It had been a long time since I’d seen it, but this past November I watched a gaff sink solidly into the side of a hefty striped bass on a nearby boat. But apparently those anglers had misjudged the size of the striper, and the over-slot fish was returned to the Atlantic with a gaping hole in it.
This spectacle took place somewhere between the New York Bight and New Jersey coastline. Though the vessel was certainly close enough to read the registration numbers, I don’t recall what port it hailed from. But for anglers sailing out of New Jersey this year, a new state law now prohibits the use of gaffs for striped bass, likely aimed at preventing the “gaff and release” I had witnessed this past fall.
New Jersey Law Forbids the Use of Gaffs by Recreational Striped Bass Anglers
The new law, approved by the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council at its January 5, 2023 meeting, echoes existing policy at the federal level. Last May, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) implemented a couple of provisions under Amendment 7 to the Atlantic Striped Bass Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) designed to limit release mortality.
The ASMFC includes a prohibition on gaffing striped bass, as well as a section requiring any striped bass that is caught using an unapproved method be returned to the water immediately without unnecessary injury. This means that any stripers caught on a bait rigged on a J-hook must go back.
New Jersey’s new law, N.J.A.C.7:25-18.1, prohibiting any person to gaff or attempt to gaff any striped bass at any time when fishing recreationally, consistent with the Interstate FMP for Atlantic Striped Bass, hasn’t hit the books officially yet, though they are currently in effect. Anglers should look for the rule to be published in the April 3, 2023 New Jersey Register, the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Marine Digest, and on the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife website.