Reef Fish Gear Rules
State and federal regulations require all commercial fishers and recreational anglers fishing for any reef fish species to have and use certain gear. In state waters, reef fish species include groupers, snappers, amberjacks, gray triggerfish, red porgy, sea bass, hogfish and tilefish. View a list of reef fish managed in federal waters.
State Waters of the Gulf of Mexico Required Gear
- Circle hooks (must be non-stainless steel and not offset) when using natural baits
- Dehooking device
State Waters of the Atlantic Required Gear
- Dehooking device
- NOTE: In Atlantic federal waters, when fishing for reef fish using hook-and-line gear and natural baits, the following hooks are required (also see map):
- North of 28° North latitude: non-offset, non-stainless-steel circle hooks.
- South of 28° North latitude: non-stainless-steel hooks.
Circle hooks are made so that the point is turned perpendicular to the shank to form a circular or oval shape. Research has found that circle hooks are 90% more likely to hook fish in the mouth instead of in the esophagus or stomach. This reduces internal harm to the fish by decreasing de-hooking time for the angler, and decreases the chances of a hook getting lost in the fish. Non-offset means the end of the hook is in line with the shank of the hook – rather than being angled sideways away from the shank.
De-hooking tools are designed to remove a hook from a fish without the hook being re-engaged into a fish. De-hooking tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit the need of the angler, and even a pair of needle nose pliers is considered a de-hooking tool.
The required gear, when used properly, reduces the handling time of fish intended for release and can increase a fish’s chance of survival.
Common sense should be used in abiding by these rules. For instance, if a hook is too far embedded in the throat or gut of the fish, it is much better to cut the line as close to the hook as possible rather than try to remove it with a dehooking device.
Other gear, such as venting tools or descending devices, can also be used to aid in the release of fish suffering the effects of barotrauma, which is the expansion of gases in the swim bladder when a fish is pulled up from depths greater than 50 feet.
To learn more about barotrauma, venting tools, descending devices, and other ways to properly handle and release fish, please visit our Fish Handling & Gear page.