands in the water anymore to retrieve a fish.

      1. Capt. Dave, BAYMEN

        Yep – with all the great whites around in our bay and outside the bay, I always worry about them going for a bass I am lipping boatside. I have seen the videos of them taking stripers, and I have seen GW’s powering through blues and chasing seals around our bay. It looks like a runaway train plowing through the waters at high speed. So, yes, net boatside is a safer way these days. Have never seen or heard of anyone in our waters gaff a striper in 26 seasons.

  11. Terry

    “We hope to see you at the public hearing.”… that we’ve provide no information for. Happy Googling, suckers.

  12. Get Tight Sport Fishing

    OTW can you keep us informed of when this public hearing will be.

  13. Tony G

    There is no statistics here to support the 9% mortality rate. There should be a breakdown- handling, foul hooking, high grading.
    A major issue is the high grading being done. (Serious problem at the CC canal.)

  14. Jim Dowd

    I fully support the proposed regulations. The evidence is unambiguous. Each of the suggested measures reduces fish mortality. This is GOOD for the resource, and thus for the folks who fish for them

  15. John Tregidgo

    I don’t quite understand the logic of fish size, i.e., 28″ to take a fish and the resulting need to catch then release? My son and I are ” meat” fishermen 2 14″ schoolies is enough to make a meal for my wife and me
    when I catch these i go home. No fish to release, no dead fish, no need for “sport”!
    I enjoy fishing but there is no way you are not going to needlessly kill fish by catch and release. And further limits are fine with me.

    1. Bill

      It DOES sound like you are saying you catch 2 undersized fish, intentionally. That said, I am also primarily a meat fisherman. I feel that there should be a gut-hook exception where you can legally harvest an undersized fish that stands no chance getting thrown back. I badly gut-hooked a black seabass last year that was only 1″ undersized. He went back in the water to certain death, when he could have gone do my dinner and left his big brother alive that I caught later.

  16. james sager

    Hey John T this is about Striped Bass,you did not say what schoolies you are catching must be Blues, because 2 14’s dont add up to 1 28 inch Bass.

  17. Carlos

    Why don’t you catch four 7 inch schoolies it also equals 28 inches ,

  18. Zach

    How about we get rid of all the weekend warriors that don’t derive 90-100% of there income from fishing and just make it for commercial fishermen that depend on the money since it’s there only income.

    1. Charlie S

      Since commercial guys take far more fish per person, it’s much easier to simply cancel commercial bass fishing than to cancel recreational fishing. Zach – I hear the car wash is hiring.

      If you want to eat Striped Bass, go catch a legal sized one…using a Circle hook.

    2. Gary

      Go get a real job.
      You guys are a big part of the problem.
      Any commercial Striper Fisherman that says he makes a living off the Striper fishery is lying.
      Do away with the commercial season. Save the Stripers.

  19. Kent Jackson

    Controlling the seal population will go a long way toward saving the stripers.

  20. Pete

    How about also educating the idiots so they don’t stick their fingers through the gills to hold up the fish then declare what a great person they are because they released the fish after? You just dealt the fish as death blow!

  21. Chris

    Circle hooks shouldnt be mandatory. If for some crazy reason a fish is gut hooked ,cut the leader. No stainless steel bait hooks. no gaffes, not needed. I wish they would raise the limit to 36 inches, for those who want to kill a fish. I know I wont be popular but close commercial Striped Bass fishing.

  22. Charley

    Prohibit gaffs – no brainer

    Prohibit J-hooks with live bait – stupid. What is the mortality with J-hooks vs treble hooks with plugs?

    The real reason for weakness is the fishery is the 28” minimum size. The fishery was MUCH stronger with a longer minimum size. Bump that to 30” or 32” and the fishery will rebound.

  23. Tim Lynch

    The mortality rate is high from people who fish with light tackle and tire it out and then the fish is released and is and subject to prey. Circle hooks can’t hold bait. Even when’s barbed hook is deep in the gills the line can be cut or you can gently reach in from the sides of the gills and remove the hook. I only fish with heavy tackle and bring striped bass in quickly with much lower stress.

  24. Phil Lee

    I have used only circle hooks on the Pamela Too since 1998 when I caught my first 160 lb tarpon on a #6 circle,…. no need touse anything else . After the learning curve is passed, no gut hooks , ever, !!!!!

  25. Phil Lee

    Tarpon caught on a private guide trip in Boca Grande, Fla. All my striped bass and bluefish have been angled in Massachusetts.

  26. Jerry Bledsoe

    Leave the regulations as written. The fish industry is strong. We don’t need additional regulations telling fishermen how we can catch, release and harvest fish. The stripper recreational fishing generates a lot of money and we don’t need more regulations on catching and releaseing fish. The next thing it will be the day of the week, time of the day, hook type, hook size , line size, etc., etc., we don’t need more regulations on a strong fish industry. Leave it alone!!

  27. Shawn St Laurent

    Yes circle hooks should be mandatory. I have been using circle hooks for a few years now and they work great. They catch fish right in corner of the mouth every time when im using bait and no gut or deep hook and i do no keep any fish only catch and release.

  28. Riichard Barron

    I have never liked circle hooks. I used them a couple of seasons and went back to Gmachu. No circle hooks. As far as gaffing that’s a no brainer. Don’t stick a ponted gaff into a fish you are not going to eat. The funny thing about all this research is that back in the late 1960’s-1970’s when the law was 1- 36″ striper per day the biomass if striped bass in general was way way down almost to under 10%. I have buddies who fish commercial and they are highly motivated to catch a lot of keepers when they fish but at least they are not throwing nets anymore. Now the law is going toward the type of hooks we have to use when the biomass isupposed to be coming back according to readings in the Chesapeak Bay and Deleware. Maybe the mfg. co. for circle hooks has friends in politics and they’re getting kick backs??? Something’s FISHY !!

    1. Bill

      Who gave you the indication that the stock was coming back? THOSE are the people with friends in politics! Striped bass, bluefish, and fluke are all in decline. Winter flounder never rebounded. Cod are stable but way too far down. My personal preference for THE fish to catch these days is sea robin. I’ll take them all. I can make fish nuggets out of the filets and turn the carcass into stock.

  29. Terry McCormack

    More information needs to be gathered. I believe that most of the mortality is not in the larger size fish targeted with live eels, pogies, chunks etc. I believe the bigger mortality issue is with the schoolies being hooked by surface poppers or swimming plugs with multiple barbed treble hooks. Another issue is enforcement, if anyone is fishing one of their secret spots fishing eels with a j-hook how is anyone going to enforce the circle hook regulations.
    Crimp the barbs on the lures used for schoolies, get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible and live to catch and be caught another day.

  30. Greg Riddle

    I support mandatory circle hooks for all bait applications. Just as effective, no gut hook ups. Anyone that would disagree isn’t interested in mortality or conservation of these fish or any other species for that matter.

  31. Fishwisperer

    How about we ban fly fishing for Bass. It wears out the fish and they die when released.

    1. Bill Blackwell

      How about we ban current. Fishing in the current tires fish out. Really, I have fly fished for stripers since I was a kid. Almost always the barb-less fly sits right on the lip of the fish. The release is quick and the fish is unharmed. True a long fight is not good for the fish with any tackle but I consider those that fly fish to be at top of the pile when it comes to fish preservation.

  32. Anthony Lombardo

    I definitely applaud the fisheries department trying to do something here. However if 300,000 fish were reported kept then the number is closer to a million there also. All you need to do is take a stroll down the canal during a blitz and see how many fish the illeaglas are taking. 2,3,sometimes 4. This is after they culled their catch and sent the little ones back down the canal floating dead. Make the canal catch and release only. Like the sanctuary water that so many states have. There is pleanty of access to continued to catch and keep fish where it’s not so easy to intercept the breeders.

    1. Bill Blackwell

      Good point Anthony. I too have watched follks on the canal catch a fish, take it up to the car have the driver take it away only to come a few minutes later. I believe most of the regulars that fish the canal would care less if they couldn’t keep fish. Great suggestion

    2. Paul Gurney

      If someone is going to break the law what good does it do to make new laws that punish everyone. We have laws on the books we need better enforcement. Zero tolerance and seizure of all equipment.

  33. Bill Blackwell

    I began using circle hooks a few years ago while fishing out of Plymouth. After a few adjustments on my “set the hook” technique I found the hook-up rates to be about the same with drastic reductions in wounded fish. I now fish up in New Hampshire and Maine. Maine requires the “in-line” circle. I will begin fishing with that hook this year for all live bait. I am a life long striper fisherman and have a great reverence for these majestic fish and am all about CPR (catch, photograph and release) If we as striper fisherman are about the “never lose a fish” perhaps we should go back to the pond and catch sunfish. I killed a mess of them!

  34. Flydaddy

    I flyfish for stripers,I tie my own flies and have only used circle hook for the last 10 years. I land 90-95 percent of the stripers I hook and more than 90 per cent are hooked in the corner of the mouth. Flatten the barbs,catch and release will help protect our fishery for our children and grandchildren.

    1. Carl Vining

      Circle hook absolutely and no gaffing unless fish definitely is legal and only gaffed under jawbone so fish can be released.

  35. Al green

    Bill B said it best. Except for the commercial guys, we’re not going to not eat if we don’t catch a mess of fish. It’s the whole package that makes it special. Knowing you can easily snag macs and have a terrific day catching some strippers with your family and friends. The fishery gang isn’t working against us – they’re trying to inform us to keep those experiences alive and be the single source for whatever facts exist. Gaffs is a no brainer – but a net. Hooks, used them all. Circle hooks are better for sure, tougher to keep bait in and set but again – that’s part of the challenge. Be open minded gang – it’s so our kids can have the same experiences we did !!

  36. Mike

    I have been using circle hooks for stripers for over 15 years with great success with both live and cut baits.

  37. Scomber scombus

    I live in Maine where circle hooks are mandatory and as far as I’m concerned there is to hype and not enough science to support a ban on J hooks. In my experience fishing macks in moving water it is about 50-50 gut hooked vs the classic circle hook in the jaw. Unfortunately the circle hooks in the gullet almost always goes across the opening and acts like a pin therefore condemning the striper to death. Also circle hooks are useless fishing clams for bait.

  38. Scomber scombus

    Also when they wrote the law in Maine about in-line circle hooks only when using bait they didn’t take into consideration bait at the end of a tube rig or spinner rigs..

  39. Shawn Lynch

    Circle hooks are junk ! Outlaw sand spikes maybe if you set the hook sooner there would be less gut hooks

  40. Steve A

    Yes to no gaff. Gaffing a fish to keep should not be a problem but maybe it’s wrong to have it both ways. I use a gripping tool, hand or net. I have been using circle hooks for all bait fishing for all species for years but I can see that fishing live eels with them may be not as efficient as J hooks. Sadly, we can’t make that one undersized fish that will die be part of our limit. Too many fisherman are not that honest.

  41. Charles Chappell

    all said in good , We need our government to push china and other countries further away from our shore lines. they are dragging nets taking all fish from our coast. that is my two cents.

  42. John

    From what I see it is ignorance that kills fish I say everyone needs to pass a fishing aptitude test get certified learn the right way to release fish to catch fish half of that bycatch may just be eliminated
    If you want to hunt don’t you have to take a hunter’s course what’s the differencepun

  43. jeff nichols

    i would be willing too….put a gps device on fish i release to track mortlility. see my videos secondchoice jeff

  44. Chris Canal

    I have a hard enough time hooking eels with reg hooks never mind circle hooks. You want to make circle hooks a mandatory on dead chunk baits fine but I ain’t using them on eels . Write me the ticket now . Same goes with live pogies.

  45. Jay

    RI needs to stop allowing spearfishing for stripers. All the cows are being taken!!

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