Fishing & Boating News

NMFS meets tournament directors on circle hook rule change

by: Pete Johnson, Johnson Communications

(Dec. 18, 2006 - Dania Beach, FL., U.S.A.) In November, the IGFA hosted a meeting of billfish tournament directors and officials of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to discuss a new rule beginning in 2007 affecting offshore tournaments in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico on the use of circle hooks. Tournament Directors and other interested parties were invited by the NMFS to the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum to hear an explanation of the new rule and answer questions pertaining to its implementation. Specifically the new rule reads, beginning January 1, 2007 anglers fishing from Highly Migratory Species (HMS) permitted vessels (also a requirement) in Atlantic billfish tournaments "must deploy only non-offset circle hooks when using natural bait or natural bait/artificial lure combinations and may not deploy a J-hook or an offset circle hook in combination with natural bait or a natural bait/artificial lure combination." Regulations continue to allow for the use of J-hooks with artificial lures. Much of the discussion focused on a provision within the rule that allows for Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) to be issued which would permit J-hooks to be used with natural bait as part of a scientific study. This provision was a direct result of input and concerns received from some tournaments in the mid-Atlantic region. The use of EFPs are not designed to simply allow for a way to fish outside of the regulations, but rather to provide a mechanism by which meaningful research could be conducted that would otherwise be prohibited by a given rule. There are many requirements associated with the use of EFPs and by the end of the discussion it was the general consensus that although allowed they would most likely be too cumbersome to implement in a tournament setting. "The IGFA supports the new regulations for circle hook use,"said its Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser, "as previous research has demonstrated that they provide a conservation benefit to billfish. However, the IGFA is opposed to the NMFS issuing tournaments EFP under the auspices of research because tournaments are not the appropriate environment for collecting this type of data." IGFA President Rob Kramer said, "The IGFA was happy to help facilitate the recent tournament director's meeting at the Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum. It's our desire to help improve communication and understanding between the recreational fishing community and fisheries managers. Most of the major billfish tournaments from the US Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico had representation at the meeting and were able to express their concerns and questions with regards to the new rule."