As a fisherman myself I have often lamented the fact that in setting a hook in response to a bite, there are times when it is nearly impossible to remove the hook without causing harm to the fish. While this may not be an issue when the fish is planning to be kept, when the fish is planned to be released the conundrum becomes whether to release the fish with the hook in place such that the fish does not incur immediate damage, or to attempt to remove the hook in the hope that the fish will survive once back in the water. Neither option has ever been too appealing. While barbless hooks may provide some advantage in this regard, such hooks are not foolproof and still require the fish to be handled in order to remove the barbless hook, which may irreparably damage the fish.
Thus, I was intrigued to learn of issued patent US5890316A directed to a fishhook that disintegrates upon standing for prolonged periods of time in an aqueous environment such as within biological tissue. FIG. 1 below depicts an example embodiment of such a fishhook.
At FIG. 1, a biodegradable rigid support 42 is shown. As depicted on the left, the tip of the fishhook is terminated in a sharp metallic piece indicated at 41 having a sharp tip 44 and a barb 45. The sharp metallic piece 41 has a hole therewithin dimensioned to accommodate at least a portion of the support 42 comprising the general body of the hook. The relationship of the sharp metallic piece 41 with respect to hook 42 is more clearly depicted on the right at FIG. 1. The hook, without the sharp metallic piece 41 is fabricated from a biodegradable polymer. The sharp metallic piece 41 is made from steel or a similar material. The sharp metallic piece 41 fits snugly over a second tip 43 of the biodegradable polymer portion of the hook 42. The sharp metallic piece 41 is affixed to the second tip 43 by means of a water soluble or biodegradable adhesive. After the sharp metallic piece 41 penetrates a fish’s flesh, the fish’s enzymes and/or water attack the adhesive binding the sharp metallic piece 41 to the hook 42 and cause the tip to separate 6 from the hook. The hook 42 then is proposed to work its way out by natural rejection by the fish as does the sharp metallic piece 41.
However, while a seemingly decent idea, closer examination revealed that although this patent was granted in April 6th, 1999, the patent expired as of 2003 due to nonpayment of maintenance fees under 37 CFR 1.362. While it is unclear why the IP protection was allowed to lapse, throughout the patent it is stated that the biodegradable aspects of the hook may be water soluble, which of course is not ideal for a hook that is designed to spend a considerable amount of time in water. While reference is made to a degradable hydrophobic wax to protect the water soluble aspects, perhaps this wasn’t enough to make for a robust product that would appeal to fishermen who may spend hours on end waiting for a bite. Thus, while a decent conceptual idea, clearly there is room for improvement in this space and given the sheer number of fish hooks purchased each year, a solution to this problem could prove quite lucrative.