Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at its Dec. 1 meeting has proposed a rule requiring specialized descending devices or venting tools to be on board and ready for use on every boat targeting reef fish in state waters.
Survival of released deep reef fish is a state and federal management priority in South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters.
According to the FWC, the proposed rule also would require using a descending device or venting tool for releasing any fish showing signs of barotrauma before release.
When reef fish (snapper, grouper, etc.) are reeled up from deep water they can suffer pressure-related injuries known as barotrauma, also called “the bends” among SCUBA divers.
Such injuries in fish include a stomach protruding out of its mouth, bulging eyes, bloated belly, distended intestines, and inability to swim back down to a deep reef. If not treated properly, barotrauma can be deadly to reef fish.
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.
The FWC explains that descending devices are weighted gadgets capable of releasing fish at a depth that is sufficient to recompress expanded gas and help fish recover from the effects of barotrauma.
Venting tools are sharp, hollow instruments that allow expanded gas to escape from an over-expanded swim bladder, allowing fish to survive “the bends.”
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.
A final FWC rule hearing for barotrauma mitigation tool requirements in state-controlled waters will be made at a upcoming Commission meeting.
The FWC encourages reef anglers to learn more about reef fish gear requirements at MyFWC.com/ReefFishGear. Private boat Florida fishermen also must annually apply for a free “State Reef Fish Angler” designation at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.