State regulators are considering a series of rule changes for the striped bass fishery that could affect fishermen along the East Coast, including on the Vineyard.

The changes would open the commercial striped bass fishery two weeks earlier, require circle hooks for fishermen who use live bait and ban the use of gaffing to land fish.

Proposed by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), the changes are intended to help reduce striped bass mortality, especially among fish that are caught and released.

“We’re in a little bit of a down period,” said Mike Armstrong, assistant director for DMF, speaking to the Gazette by phone this week. “The only way to rebuild the stock is to lower fishing mortality. A good portion of fishing mortality is catch and release, mostly recreational.”

Proposed rule changes would require circle hooks for fishermen who use live bait. Public comment period ends March 1. — Jeanna Shepard

In recent years the commercial striped bass season has opened on June 23 or the first commercial fishing day after that date. The proposed change would allow commercial fishing to begin on or soon after June 13.

Commercial striped bass fishermen are only allowed to fish two days a week and can take up to 15 fish a day with a minimum length of 34 inches. Under the proposed rule changes, fishing days would switch from Monday and Thursday to Monday and Wednesday.

Mr. Armstrong said the earlier opening is being proposed because commercial fishermen did not reach their quota last year. The quota for commercial landings was set at 847,585 pounds of fish, but only 753,731 pounds were caught, even with a mid-year extension of the season.

“We thought we would extend it a bit this year,” Mr. Armstrong said. “The recreational guys, they may see that as liberalization, but it isn’t since we’re under quota.”

The idea of an earlier commercial season doesn’t sit well with Cooper Gilkes, owner of Coop’s Bait and Tackle in Edgartown and a veteran recreational fisherman.

“I don’t like that,” he said. “If there’s any amount of large fish around the Island, [commercial fishermen] are just going to jump on them. At least until now the recreational guys had a halfway decent shot at them in June. Now they just keep moving it up. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Joe El-Deiry, chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, said an earlier opening for commercial fishing likely would not affect the Island’s annual derby in September and October. Last year the extended commercial season lasted through the entire derby competition. “Starting 10 days earlier shouldn’t necessarily have an effect one way or another,” he said.

A proposed change requiring mandatory circle hooks for anglers using whole or cut bait is a direct attempt to reduce mortality. Unlike the traditional J hooks, circle hooks will not catch a fish in the gut if swallowed. “Study after study shows that circle hooks really reduce mortality because they don’t generally catch in the gills or the esophagus or something else,” Mr. Armstrong said. “We discard probably 10 million fish per year. We kill a lot of fish, almost a million fish through hooking mortality. We only take home 200,000 to 300,000 to eat. So we kill more through hook and release than we bring in. It will be controversial because not everyone likes it. You will lose a fish now and again.”

He said the circle hook rule is aimed at less experienced fishermen.

“The target is casual anglers, which we have thousands and thousands of,” the assistant DMF director said. “They kill a lot of fish by gut hooking. We have to do something. You might see a move toward mandatory circle hooks along the entire East Coast.”

Mr. Gilkes said a universal circle hook requirement would handicap flyfishermen.

“Flyfishing is very difficult with a circle hook,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of our fish are hooked in the lip anyway. For bait, yeah, I could see it.”

Mr. El-Deiry endorsed the idea.

“I pretty much always use circle hooks, just because I release most of the striped bass I catch,” he said. “I always like to give the fish the best chance to continue to grow. Obviously everybody has their own take on it, but I’m all for circle hooks.”

Donald Scarpone, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association, agreed. “That is excellent,” he said. “Myself, the majority of our club, all use circle hooks for bottom fishing for bass and blues.”

The proposal to ban the use of gaff hooks, instead encouraging the use of nets or lip-grabber pliers to land fish, has seen some pushback, Mr. Armstrong said, but regulators believe it is reasonable. “To us it was kind of common sense,” he said. “You really can’t tell a 26-inch bass from a 28-inch bass, or a 27-inch bass. You put a gaff through its face, that’s a high amount of mortality.”

Mr. Gilkes said he agrees with that rule change.

But in general he disagrees with the theory that reducing mortality will revive declining bass stocks. Instead, he advocates increasing the minimum length for stripers, a method he said has worked before.

“When they turned it around the last time, they went to 36 inches,” Mr. Gilkes said, referring to the collapse and subsequent return of the striped bass fishery in the 1980s. “No fish for three years. You couldn’t keep anything. We had fish, in four years, all over the place. They had them back. Now they’ve lost them again. To me, they go back to square one and bring them back again. Something’s not working out here, that’s for darn sure.”

Mr. Scarpone said he also thinks the commercial quota should be reduced. “Last year the quota was so large, and they didn’t even get to it,” he said, adding: “The only thing that’s going to help the striped bass population is to cut down on the quota.”

The rule changes will be the subject of two public hearings. The first is on Feb. 25 at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay beginning at 6 p.m. A second hearing will be held on Feb. 27 in Gloucester.

Comments can be sent by e-mail until March 1 to DMF director David Pierce at Comments by regular mail can be sent to Mr. Pierce at 251 Causeway Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114.