South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Best Fishing Practices

Since we are all invested in the future of fisheries in the South Atlantic, we each share a responsibility to use best fishing practices when catching and releasing fish.

Whether you are releasing a fish because it’s too small, out of season, or you have reached your retention limit, follow these helpful tips below to improve that fish’s chance of survival. Make sure you know your requirements when fishing for snapper-grouper species in South Atlantic federal waters.

Requirements

Make sure to have the following required gear when fishing for or possessing snapper grouper species in South Atlantic federal waters:

Descending Device
  • A descending device must be on board any recreational, for hire, and commercial vessel fishing for or possessing snapper grouper species.
  • This device must be attached to a minimum of 16 oz of weight and 60 feet of line.
  • Make sure the device is readily available: attached to the correct weight and line and ready to be used when fishing for snapper grouper species.
  • See how to use a descending device below for step-by-step instructions on using this tool.
  • See additional resources at the bottom of this page to learn where you can purchase a descending device, how to make your own device, and what qualifies as a descending device.
Dehooking Tool
  • At least one dehooking device is required and must be used as needed to remove hooks embedded in South Atlantic snapper grouper with minimum damage.
  • The hook removal device must be constructed to allow the hook to be secured and the barb shielded without re-engaging during the removal process.
  • The dehooking end must be blunt, and all edges rounded. The device must be of a size appropriate to secure the range of hook sizes and styles used in the South Atlantic snapper grouper fishery.
Non-Offset Circle Hooks
  • Non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks must be used when fishing for South Atlantic snapper grouper with hook-and-line gear and natural baits north of 28° N latitude.
  • Circle hooks are less likely to snag a fish in a lethal area such as the eye, gills, or stomach.
Non-Stainless Steel Hooks
  • Non-stainless steel hooks must be used when fishing for South Atlantic snapper grouper with hook-and-line gear and natural baits.
  • Non-stainless steel hooks rust out of a fish more quickly than stainless steel if the hook were to stay in the fish.

Download the FishRules app to have current and location-based regulations such as season, bag limit, and size limits on your phone.

Best Fishing Practices

Recognizing Barotrauma

Fish caught in deeper waters may suffer from barotrauma, the expansion of gases after being rapidly reeled up from depth. This condition makes it difficult for a fish to swim back down on its own. Generally, fish caught deeper than 30 feet will suffer some effects of barotrauma.

How to Treat Barotrauma

1. Use a Descending Device (recommended approach of the SAFMC)

  • Descending Devices DO Work!
  • These weighted devices help fish return to depth unharmed. See the regulations section and additional resources to learn exactly what you need to be in compliance with South Atlantic regulations.
  • While you must have a minimum of 16 oz of weight attached to a descending device, it is recommended to use 1 pound of lead weight per 5 pounds of fish to ensure the fish reaches the bottom.
  • Depending on the type of device you use, it is possible to attach multiple descending devices to your line so that you can release more than one fish at a time.
Inverted Hook
Lip Clamp
Weighted Crate

2. Venting

Descending devices are a safer method for venting fish because it does not puncture the fish’s abdomen, therefore venting is not the preferred treatment of barotrauma by the SAFMC.

  • If correctly trained, insert a sharp and hollow stainless-steel tool (such as a 16-gauge needle fixed to a handle) in the swim bladder to release gas.
  • Note: the fish’s stomach may protrude from its mouth. Do NOT puncture the stomach.
  • Reminder: If you choose to vent fish suffering from barotrauma, you are still required to have a descending device readily available!

3. Return to Depth

  • Return fish to the depth of capture. If catching fish at very deep depths, return them as deep as possible to improve survival.
Venting instructional video.
Descending device in action!

Additional Best Practices

Use SAFMC Release:
It is difficult to sample fish being released on the water, but the easy-to-use mobile app, SciFish, allows recreational, for-hire, and commercial fishermen to log crucial information on their released shallow-water grouper and Red Snapper. Learn more about SAFMC Release!

Plan Ahead:
Always expect to release a fish on any trip and make sure to have the proper equipment such as a knotless and rubberized landing net, a descending device, a dehooking tool, and circle hooks.

Avoid non-target species:
Develop the skills to target the size and species you desire and limit interactions with non-target species.

Handling Fish:
Hold fish with wet hands or rubberized gloves and make sure to support the body by holding it horizontally. Take any pictures quickly and get the fish back in the water ASAP. Limiting air exposure increases the chance of survival.

Landing Fish:
Don’t play fish to exhaustion in case the fish will need to be released.

Resources

Purchasing Descending Devices

If you are looking to purchase a descending device, check out our guide for commercially made descending devices.

Making Descending Devices

If you would rather create your own descending device, make sure to follow these guidelines when doing so. The Council defines a descending device as an instrument that is attached to a minimum of 16 oz of weight and to a length of line that will release the fish at a minimum of 60 feet. The device must also be able to open automatically, by the operator, or the fish being able to escape on its own.

Research and Other Initiatives

There are many organizations that are promoting the use of best fishing practices. Check out the following to learn more about reef fish survival and current projects in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico: