Tag: Costa Rica Fishing Laws

Costa Rica Circle Hook Fishing

The Circle Hook Revolution

Costa Rica Fishing Conservation – The Circle Hook Revolution

 

Marlin Magazine

Published for Marlin Magazine

The Beginning

In 1998, circle hooks exploded on the American sport-fishing scene with Capt. Ron Hamlin’s declaration that he would use nothing but circle hooks when fishing with bait. The announcement came as he was accepting the annual release award for the most Pacific sailfish in a single season (546 sails caught on J hooks in 1997). Tired of seeing gut-hooked billfish gushing blood, that night he denounced the J hooks that had brought him so much success. What the spectators did not realize was that Hamlin had experienced a catch-per-unit effort rate of 65 percent or better for circle hooks on sailfish in Guatemala, compared to 50 percent with J hooks. From his perspective, it was a no-brainer that would tremendously benefit the fishery.

black and white image of boat captains

Capt. Ron Hamlin, Joan Vernon and Tim Choate each made a substantial case for industrywide circle-hook use, which prompted the rest of the fishing world to follow.

Richard Gibson

His employer, Tim Choate, had mandated the use of circle hooks by all five of his Artmarina-owned charter boats even before science had proved that billfish survival rates greatly increase with circle hooks. In his speech that night, Hamlin acknowledged Capt. Peter B. Wright and angler Skip Walton for bringing circle hooks to Guatemala after first using them in the giant bluefin tuna fishery off North Carolina.

A charter captain, and owner of Red Drum Tackle in Hatteras, North Carolina, Capt. Bob Eakes had a lot to do with pioneering the area’s bluefin tuna fishery, bringing in Wright and marine scientists such as Dr. Eric Prince

Prince, now retired from his post as head of the NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami says it all began in 1995, approximately two years before they started tagging bluefin tuna with implantable, archival and pop-up satellite tags. “The big question was how to minimize the damage and stress of capture so the tuna would survive the surgical implantation of the oversize tags, which then cost about $4,500, so survival was essential,” he says.

Wright and his mate, Scott Levin, suggested a plan to bring the fish aboard through the tuna door and insert a saltwater washdown hose in the tuna’s mouth to oxygenate the fish, along with using a cloth to cover the eyes and body.

“This helped eliminate stress from handling,” Prince relates. But it was the circle hook that Eakes first suggested that eliminated gut hooking, ensuring the long-term health of the fish. “On our fishing trips, every tuna caught on circle hooks was hooked in the hinge of the jaw. Looking at it with a little biological insight, I could see the benefits not just for endangered bluefin tunas, but also to reduce gut-hooking sailfish.”

After expressing those insights to Wright, Prince shared them with Choate, who suggested a fishing trip out of Guatemala, where catch rates exceed 40 sailfish per day, to provide a suitable test. The success of that expedition led to a scientific study by Prince in March and May of 1999.

Dead-bait trolling off Iztapa, Guatemala, showed conclusively that circle hooks produce more fish that are released without evidence of bleeding. Out of 461 sailfish bites, they hooked 360. Using an equal number of J hooks and circle hooks, 125 were caught and released on J hooks versus 235 on circle hooks. Out of those 235 releases, only 14 sailfish showed any signs of bleeding, six of which were deemed severe. Of the J-hook-caught fish, 71 had bleeding, 32 of which were deemed severe. The conclusion? Sailfish caught on J hooks are 21 times more likely to suffer hook-related bleeding — and possible death — than fish caught on circle hooks. Furthermore, circle hooks had a higher hookup percentage. Follow-up studies all came to the same conclusion: Significant conservation benefits can be realized in dead- and live-bait fisheries for billfish and tuna by simply changing the terminal tackle from J hooks to circle hooks.

“The simplicity [of one change] really touched a chord,” Prince says.

sailfish jumping in the air

Sailfish caught on circle hooks benefit both angler and fish with higher hook-up ratios and lower mortality rates

Bubba Naquin

Central America Leads the Way

Like a messiah spreading the gospel, Hamlin broadcast the success of circle hooks to every influential angler he knew. In Joan Vernon, he found a disciple. Since the year 2000, she has personally caught more than 2,200 billfish — all on circle hooks.

“Hamlin explained he had a new hook he wanted me to try,” she recalls. “At first, I was a little skeptical about using circle hooks with the 8- and 12-pound-test tackle I used for sailfish, but I had no trouble hooking them. Every fish was hooked right where Hamlin predicted: in the hinge of the jaw. I was convinced, but getting everyone else on board would be a challenge.”

Vernon is also the executive director of the Presidential Challenge of Central America tournament series. Founded in 1996, the tournaments were originally held in Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Guatemala (now also in Aruba for the past decade). They are fun events, but at their core they are meant to ensure the continued abundance of healthy billfish populations throughout Central America and the Caribbean through research and education. At the 1998 Sport Fishing Economic Conference of Central America — held for scientists, resort and charter operators and politicians — she floated the idea of circle hooks as a tool in reducing billfish mortality.

Putting her money where her mouth is, Vernon announced the 1999 Presidential Challenge series would become the world’s first all-circle hook release tournament.

“I had no idea if the anglers would go for it, but there was no opposition,” she says. A few years later, Costa Rica and Guatemala declared circle hooks mandatory for recreational billfish caught in their territorial waters.

“By 2005, virtually every tournament in Central America had gone to circle hooks,” she adds. “And in countries with no recreational circle-hook laws, they were mandated by the local resorts and lodges in these fishing destinations.”

Vernon also helped found the Yamaha Contender Miami Sportfish Tournament — previously known as the Miami Billfish Tournament — and was its executive director in 1982.

“The whole premise was to raise funds for conservation and education, but committee members were afraid of losing participation if we went to circle hooks,” explains longtime tournament committee member Capt. Bouncer Smith. Despite Prince’s convincing research that circle hooks produced better hookup rates while substantially reducing mortality, the others on the board were resistant. “Finally it was suggested we ease into circle hooks by creating a separate division.

Vernon refused. “‘It’s a complete rule change, or nothing,’ she said at the time, making it the first tournament in the United States to require the use of circle hooks,” Smith relates.

circle hook rigging bait

In just 10 years, a small change in terminal tackle has made a significant difference in billfish survival rates around the world. The design also produces higher catch rates for most species.

©️Scott Kerrigan/www.aquapaparazzi.com

Bridling and Larger Hooks

Smith first joined the circle-hook revolution after hearing an impassioned talk by Hamlin and Choate at the Miami Rod and Reel Club in 1998. Experimenting first with 5/0 Eagle Claw circle hooks that matched the size of the J hooks he used for sailfishing, he was discouraged.

“I lost two sailfish in a row on them, so I went back to my J hooks,” Smith says. “Months later, I caught a white marlin on a J hook that bled to death. It was then I recalled Hamlin’s speech at the fishing club. So, I upgraded the size of the circle hooks to a wide-gap 7/0 and gave them another try. I started having immediate success. Larger-size hooks were the answer.”

Twenty years later he’s still having success, having gone from using 7/0 Eagle Claws to 6/0 VMC circle hooks for sailfish and other species.

“I’ve found the more exposed the hook is, the better the hookup percentage,” adds Smith, who primarily fishes bridled baits with non-offset circle hooks. Another refinement is using slightly rounder rubber bands when rigging his baits. “They solved the problems I was having with common rubber hair bands that cut into the baits.”

Capt. Bobby Brown first used circle hooks for pitching baits to marlin well before it became the norm. In 1996, he was working for Fonda and Wayne Huizenga of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, teaching them the pitch-bait technique with a favorite blue marlin bait — fresh squid — when he encountered a problem. “The squid was wrapping around the J hooks, so I decided to try circle hooks. On the first cast we caught a blue marlin,” he says.

After a month of marlin success, he tried trolling for sailfish with circle hooks, but the only hooks available at the time were made of heavy wire, and in sizes too large for sailfish. “The fish were coming to the bait and fading away,” he explains. He had all but given up on circle hooks for smaller billfish when Eagle Claw and The Billfish Foundation launched a lighter wire hook that became an instant hit.

circle hook in fish jaw

Keeping the circle hook a short distance from the bait gives it enough room to find its way to the corner of the fish’s jaw — where it belongs — without obstruction.

©️Scott Kerrigan/www.aquapaparazzi.com

East vs. West

In the early 1990s, long-range fishermen out of San Diego began experimenting with circle hooks while chunking for southern bluefin tuna. Using small-diameter fluorocarbon leaders and circle hooks with live sardines, the catch rates skyrocketed. Not only were the hooks stronger for their size, the bait swam more naturally. By using circle hooks that tend to lodge in the hinge of the jaw, they also solved the problems they’d had with fish chafing the light leaders

Since then, circle hooks have become standard equipment, says well-known Southern California angler Ben Secrest. “Circle hooks are like a mousetrap for bluefins; once they latch on, they don’t come off,” he reports. These days, he fishes skipping Yummee flying fish and bridled natural baits with Owner 11/0 circle hooks — straight from the rigger or from a kite stabilized with a helium balloon. “I have had the best results with larger-size hooks, and my hookup ratio is running 20 percent better with circle hooks.”

ringer swivel bait

The Ringer Swivel makes changing baits easier as well as allowing the hook to rotate freely.

ringer swivel bait

Rigging Techniques Vary

Capt. Kyle Francis of Jensen Beach, Florida, has been fishing circle hooks since he was 15 and has complete confidence in them. Francis — who regularly works the Costa Rica, Florida and Bahamas billfish circuit — says there have been innovations like the rubber O-ring for ease in bridling the hooks to the bait. He prefers a small barrel swivel though. “The O-rings impede the natural movement of the bait,” he explains.

When rigging combination baits such as a chugger or Ilander, he is more open. “With the Ilander, I position the bait with the hook crimped down tight to the lure. With a chugger-and-bait combination, I use one size larger hook. Instead of a 7/0, I’ll go with an 8/0 or 9/0 and add a swivel connected by copper wire with the bill going up into the chugger. It may be simple but it works great,” he explains.

Creating a streamlined circle-hook rig — with the maneuverability of a barrel swivel and ease of rigging with an O-ring — was the concept behind James Turner’s invention of the Ringer Swivel.

Article courtesy Marlin Magazine

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Costa Rica Fishing Species – Sailfish

Costa Rica Indo-Pacific Sailfish

 

From IGFA Fish Database

Shaw & Nodder, 1791); ISTIOPHORIDAE FAMILY; also called spindlebeack, bayonetfish

An Excerpt from Costa Rica Sailfish for Dummies by Todd Staley Communications Director, FECOP

Todd Staley FECOPThe lifetime of a sailfish varies from 4 to 10 years. Most of the juveniles spend their first few years off the coast of Mexico. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were born there. For example, a west coast Florida tarpon starts its life 100 miles or so off the beach, but spends its early years in the estuaries. The largest sailfish and the long-standing world record of 222 pounds came from their farthest range to the south in Ecuador.

The tropical Pacific is really not a very inviting place for sailfish. The low oxygen content in the water will not support them, but two famous currents bring in healthy water. The Humboldt Current flows north from Chile and Peru and collides with the California Current flowing south from the U.S. and Mexico off the coast of Central America, forming a “tongue” of current that supports sailfish, though to a depth of only 100 meters or less. Unlike the striped marlin that is caught off Mexico but might spawn off Australia, the eastern tropical sailfish’s range is limited to the coastal waters of the two currents and the tongue formed off Central America.

Sailfish are the fastest fish in the sea

Another phenomenon happens each year: Three distinct and powerful winds blow from land offshore. They start in December or January and blow until March or April. In Mexico, winds that start in the Gulf of Mexico push across the Tehuantepec lowlands offshore into the Pacific. Likewise, the Papagayo winds from Lake Nicaragua push offshore across Nicaragua near the Costa Rican border. Also, a Caribbean wind current crosses Panama heading into the Pacific near the Panama Canal.

As the Pacific surface water is pushed offshore, the upwelling sends to the surface oxygen-depleted water that cannot support sailfish. The entire population is forced into pockets of healthy water, which happen to lie in front of windless parts of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and parts of Panama. During this period, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other parts of Panama are nearly devoid of sailfish. This is the equivalent of taking the entire population of San José and moving everybody to the Pacific coast for four months out of the year, with no one living in between. Fortunately for the sailfish, their main food source, squid and sardines, follow the same pattern.

 

The reality is that these areas do not have a tremendous abundance of fish, but the whole population is forced to share these pockets. When there is a strong El Niño, the winds do not blow, so the population is not condensed into oxygen-healthy pockets caused by the normal upwelling. The surface waters also warm, and peak-season fishing results in Guatemala and Costa Rica drop dramatically.

Costa Rica has the benefit of two peak sailfish seasons. From the Gulf of Nicoya south, the peak is January through April. The Guanacaste region to the north begins to peak in May after the winds die and the fish begin to move freely out of prisons formed in Guatemala and southern Costa Rica.

Sailfish Facts Costa Rica

Dr. Ehrhardt’s studies have shown that a strong management plan is needed with all Central American countries working together. The Costa Rican Tourist Fishing Federation (FECOPT) is working with sport and commercial fishermen and the government on management plans within Costa Rica. In addition, CABA, The Billfish Foundation and local groups are working with Central American governments to form a united effort to conserve the region’s sailfish populations.

Sailfish Release

 

Inhabits tropical and subtropical waters near land masses, usually in depths over 6 fathoms, but occasionally caught in lesser depths and from ocean piers. Pelagic and migratory, sailfish usually travel alone or in small groups. They appear to feed mostly in midwater along the edges of reefs or current eddies.

  Costa Rica sailfish fishing conservation

Its outstanding feature is the long, high first dorsal which is slate or cobalt blue with a scattering of black spots. The second dorsal fin is very small. The bill is longer than that of the spearfish, usually a little more than twice the length of the elongated lower jaw. The vent is just forward of the first anal fin. The sides often have pale, bluish gray vertical bars or rows of spots.

More on the Saifish from the IGFA.org Fish Database

Its fighting ability and spectacular aerial acrobatics endear the sailfish to the saltwater angler, but it tires quickly and is considered a light tackle species. Fishing methods include trolling with strip baits, plures, feathers or spoons, as well as live bait fishing and kite fishing. The most action is found where sailfish are located on or near the surface where they feed.

Recent acoustical tagging and tracking experiments suggest that this species is quite hardy and that survival of released specimens is good

FECOP Fish Facts: Pacific Sailfish

Fastest Fish in the Sea at up to 70mph

World Record 222 lbs (Ecuador)

Common Name: Sailfish

Scientific Name: Istiophorus

Type: Fish

Diet: Carnivores

Group Name: School

Average life span in The Wild: 4 years

Feeding Tactics: Uses its bill to stun individual fish or slash groups of fish

Size: 5.7 to 11 ft

Weight: 120 to 220 lbs

Size relative to a 6-ft man:

 

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Top 10 Fastest Fish in the Ocean

Costa Rica Fishing – The 10 fastest fish in the Ocean

Most of these species frequent the offshore waters of Costa Rica. Which speedster ranks number 1? Watch the video to find out!

Top 10 Worlds Fastest Ocean Fish Video

Unfortunately several of these Top 10 Fastest Fish in the Ocean are become endangered due to non-sustainable industrial level fishing practices, mainly from foreign fleets. Learn more about FECOP’s tuna decree and what we are doing to maintain healthy fish populations throughout Costa Rica including stopping the exportation of Sailfish, pushing tuna pursein boats 45 miles offshore, and decreasing bycatch by 25 tons in 2017. Check out some of the articles below for more information about the sustainable fishing projects, initiatives and events throughout Costa Rica.

About FECOP
FECOP is an (NGO) in Costa Rica focused on marine conservation through education and outreach to local communities.

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From Coastal Angler Magazine Costa Rica Edition

FECOP Submits Criteria to License Greenstick Fishing in Costa Rica

Greenstick or “palo verde” as it is known in Costa Rica is not a new art of fishing. It has been used successfully for years in Japan and the United States in commercial and sport tuna fishing. Although not legal in Costa Rica, it has been used for several years in this country. The greenstick allows anglers to target tuna without almost any bycatch.

FECOP, Costa Rica’s sport fishing advocacy and conservation group’s Director of Science Moises Mug is a Masters of Science in Fisheries Biology and has been studying the tuna purse sein industry since 2001. His work convinced President Laura Chinchilla to sign a decree at the end of her term in 2013 that moved tuna purse sein operations 45 miles off the coast and protected a total of 120,000 square miles of ocean from tuna boats. Her predecessor, President Luis Guillermo Solis published the decree and it became law. Mug’s science convinced the government this year to reduce tuna licenses issued from 43 to 13.

100 kg yellowfin tuna taken on greenstick during research

Since late 2016 he has headed up a greenstick study involving FECOP,  INCOPESCA,(the government agency in charge of fisheries), and INA, the technical learning institution that teaches different trades in Costa Rica including preparing students with the government requirements to work in commercial and sport fishing trades. FECOP has spent over $100,000 on equipment, and refurbishing and outfitting INA’s floating classroom, the Solidaridad. The research team is testing the efficiency, amount of bycatch of greenstick as well as vertically dropped lines for tuna. The plan is that eventually INA will add a “Green Stick” course to their fishing trade agenda training Costa Ricans on the proper use of them.

In Costa Rica all new or changed fishing rules must be backed by technical support. Rarely do they accept studies not done in Costa Rican waters. So even though greenstick fishing has proved successful in other parts of the world as a sustainable art of fishing, Costa Rica has yet officially approved their use.

“Costa Rica will greatly benefit from a wide adoption of green stick for tuna fishing, not only for commercial fishing but for sportfishing as well. A proper adoption and promotion of green stick fishing not only will provide social, economic and environmental benefits but will set an example for sustainable fisheries in Costa Rica”, said Mug.

Once this project is in the hands of the board of directors of INCOPESCA, a vote is expected soon. With the demand for sustainable caught tuna on the International market it is expected tuna exporters will also support this license.

Sportfishing in the Olympics?

FECOP to Represent Costa Rica in Panamerican Sportfishing Delegation

Sportfishing groups from the United States, Mexico and several Latin American countries met in Cancun, Mexico in late November for the inaugural assembly of the Panamerican Sportfishing Delegation. The purpose of the group is to promote sportfishing as a competitive sport and have a common front of on fisheries conservation. Goals are to have sportfishing placed in the Pan American Games and with cooperation from European countries, the long-term goal is to make sportfishing an Olympic sport. With golf, table tennis, and handball already Olympic sports and skateboarding, surfing, sports climbing, and mixed gender competition introduced to the 2020 Games, it is time to introduce sportfishing to the event.

According to the Confederation International of Sport Fishing, (CIPS) founded in 1952 in Rome Italy with 50 million members from 77 countries, the America’s are not yet sufficiently organized for sport fishing to be considered for the Olympics. The America’s include all countries from North, Central and South America.

The Federacion Costarricense de Pesca Turistica (FECOP) a Costa Rica non-profit which represents 8 Sportfishing Associations as well as the National Fishing Club and the Club Amateur de Pesca was asked to represent Costa Rica in the Panamerican delegation.

“It is very exciting to be chosen to represent Costa Rica,” said Carlos Cavero, President of FECOP. “We now have an open line of communication with other countries and will join the Americas in a single agency that represent sport fishing interests. Costa Rica has so much to offer the sport fishing world and has many anglers with the skills to compete on an International level.”

Four Panamerican tournaments are scheduled in 2018 representing different types of sport fish. A largemouth bass event will be held on Lake Okeechobee, Florida, snook in Tabasco, Mexico, and an offshore tournament at Isle Mujeres, Mexico. Costa Rica and FECOP will host the 2018 Panamerican Assembly next November followed by a 3-day International roosterfish tournament.

Costa Rica is world famous for its Pacific side billfish action. Marina Pez Vela and Los Suenos host several world class events. FECOP decided to pick a species accessible to many that offers anglers without big game skills a chance to do well and highlight the country’s fishery at the same time. Two species came to mind for a catch and release style tournament. All fish released will be marked with a spaghetti tag for scientific study. Roosterfish on the Pacific and tarpon on the Caribbean side of the country. FECOP decided to get a roosterfish tournament under its belt and add an International tarpon tournament in 2019.

The Hero Shot . . . A Call for Help!

For the last 9 years it has been against the law in Costa Rica to remove a billfish from the water to take a photo. Everyone wants to go home with a picture of their prized fish for bragging rights. A fine of 2 million colones, (around $3500.00) can be imposed if you do in Costa Rica. Science has shown the survival rate is lower on fish dragged over the gunnel and taken out of the water. Sadly, if you Google “sailfish Costa Rica” you will come up with site after site with photos of sailfish dragged over the gunnel for the “hero shot”

Costa Rica’s history of poorly enforcing fishing regulations works to the advantage of sport fishermen this time but that does not make it right. I have yet to know anyone prosecuted for breaking this rule although there are examples plastered all over the internet of billfish out of the water. There was a time when charter operations felt they needed lots of fish nailed to a board at the dock to attract charters.

I have always thought there is a lot more to charter fishing than driving a boat and catching fish. A good charter operator is an Entertainer, Educator, and Communicator. What a horrible day on the water if fishing is slow and your crew hardly talks to you. A good and brief orientation before you leave the dock explaining to your customers, the position of safety equipment, types of fishing to be done that day and how, as well educating them on the law of removing fish from the water will go a long way in being considered a true professional with a concern in safe-guarding your catch and release fishery.

Your customers can still get a great photo at the side of the boat if you plan ahead. Tell them to have their camera ready and if someone is going to shoot a photo for them with their camera to make sure they know how to use it first. With the technology in cameras always changing it is easy to get great action shots these days.

From Coastal Angler Costa Rica Edition January 2018

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