Florida Approves Mandatory Venting Tool Use

A new Florida rule hopes to increase survival of released reef fish.


February 22, 2023
Using a venting tool
Venting tools help bottom-dwelling fish survive. Bob McNally

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) first proposed a rule in December 2022 requiring specialized descending devices or venting tools to be onboard any boat targeting reef fish in state waters. In February, the FWC approved the rule. The new rule applies to all anglers, no matter if they’re catching fish for dinner or releasing fish. In addition, the recently approved regulation requires anglers to use the descending device or venting tool if a fish exhibits signs of barotrauma — they can’t just keep the tool stored on the boat.

Survival of released deep reef fish is a state and federal management priority in South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters. When reef fish such as snapper and grouper are reeled up from deep water, they can suffer pressure-related injuries known as barotrauma.

Such injuries in fish could show as a stomach protruding out of its mouth, bulging eyes, bloated belly, distended intestines, or the inability to swim back down to deep water. If not treated properly, barotrauma can be deadly to reef fish.

A venting tool
Venting tools are sharp, hollow instruments that allow expanded gas to escape. Bob McNally

Specialized descending devices and venting tools, when used correctly by anglers, help released fish avoid barotrauma and survive to get back down to their deep reef homes. More and more, descending devices are preferred over venting tools. The FWC describes descending devices as weighted instruments capable of releasing fish at a depth that’s sufficient to recompress expanded gas and help fish recover from the effects of barotrauma.

Venting tools are sharp, hollow instruments that allow gas to escape from an over-expanded swim bladder, allowing fish to survive. Since the venting tool punctures the fish, anglers can accidentally poke the wrong part of the fish. In some cases, a puncture can also lead to infection for the fish.

Barotrauma mitigation tool requirements already have been adopted in Gulf and Atlantic federal waters, reports the FWC. In Gulf federal waters, anglers may use either a descending device or a venting tool that is rigged and ready for use. In Atlantic federal waters, fishermen are required to have a descending device that is readily available.

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