Florida anglers now are no longer required to have and use a venting tool when fishing for reef fish such as snapper and grouper in Gulf of Mexico state waters. Removal of this rule means anglers will have the freedom to determine how to best maximize survival of released reef fish using devices they feel are appropriate, depending on the circumstances.
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 are hollow, sharpened instruments (see picture) 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 allows gases to escape from a fish’s body cavity so the fish can swim back down to depth. While they 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.
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.
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.
The use of non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks and dehooking 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.
To learn more about recognizing barotrauma and venting tools, and what to do if a fish is suffering from barotrauma, go to the FWC website 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.”