The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is celebrating the launch of Return ‘Em Right, a multi-entity effort in the Gulf of Mexico led by Florida Sea Grant, University of Florida, Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, NOAA Fisheries, and a coalition of anglers, industry groups, universities, government and non-government organizations committed to maintaining healthy fish stocks and fishing access.
Return ‘Em Right promotes best fishing practices to increase the survival of released reef fish. This includes proper fish handling and use of venting tools or descending devices to mitigate barotrauma, a condition seen in many fish caused by the expansion of gases in the swim bladder when brought up from deeper depths. Barotrauma can be fatal for fish and signs include the stomach coming out of the mouth, bulging eyes, bloated belly and distended intestines.
Weighted tools such as descending devices can help fish suffering from barotrauma overcome buoyancy issues and return them back to depth. These weighted devices come in a variety of forms including inverted hooks, lip clamp devices, and crates or boxes. When used properly, research shows that descending devices can significantly increase the long-term survival of released fish.
Anglers are encouraged to visit ReturnEmRight.org and review best release practices and do your part to conserve our fisheries for the future. Anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico that are 18 years and older who target reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico are eligible to receive a free package of release gear from Return ‘Em Right. The release gear packages are currently limited to Gulf of Mexico reef fish anglers only.
Remember to obtain your State Reef Fish Angler designation before heading out! If you plan to fish for or harvest certain reef fish species in Gulf or Atlantic waters from a private recreational vessel (includes anglers over 65 years of age), you must sign up for this no-cost designation and renew it annually. Learn more at MyFWC.com/SRFS and sign up today at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or anywhere you can purchase a Florida fishing license.
For more information on the Return ‘Em Right program, best release practices, and how to use descending devices, visit ReturnEmRight.org and MyFWC.com/FishHandling.