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New gear rules for the gulf

Studies have shown that using a dehooking device increases a fish's chance of survival, regardless of species. That is why, beginning Sunday, federal and state officials will require anglers aboard any vessel in the Gulf of Mexico to carry and use dehooking devices when they go offshore in search of reef fish. Anglers will also be required to use non-stainless steel circle hooks, which have proved to be more practical for catch and release. A venting tool will also be required on vessels going after reef species, which include snapper, grouper, sea bass, amberjack, gray triggerfish, hogfish, red porgy and golden tilefish.

Circle hooks

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency that implements and enforces fishing rules in federal waters, defines a circle hook as any fishing hook "designed and manufactured so that the point is turned perpendicularly back to the shank to form a generally circular, or oval, shape."

Research has found that circle hooks are more likely to hook a fish in the mouth instead of the esophagus or stomach. Non-stainless steel hooks are preferred because they rust out in a matter of days if left in a fish.

Offset hooks, which are similar to circle hooks, will still be allowed in federal waters after Sunday. But if anglers are fishing for reef fish in state waters (up to 9 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico), they must use a non-offset circle hook.

Circle hooks are only required if the angler is using natural bait. Standard J-hooks may still be used with artificial lures or artificial baits, such as imitation shrimp.

Dehooking devices

Any tool designed to remove a hook embedded in a fish will pass as a "dehooking device." Acceptable "tools" include blunt-nosed pliers, alligator pliers and dehooking forceps. Don't use knives, screwdrivers or sharp-nosed wire cutters.

While pliers and forceps can be used, a dehooking device that grabs the fishing line, slides down and gets the hook out quickly is preferred because it minimizes damage to the fish.

If the fish has swallowed the hook, it is sometimes better to cut the line as close to the hook as possible. A non-stainless steel hook rusts out in a few days.

However, some dehookers, such as the one made by the Daytona Beach-based ARC, are designed to remove swallowed hooks. For more information, go to

As a rule of thumb, NMFS recommends anglers use a dehooker if they can see the hook and cut the line if they can't.

Venting tools

When reef fish are brought up from the depths, the gas in the swim bladder can expand and cause serious injury. In general, fish caught in 50 feet of water or deeper may need to be "vented," but some species are more susceptible to gas overexpansion than others.

A fish needs to be vented if it is floating or has trouble swimming down to the bottom. A sure sign is when the fish's stomach is distended from its mouth.

A venting tool can be any sharpened, hollow instrument, such as a hypodermic syringe with the plunger removed or a 16-gauge needle attached to a hollow, wooden dowel. Large needles or tools, such as knives or ice picks, cannot be used.

To vent the fish, insert the needle at a 45-degree angle roughly 1 or 2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin. Insert the tool just enough to release the gas but not deep enough to damage the internal organs.

To learn more

The Florida Sea Grant web site is an excellent source of information and the subject and catch-and-release fishing in general. Go to

The Mote Marine Laboratory web site has a video on venting. Go to

The NMFS web site is

New gear rules for the gulf 05/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2008 12:13pm]
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