Barotrauma: Anglers now have more options to maximize survival of released fish

For nearly three years we no longer need to vent deep water fish. But we still do. How about you?

We first published this story a few years ago but it is every bit as critical today as it was at the time it happened in 2014.

Starting back on Jan. 24, 2014, Florida anglers no longer were required to use a venting tool when fishing for reef fish such as snapper and grouper in Gulf of Mexico state waters. We still feel that venting the fish you catch in deeper water improves their chance of survival.

The requirement to have a venting tool was removed during the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Nov. 21 meeting, making state regulations consistent with rules in federal waters. Venting tools are not required in Atlantic state or federal waters. Removal of this rule means anglers can determine which devices they feel are appropriate for the situation. The use of non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks and de-hooking devices are still required in state and federal Gulf waters when fishing for reef fish. These tools minimize handling time for reef fish, which aids in survival of the fish upon release.

Maximizing post-release survival of fish is important in marine fisheries management, because it means more fish survive to potentially reproduce and be harvested in the future.

Venting Tools

Venting tools are hollow, sharpened instruments (see photo below) that provide one way to treat barotrauma, a condition that occurs when fish are brought quickly to the surface from deep water. The change in pressure from depth to surface can cause gases within the fish’s swim bladder to expand, which can damage internal organs and reduce the likelihood a fish will survive when returned to the water. Venting tools allow gases to escape from a fish’s body cavity so the fish can swim back down to its normal depth. While venting tools are still a useful way to increase chances of fish survival after release, fish do not always need to be vented to survive upon release.

Venting Tool 13
A traditional fish-venting tool. It is no longer required by law to have on your boat.

Descending devices, which send fish back down to deeper waters, are another, more recently developed alternative to venting that also can be used now to increase survival rates among fish with barotrauma.

venting tool fishAnglers Choice FVT-001 Fish Venting, Buy Here.

To learn more about recognizing barotrauma and venting tools, and what to do if a fish is suffering from the effects of barotrauma, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Fish Handling” and look under “Tackle.” Information about reef fish gear rules is available under “Recreational Regulations.”

Information on the Sea Grant Extension fish recompression initiative was recently displayed at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting in Orlando. The display included a selection of descending tools, including: The Seaqualizer, an inverted utility crate, modified crab hoop nets, a West Marine blacktip fish descender, the Shelton fish descender, the Roklees, and a modified fish grip. Anglers asked about the potential for using this gear for fish like Warsaw grouper that have high mortality when brought up from depth, or for Goliath grouper that have such thick skin a venting tool doesn’t work well on them.

Fish Affected by Barotrauma

Many other fish, including species in our own Gulf of Mexico, are affected by barotrauma. If the idea of sticking a needle in the side of a fish makes you squeamish, then here is another recommendation for you: The Roklees from Ecoleeser. The Roklees padded mouth clip is attached to the lower jaw, and a weight brings the fish back down to its normal depth. A quick jerk on the rod releases the fish.

The Roklees is a mouth clip that allows a fish to be quickly
lowered back to the depths where it was caught.

It was invented for anglers pulling marine rockfish from as deep as 360 feet. Whether you’re fishing for ocean bottom-fish or bass in depths of 20 feet or more, you should be prepared to deal with barotrauma. If you aren’t, some of those fish that you “catch and release” will die.

SOURCES: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at University of Florida

Starting on Jan. 24, 2014, Florida anglers no longer were required to use a venting tool when fishing for reef fish such as snapper and grouper in Gulf of Mexico state waters.

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