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Fish Handling

Saltwater Marine Fishing Regulations Florida Saltwater Fishing

Catching up with the latest release recommendations

Whether you’re fishing for harvest, or just for sport, chances are you’re going to need to release a fish. Properly releasing any fish that you do not intend to keep increases its chance of survival to help maintain and improve your Florida fish populations. Check out these tips to give your fish a fighting chance upon release.

Things to Know:

  • Be aware of the area you will be fishing and local fish you might catch.
  • Know the regulations for your target species and make sure that you have all the proper gear.
  • Determine ahead of time which fish you want to keep. This will help get released fish back in the water quickly.

Gear to Grab:

  • Barbless circle hooks — Studies have shown that the hook you use is one of the most important factors in release survival. Circle hooks are significantly more likely to hook a fish in the mouth, reducing risk of serious injury and allowing anglers to get the fish back in the water faster. Use barbless non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks for an even better release since they are easier and faster to remove than barbed hooks. Use a pair of pliers or small hand crimper to flatten a circle hook’s barb; for larger hooks, a bench crimper can be used. If a hook is left in a fish, non-stainless-steel hooks should degrade faster than stainless-steel hooks.
  • Dehooking tool — Allows for a quick release while minimizing injuries and handling time.
  • Correct-weight tackle — Using appropriately sized lures, hooks, line and tackle is important to hooking fish properly and reeling them in quickly. Tackle that is too small can be swallowed more easily and is more likely to gut hook. It can also take longer to reel fish in, leaving them exhausted and less able to avoid predators upon release.
  • Knotless, rubber-coated net — These support the weight of the fish while removing a minimal amount of slime and scales, reducing the risk of infection.
  • Lip gripping devices — Can be effective for controlling and handling fish, especially ones with sharp teeth. Grip behind the lower lip and support the weight of the fish in a horizontal position.

Taking Action:

  • Make sure to reel the fish in as quickly as possible. Playing the fish too much can result in an exhausted fish that cannot avoid predators once released.
  • If the fish has swallowed the hook, cut the line as close to the hook as possible. Studies have shown that a key factor in the survival of gut hooked fish was leaving the hook in place. Fish are often able to shed the hook on their own and you can do more damage by attempting to remove the hook.
  • If possible, keep the fish in the water while removing the hook and taking photos.
  • Never hold a fish by the gills or eyes.
  • Do not remove large fish like tarpon and sharks from water.
  • Return the fish to the water as quickly as possible. One of the major factors in the survival of a released fish is how much time it spends out of the water. The more fish that survive upon release today. The more fish that will be available to catch tomorrow.
  • Revive fish that do not swim away immediately or appear lethargic:
    • Place fish in the water head first — it is easiest to hold one hand on the bottom lip or tail and one hand under the belly of the fish.
    • Move the fish forward in the water — this allows the water to flow through the mouth and over the gills. The fish must face the direction of water flow.
  • For fish caught in deep water with signs of barotrauma, use a descending device to return fish to depth or vent the fish by inserting a sharpened, hollow tube at a 45-degree angle, one inch behind the base of the pectoral fin.

Ensure Fish Survive to Help Populations Thrive!

The steps you take on the water today can help positively impact the future of your Florida fish populations! To learn more about proper catch-and-release techniques, visit MyFWC.com/FishHandling.