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Discard mortality can make fishing unsustainable, even in catch-and-release or highly regulated fisheries. However, fishing practices and gears that minimize hook injury, handling, and air exposure can considerably improve fitness and survival in released fish. This study tested whether modified hooks could allow anglers to successfully land and then release fish in the water and without handling. Standard, barbless, and bite-shortened hooks were used to catch Spotted Seatrout Cynoscion nebulosus (n > 75 per hook type), and logistic models were used to assess the differences in landing success and hook self-release success by hook type and categorical fish size. Average landing success was >90% with all three hook types. Bite-shortened hooks were able to successfully self-release from 87% of landed fish, compared to success rates of 47% using barbless hooks and 20% using standard hooks. Small fish had higher rates of both unintentional release during reel-in and intentional handling-free release boatside. Size selectivity by hook type was not observed. Continued gear testing of bite-shortened hooks appears warranted with other lure types, fish species, and a diversity of anglers. With further validation, self-releasing hooks could allow for recreational fishing opportunities in sensitive fisheries or areas, e.g., no-take aquatic reserves, with minimal discard effects.
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