New Requirements in Place for Fishermen Targeting Snapper Grouper Species – what you need to know about descending devices, hook specifications and other best practices

[Newsletter - Summer 2020]

A descending device with a weight attached is used to release a Red Snapper suffering from barotrauma. Photo: Spud Woodward

 

Beginning July 15, 2020, new regulations requiring descending devices and modifying hook requirements went into place for offshore fishermen targeting or possessing species in the snapper grouper management complex such as Vermilion Snapper, Black Sea Bass, Red Snapper, Greater Amberjack, and several species of grouper including Gag, Scamp, and Snowy Grouper. These new measures are designed to improve the likelihood that released fish survive to bite another day. To encourage best fishing practices, fishermen must now have a descending device on board and readily available for use. In addition, fishermen targeting snapper grouper species north of 28 degrees north latitude (approximately 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral, Florida) are required to use non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks when using hook-and-line gear and fishing with natural baits. The use of non-stainless steel hooks is required when fishing with similar gear south of 28 degrees north latitude.

The new regulations apply to private recreational anglers, as well as those on federally permitted for-hire and commercial vessels, in federal waters (greater than 3 nautical miles from shore) off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and the east coast of Florida.

Descending Devices – What are they and when should they be used?

If you’ve fished along a reef area in deeper water, odds are you’ve encountered a fish exhibiting the signs of barotrauma, a condition where the gases expand inside the fish as it is quickly reeled up from depth. The gas expansion can cause a variety of symptoms that are important to recognize, including the fish’s stomach protruding from its mouth, bulging eyes, bubbling scales, distended intestines, and floating on the surface once released.

The stomach protruding from a fish's mouth is one sign of barotrauma. Descending devices can quickly get a fish back down to depth and help reverse the impacts. Learn more about new requirements and how to make your own descending device by visiting the Council's Best Fishing Practices webpage.

Using a descending device is a quick and easy way to help fish suffering from barotrauma survive. The device is used to get the fish back down to depth as quickly as possible to reverse the symptoms while not causing additional harm. (Do not stick a knife in the fish’s inflated stomach!).

So, what is a descending device? By definition, a descending device is an instrument capable of releasing the fish at the depth from which the fish was caught. The device may either attach to the fish’s mouth or it may be a container that will retain the fish while it is lowered to depth. The descending device must be attached to a minimum of a 16-ounce weight and a minimum of a 60-ft length of line. A minimum line length of 60 feet attached to the descending device will better ensure fish are released at a minimum depth of 50 feet while standing on deck. And since minimizing the amount of time the fish spends on the surface is critical, the device must be readily available for use while you are fishing.

Fishermen have several choices when it comes to descending devices, including using inverted weighted hooks rigged to a separate rod and reel or handline, lip clamp devices, or box type devices such as a weighted milk crate. “The Council purposely crafted the definition of a descending device to allow fishermen to be creative, with options to purchase a device or rig your own,” explained Spud Woodward, Council representative from Georgia and chair of the Council’s Outreach and Communications Committee. “The Council’s new Best Fishing Practices webpage (https://safmc.net/best-fishing-practices/) offers helpful instructional videos on how to rig and use various types of descending devices, including how to make your own,” explained Woodward.

 Proof is in the Descending

 

A visit to the Council’s Best Fishing Practices webpage not only provides “how-to” videos for descending devices but also an impressive underwater video demonstrating the effectiveness of the device. The video shows a red grouper, caught from approximately 215 feet of water, being descended and how the symptoms of barotrauma can be reversed. The video is provided by Brendan Runde and Jeffrey Buckle, which was filmed during their research conducted through NC State University’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology in Morehead City, NC. The study used acoustic tags to track released grouper and demonstrates the effectiveness of descending devices. Additional information on the study is available at:

https://appliedecology.cals.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/Runde-and-Buckel-2018-descender-devices.pdf.

“Using a descending device can be exciting when you think about it as being part of the fishing experience, especially for young anglers,” said  Woodward during a panel discussion at an ICAST 2020 Conservation Seminar Series webinar addressing South Atlantic Red Snapper management. “We owe these fish we release the extra effort needed to improve their survival.  However, we don’t want people using descending devices on every fish,” explained Woodward. “If a fish doesn’t show signs of barotrauma, simply get it back in the water as quickly as possible.”

Council member Spud Woodward (right) is optimistic that the use of descending devices when needed and other best fishing practices will help improve fish stocks. Photo: Spud Woodward

In reference to Red Snapper during discussions, Woodward is hopeful. “Hundreds of descending devices have already been distributed through various programs supported by the fishing industry and conservation groups. The mandate for descending devices may be the only way we’ll get credit for turning dead discards into live releases, helping rebuild and sustain the population, while also allowing for a larger annual catch limit in the future.”

Learn more about the new regulations and Best Fishing Practices at: https://safmc.net/best-fishing-practices/.

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