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MOBILE, Alabama An experiment conducted 15 miles off the Alabama coast last week on the deck of the Lady Ann may explain a somewhat mysterious decline in federal estimates of the Gulf's triggerfish population.

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View full sizeThis triggerfish, caught last week off Alabama, was fitted with a small green tag and released. This fish ate a piece of squid on a traditional, J style hook. Three times as many triggerfish were caught on a research trip last week on J style hooks compared to circle hooks. (Ben Raines/Press Register)

principal source of information on triggerfish comes from the recreational fishery. Since circle hooks became mandated, the catch of triggerfish has dropped dramatically, Shipp said. initial interpretation of that data was that the stocks were in trouble. But, in fact, it may be a result of the circle hook mandate, which made triggerfish more difficult to catch. Crabtree, head of the fisheries service Southeast Regional Office, is in charge of setting harvest limits for the Gulf. He said he was eager to see Shipp research, but cautioned that the triggerfish population has seen a steady decline stretching back more than a decade. That decline, he said, began long before circle hooks were mandated.

Federal harvest data shows the harvest peaked around 1990 at more than 2.5 million pounds. The catch declined dramatically over the next 15 years, falling by more than a million pounds. More recently, another, smaller, decline becomes apparent in the federal data after the circle hook mandate in 2008.

Shipp said he intends to conduct three more research trips in the next few weeks targeting triggerfish. He hopes to present any findings to federal officials and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council at the end of October. The council is expected to vote on certain changes to the triggerfish rules at that meeting.

That where the experiment on aboard the Lady Ann comes into play. In the experiment, two teams of anglers five fishing with circle hooks, and five fishing with conventional J shaped hooks tried to catch triggerfish living on four natural limestone reefs Converse Shoes Womens Uk

Among the potential changes would be a two fish per day limit. Now, people are allowed to keep up to 20 triggerfish a day as Converse White High Tops Size 5

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The stock assessment showing the decline in triggerfish numbers relies largely on harvest data from recreational anglers to calculate population estimates. That harvest data shows a decline in the commercial and recreational triggerfish harvest beginning around 2008.

Black Converse High Tops Size 8

Black Converse High Tops Size 8

off the Alabama coast.

Black Converse High Tops Size 8

Triggerfish live on natural and artificial reefs in the Gulf. The fish are a dull gray with rough, sandpaper like skin. They are prized for delicate white flesh that rivals any fish in the ocean on the dinner plate. Triggers have big teeth and strong jaws used for biting hunks of tissue out of their prey. Their mouths are extremely small compared to other offshore species, meaning that catching them requires special techniques.

A day fishing yielded about two dozen triggers, an admittedly small sample size, said Bob Shipp, head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama. But, the results were compelling.

e same year, a new law was enacted requiring the use of circle hooks when bottom fishing for red snapper, triggerfish and other offshore species. Circle hooks are designed to hook fish at the edge of the mouth, rather than inside the mouth or deeper in the gut. With circle hooks, fish are more likely to survive being caught, meaning fewer undersized fish die after being released.

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While relatively few triggerfish were caught during those trips, the data shows that roughly four times as many triggerfish were caught using J hooks as were caught with circle hooks, Shipp said.

Black Converse High Tops Size 8

Black Converse High Tops Size 8

part of the reef fish aggregate limit. Under the reef fish limit, anglers are allowed to keep a total of 20 offshore fish, except for species such as red snapper or gag grouper, which are controlled by species specific limits.

Gulf triggerfish population estimate may be skewed

That apparent population decline, seen in a stock assessment conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service this year, caused federal officials to declare triggerfish off limits to anglers in June, nine days after the red snapper season opened. At the same time, officials cut the annual quota for the triggerfish harvest in half, from 659,000 pounds to 305,300 pounds.

ratio was running about 3 to 1. We caught about 75 percent of the triggerfish on the J hooks, said Shipp, who also sits on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Converse High Tops Size 13 Mens

haven seen any of the data that you are talking about but it sounds like it would be really useful, Crabtree said, discussing Shipp catch data. don think what (Shipp) is looking at would cause the catch to be underestimated, but it could mean a change in catchability If there was a change in catchability, we could certainly take that into account, when setting the harvest limit.

Management Council, which helps set federal fishing regulations in the Gulf. and Sean Powers, another scientist at South Alabama, first noticed the lower catch rate for triggerfish during dozens of data collection trips for red snapper research. Those trips, designed to measure how well red snapper survive being caught, also employed both circle hooks and J hooks.

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Note the exceptionally small mouth. A red snapper of this size Black Converse High Tops Size 8 could swallow a tennis ball, while the triggerfish would have a hard time eating a marble. (Ben Raines/Press Register)

But, the way circle hooks work, a fish typically needs to fit the whole hook in its mouth in order to be hooked. That means circle hooks make it much more difficult to catch certain species, such as triggerfish.

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