Red Snapper, Other Reef Fish Surviving Releases Thanks to FishSmart Project

Descending devices and best practices for handling fish resulted in lower mortality rates during the study.

red snapper in Gulf of Mexico
Red snapper and other reef fish have survived more releases in the last two years due in part to SeaQualizer descending devices.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Alexandria, Virginia — Statistics from the past two years shows a lower mortality rate for red snapper and other Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic reef fish, according to a press release from the American Sportfishing Association.

The cooperative effort from anglers, state and federal agencies, and recreational fishing organizations and businesses — as part of the the FishSmart Best Practices and Descender Education project — helped improve the survival rate of caught-and-released fish in these fisheries. Participants in the project were provided: information on best practices for handling and releasing fish; and SeaQualizer descending devices.

Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), said the FishSmart project is helping "ensure the future of our sport."

A key finding was that returning saltwater fish caught in deep water to as close as possible to the depth at which they were caught can significantly improve their survival chances. In the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, many reef fish such as red snapper are being released due to shorter seasons and higher rates of encounter. Without proper handling techniques, such as use of descending devices, many released fish die, nullifying the conservation efforts behind shorter seasons.

Anglers collectively reported releasing 16,000 to 28,000 red snapper in the project and 13,000 to 22,000 other fish by applying best practices techniques and using the SeaQualizer when needed. Around 3,000 to 9,000 red snapper survived during this project period through the use of the SeaQualizer alone, plus an unknown number of fish that survived as a result of improved handling techniques.

“Some of the key findings of the project involved the changes that anglers voluntarily made in the way that they released fish,” remarked Mike Leonard, ASA’s Conservation director. “The vast majority of project participants found that information provided on how to properly handle fish improved the way that they release fish.”

Leonard added that "nearly 75 percent" of anglers had little or no knowledge of descender devices prior to participating in the project. He said the experience made them more likely to use these devices to release fish in the future.