Taking a Deep Dive: Do you know the solutions to help deepwater fish survive?
Barotrauma, injuries caused by pressure changes when fish are rapidly brought to the surface from deep water, is one of the leading causes of mortality in released reef fish. Do you know the signs? Next time you are fishing in waters 30 feet or deeper remember B.I.P.S.: Bloated belly, Intestines protruding, Popeye, and Stomach coming out of the mouth. If your fish is displaying one of these symptoms, it is suffering from barotrauma and may need assistance to get back down to depth.
Barotrauma injuries can be fatal to fish unless intervention occurs with the use of descending devices or venting tools. Which tool you choose to use can depend on your comfort level and skills, as well as the regulations where you are fishing.
Descending devices are weighted tools that help take fish back to the appropriate depth. There are many different types of descending devices, but the most common ones are lip clamps, inverted hooks, and fish elevators.
Venting tools are sharp, hollow instruments, like a large gauge needle, that help release expanded gas from the swim bladder, which enables the fish to swim back down to depth. Knives, ice picks, and hooks are not venting tools because they do not allow the gases to properly escape and can cause more harm than good.
As of April 1, 2023, either a venting tool or descending device is required to be rigged and ready for use on board a vessel, including a kayak or standup paddleboard, when harvesting or attempting to harvest reef fish in Florida state waters (from shore to 9 nautical miles on the Gulf and from shore to 3 nautical miles on the Atlantic). This also includes catch and release fishing. For the purposes of this regulation, “reef fish” include groupers, snappers, amberjacks, red porgy, gray triggerfish, black sea bass, golden tilefish and more. A complete list can be found by visiting MyFWC.com/ReefFishGear.
Descending devices are also required in Atlantic federal waters (from shore to 3 nautical miles) when fishing for Reef fish and a descending device or venting tool is required in Gulf federal waters (from shore to 9 nautical miles) when fishing for reef fish.
A descending device or venting tool should only be used when a fish is showing signs of barotrauma prior to release so it is critical to remember B.I.P.S. and know the solutions to help deepwater fish survive release. Learn more at MyFWC.com/Barotrauma.
Check out Return 'Em Right at ReturnEmRight.org for best release practices and FREE gear to send reef fish back to depth.