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Finally: Anglers Allowed to Choose How They Release Fish
by Doug Olander
gag grouper release
Doug Olander
When taken from relatively shallow water, snapper and grouper (like this gag) can simply be tossed over and they'll swim away. But when taken from deep water, releasing them so they're likely to survive isn't that simple.

It’s a time to savor when common sense prevails, since sometimes that seems to be more exception than rule.

Common sense has finally prevailed in fishery management at both the federal (Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council) and now the state (Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission) level when it comes to releasing fish brought up from deep water.

For many years, recreational fishing boats in federal or Florida state waters were required to carry and use a venting tool to release barotraumatized fish. (Barotrauma occurs when gases in a deepwater fish expand rapidly at the lower surface pressure to “blow it up” and push its stomach out its both, disabling it.)

That law continued long after research proved this method of dubious merit, at best, since poking a hollow needle into a fish’s gut cavity in just the right place isn’t easy (even on a stable platform, let alone a rocking boat), plus it leaves the fish with site for infection. The law continued long after research proved that various “descender” devices had many advantages, particularly that of getting a fish back to depths without skewering its gut cavity first.

A descender can take many forms but generally either a weight carries a fish down to, say, 100 or 150 feet where the inflated gases contract under pressure and it can swim on its own, or putting it into a weighted basket of some sort to lower it.

 One ingenious descender is called the Seaqualizer: check it out.

 The law requiring venting tools continued long after calls urged fishery managers to at least allow anglers the choice to use descender devices. This blogger/editor was among those who made such repeated calls to legalize descenders.

 As of January 24, anglers fishing either Florida or federal waters no longer must use a venting tool by law to release their snapper, grouper and other fish suffering from barotrauma. Unfortunately, the state hasn’t caught up to its new regulations changes; its online information about dealing with barotrauma doesn’t even mention descenders, only venting.

Find out more about various descender options.

According to the state, “Removal of this [venting-only] 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.”

And I say hallelujah to that