Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is one of our favorite pastimes here on the Emerald Coast. Snapper and grouper are among some of the sport fish that anglers enjoy catching the most.
But did you know that these species — along with others, such as triggerfish, amberjacks and porgies — are reef fish, and what that means when you hook them?
Reef fish, when caught in deep water, suffer from barotrauma, or rapid gas expansion in their swim bladder. The fish is caught and pulled up on the line faster than it can adjust to changing pressure.
State and federal regulations require anglers to carry a venting tool, which helps to release trapped gases through use of a hollow sharp needle inserted into the side of the fish. While this method is useful in certain conditions, research for many species is lacking or inconclusive, especially in deep waters.
Fish descending gear use has been more prevalent in the Pacific than in the Gulf and South Atlantic. There are various descending tools available for anglers to choose and learn to use.
Devices include something as simple as a weighted hook-like tool — inserted in the fish’s lip — that is lowered back to depth until the fish swims off the device on its own.
The Seaqualizer, another device, uses pressure to release the fish automatically at 50, 100 or 150 feet, depending on depth settings.
Another example is a weighted milk crate — also known as a fish elevator — that you lower until the fish can swim out on its own.
New fish descending devices can increase many rockfish species’ survival rates. Possibilities of similar effects on reef fish in the Gulf and South Atlantic are being explored and researched.
The Gulf Council has voted to remove the venting requirement in federal waters, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering a similar change for state waters.
Using venting and descending devices is a last resort; consider them only if the fish cannot get back down on its own.
Knowing when and how to use these devices is crucial to helping improve released fish’s survival rates.
See http://catchandrelease.org for the Florida Sea Grant agents’ webinar, "Get That Fish Back Down,” which describes the latest descending gear tools and includes videos on various tool uses.
Brooke Saari is a Sea Grant Marine Science and Natural Resources agent at the Okaloosa County Extension office in Crestview.