Council Seeking Public Comment on Best Practices and Use of Powerhead Gear

(NEWSLETTER - Spring 2019)


Requirements for descending devices, venting tools, and circle hooks considered to

help improve survival of released fish; standardization of powerhead gear use


Bag limits, size limits, seasonal restrictions, and other management tools often result in additional fish being released during an average fishing trip. For stocks under rebuilding plans, when their numbers begin to increase, so do the numbers of fish that anglers must release, often frustrating fishermen and challenging fisheries management. This has been particularly true for red snapper since 2010. A portion of these released fish will die due to foul hooking, injuries caused by barotrauma, and predation. To improve survival of released fish, the Council is considering requirements for descending devices and/or venting tools as well as changes to current circle hook requirements through Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 29.


Reducing Barotrauma – Descending Devices and Venting Tools

Barotrauma, a condition often experienced by snapper grouper species, occurs when a fish is rapidly reeled up from depth. The changes in pressure experienced by fish when brought to the surface causes the swim bladder to expand, and, in some cases burst, causing gases to fill the body cavity. Along with internal damage, this expansion can prevent the fish from swimming back down, decreasing its chance of survival, and making it more vulnerable to predators.



Descending devices are tools that quickly send a fish back to the depth where it was caught, causing internal gasses to recompress and allowing the fish to resume normal activity. They can be purchased or made by hand, but are generally some kind of weighted device that is attached to fishing line or rope and has a clamp or hook to attach to the fish’s mouth. Venting devices are sharp, hollow tools that can be used to release gases from the swim bladder in fish experiencing barotrauma, allowing the organs to return to their original positions and the fish to swim back down. When used properly, both of these tools can be effective.


The Council is considering requiring a descending device be on board a vessel when fishermen are targeting or possessing snapper grouper species, and that the device be rigged and ready to use. The requirement would apply to private recreational anglers, charter/headboats, and commercial fisheries. The requirement would be effective within six months of implementation of Regulatory Amendment 29 by the Secretary of Commerce.



For the purpose of the requirement, “descending device” means an instrument that will release fish at a depth sufficient for the fish to be able to recover from the effects of barotrauma, generally 33 feet (twice the atmospheric pressure at the surface) or greater.


Modifying Hook Requirements

In addition to proposed requirements for descending devices on board vessels targeting snapper grouper species, the Council is proposing the use of non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks north of 28 degrees north latitude (approximately 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral, FL) to improve survival of snapper grouper species. The non-stainless steel circle hook requirement is currently in place north of 28 degrees north latitude. The Council is also considering requiring the use of non-stainless steel hooks in all federal waters in the South Atlantic when targeting or possessing snapper grouper species.


Powerhead Use

Regulatory Amendment 29 also addresses modifications to current restrictions on the use of powerhead gear. Fishermen have expressed concern about inequitable access for divers targeting snapper grouper species. Powerheads, also known as bang sticks (spears with a charge that is fired when in contact with a target), may not be used to target snapper grouper species in federal waters off the coast of SC, but are allowed in federal waters off of NC, GA, and the east coast of FL. To allow for more consistent regulations, the Council is considering removing the prohibition on use of powerheads off of SC.


The Council held public hearings in early May to get input on proposed measures in Regulatory Amendment 29. In addition, the Council’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel and Law Enforcement Advisory Panel reviewed the amendment and provided recommendations. The Council will consider public input and advisory panel recommendations during its June 10-14, 2019, meeting in Stuart, FL.


Best Practices Information Now Available Online

A new online tutorial for Best Fishing Practices is now available from the Council’s website. Developed by the SC Wildlife Federation with guidance from the Council’s staff, the tutorial focuses on best fishing practices when bottom fishing for snapper grouper species, including planning ahead, avoidance, use of appropriate gear, identifying barotrauma, proper handling and release techniques, and more. Fishermen completing the tutorial are eligible to receive a free descending device!




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