FWC proposes rule to help improve survival of released reef fish

At its Nov. 30-Dec. 1 Commission meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) proposed a rule to require the possession of a descending device or venting tool that is rigged and ready for use on board a vessel when harvesting or attempting to harvest, including catch and release, reef fish in state waters.

This proposed rule is designed to increase the survival of released reef fish, a top priority management issue in the Gulf and South Atlantic. If approved, this rule would also require the use of a descending device or venting tool if releasing a fish that is exhibiting signs of barotrauma prior to release. As reef fish are reeled up from depth, they can suffer pressure-related injuries known as barotrauma. These injuries include the stomach protruding out of the mouth, bulging eyes, bloated belly, distended intestines and inability to swim down independently. If not treated correctly, barotrauma can be lethal to reef fish.

Tools including descending devices or venting tools can help released fish recover from the effects of barotrauma. Descending devices are weighted devices 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.

Barotrauma mitigation tool requirements have already been adopted in Gulf and Atlantic federal waters. In Gulf federal waters, fishers have the choice of possessing either a descending device or a venting tool that is rigged and ready for use. In Atlantic federal waters, fishers are required to have a descending device that is readily available for use.

A final rule hearing for barotrauma mitigation tool requirements will be presented at a future Commission meeting.

Find current reef fish gear requirements at MyFWC.com/ReefFishGear. Anyone who plans to harvest or attempt to harvest, including catch and release, certain reef fish species in Gulf or Atlantic waters from a private recreational vessel (includes anglers over 65 years of age) must sign up for the free State Reef Fish Angler designation and renew it annually. Learn more at MyFWC.com/SRFS and sign up today at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

For more information, including the Nov. 30–Dec. 1, 2022, Commission meeting presentation, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and click on “Commission Meetings.”