Maryland Chesapeake Bay Circle Hook Regulations Update

5/16/2018 Update:

Mandatory circle hook use is now officially in effect!

5/3/2018 Update:

The DNR announced today that the Joint Committee has approved the regs outlined below, and will put them into effect on May 16, 2018. Along with the change, minimum size will be dropped back to 19 inches. You can read the DNR's full synopsis, here.

4/11/2018 Update:

Another update? Yup - another update. The DNR has sent out yet another notice regarding circle hook regs, this one stating that the proposal is in the hands of the General Assembly Joint Committee of Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review. It also states that the regulations they're looking to get approved aren't being modified from the original we reported on earlier (see below, for the complete scoop) with two exceptions: the regulations are now intended to sunset after two years, "to allow the department to determine if the new conservation actions were preventing mortality as intended." Also, the use of J hooks for fishing bait other than live-lining or chumming was to be allowed with hooks that had a gap under half an inch, but now it appears that for other forms of bait fishing, the J will be okay regardless of size. 

We still don't have any solid dates for implementation. The DNR says they have proposed identical regulations to "likely" begin in July in case the legislative review doesn't lead to their approval before the beginning of the regular striped bass season on May 16. 

Stay tuned...

4/6/2018 Update:

The DNR is now saying the proposal is no longer being submitted on an "emergency" basis, and final regulations will be delayed. That's all we've got, at this point, folks!

The Maryland DNR is moving fast on the mandatory circle hook requirements we first heard about back in February (see Mandatory Circle Hook and Menhaden Caps in the News). They sent out a notice today that the Maryland General Assembly Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review has been provided with an emergency action for review, in order to change the regulations in time for the upcoming May 16 through December 15 striped bass season.

fishing with a circle hook in maryland chesapeake bay
Circle hooks usually snag the fish right in the corner of the jaw, reducing mortality among released fish. Starting May 16, Chesapeake Bay anglers in Maryland's waters will have them on the end of the line any time they chum or live-line.

The stated purpose of the action is to reduce the minimum size of striped bass from 20 inches to 19 inches, for recreational and charter boat anglers. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has accepted Maryland’s “conservation equivalency proposal,” that by reducing the number of dead discarded striped bass via the mandatory use of circle hooks (combined with a slight cut in season length), the reduction in minimum size becomes possible without increasing the impact on the fish’s population.

Much fuss has been made over the definition of exactly what circle hooks are, and the fact that offset circle hooks do not have the same ability to reduce mortality as non-offset circle hooks. This latest proposal, however, notes that by definition in regulations (COMAR 08.02.25.01) the term “circle hook” applies to “a non-offset hook with the point turned perpendicularly back to the shank.” Therefore, the proposal eliminates the use of the terms “offset” and “non offset” entirely – if it’s offset, it simply does not meet the definition of a circle hook and will not be allowed for use during the May 16 to December 15 season.

The regulations in this latest proposal will include anyone fishing with chum or live-lining, regardless of the target species. Another key point is that anyone “bait fishing” (IE not chumming or live-lining but using cut fish, bloodworms, etc.) may use either a circle hook or a J-hook with a gap of less than one-half inch between the point and shank. In other words, this regulation is designed to allow those fishing for perch, spot, croaker, and other relatively small bottom fish to continue to use J hooks. The regulation eliminates the use of treble hooks, period, when fishing with bait of any sort.

Anglers using lures remain unaffected by this proposal. Remember, these regs aren’t yet etched in stone. However, the DNR is clearly making an effort to establish them as quickly as possible, so we anglers have time to prepare for the upcoming season and hit the water with a clear definition of the dos and don’ts. Stay tuned – we’ll bring you another update as information becomes available.