The following is adapted from a press release from the American Sportfishing Association.
NOAA Fisheries to require descending devices to be rigged and ready for use onboard all vessels fishing for or possessing snapper-grouper species in South Atlantic federal waters.
The rule will go into effect on July 15, 2020, for all commercial, for-hire and private recreational vessels. It applies to all boats fishing for snapper-grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits north of 28° N latitude (approximately 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral) The rule goes into effect to decrease the post-release mortality of fish caught in deep water. When fish caught from depth are rapidly brought to the surface, they can suffer from barotrauma.
Barotrauma cases a gas build up in their bodies which can make it impossible for deepwater fish to swim back to where they came from. The descending devices, in the form of a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that holds the fish as it is lowered to a sufficient depth where pressure of the surrounding water returns internal gas to equilibrium, which allows the fish to be released with a much higher likelihood of survival.
The rule also mandates that all hooks are required to be non-stainless steel when fishing for snapper-grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits throughout South Atlantic federal waters. Non-stainless steel hooks degrade faster than stainless steel hooks. Any fish released with an embedded non-stainless steel hook could have a greater chance of survival.
The SAFMC (South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and recreational fishing organizations have laid the groundwork for the successful implementation of the descending device requirement. The American Sportfishing Association and Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) led by example educating the angling public through their programs FishSmart Conservation Project and ReleaSense, respectively.
The FWC also has a series of videos on their YouTube channel (FWC Saltwater Fishing) demonstrating how to use descending devices to treat barotrauma. Various descending devices have been manufactured for years and are available for retail sale. Thanks to the aforementioned educational efforts, thousands of anglers and guides already have been provided with descending devices at no charge.
Here are the reactions of some policy leaders in the world of recreational fishing:
“The recreational fishing community spearheaded and for years has advocated for the use of descending devices and other best fishing practices to benefit America’s marine resources,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “We are pleased NOAA Fisheries is officially requiring descending devices to be on board all vessels targeting snapper and grouper to tackle this problem of wanton waste.”
“It is encouraging that so many anglers were already taking it upon themselves to find ways to properly release fish to increase survival and better conserve these resources,” said Pat Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). “This requirement will not only enhance those efforts to eliminate all sources of discard and bycatch mortality but should motivate federal fisheries managers to assess those gains and translate them into longer seasons for anglers.
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