Off the hook
There's a simple way that fishermen and fisherwomen in Hawaii can help the Hawaiian monk seals and other marine mammals — by converting to a barbless circle hook.
At the 13th annual Tokunaga Ulua Challenge Fishing Tournament weigh-in on Sunday, every fish caught with a barbless circle hook was given a special sticker, according to a news release from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Kurt Kawamoto, aka Mr. Barbless Hook, is the driving force behind the NOAA and DLNR Barbless Circle Hook Project. The program encourages the fishing community to opt for barbless hooks to reduce potential injury to marine mammals like Hawaiian monk seals in the event of an accidental hooking or entanglement. It also allows for a quicker release, but is still capable of catching ulua and other tournament-worthy fish weighing in at 100 pounds or more.
"We caught over 300 shoreline fish, of many different kinds," said Kawamoto, a fisherman himself. "We looked at the catches, losses and misses and statistically we couldn't tell the difference. Essentially you could catch just as many fish with a barbless circle hook."
It's pretty simple. To make a barbless circle hook, use a crimper or parallel-jawed pliers to flatten the barb.
"Once you smash down the barbs on these hooks they become self-shedding, so that was the main idea behind it," said Kawamoto in the press release. "It's easy for a fish, or a seal or a turtle to get rid of the hook themselves."
Researchers have witnessed a monk seal actually shed a barbless circle hook and anglers have relayed stories about sea turtles doing the same.
The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program team recently extricated a barbed, circle hook from the throat of a juvenile female seal from Kauai over Kamehameha Day weekend.
If the Tokunaga fishing competition was any indication, barbless circle hooks are still capable of getting a pretty good catch. An estimated 50 percent of the 637 contestants this year catch their fish using barbless circle hooks. Last year, the winning ulua was caught with a barbless hook. This year, the winning omilu was caught by a woman using a barbless hook.