Public Comment Open on Device to Save Millions of Fish
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The public can weigh in on fishing boats using a device that could save millions of deep-water fish from dying of the bends during catch-and-release. Fishermen often discard fish that aren't their target species, when they exceed catch limits or when the fish are too small. Federal research says of the six reef fish species caught most in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, about 11% that are thrown back die after release.

That's more than 7.5 million black sea bass in the South Atlantic from 2012 to 2016. Captain Jimmy Hull, a commercial fisherman in Ormond Beach, says those fish suffer a preventable fate similar to what can happen to scuba divers who ascend too quickly.

"When you bring them to the surface, all of the gases in their body and all of their organs expand and blow up,” says Hull. “And so the effects of this can be, it'll kill the animal – where they won't be able to swim back down when you release them. "

The fish can make their way back safely to deep water using a weighted clip called a descender. Hull thinks it should be a required device on anglers' boats, and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is taking public comments on that proposal through May 10.

In the past, the focus used to be on the mortality rate of harvested fish, but researchers now are zeroing in on the challenge of tracking discarded fish. Jeffrey Buckel, a professor at the Center for Marine Sciences at North Carolina State University, says the descender device – at an average cost of about $50 – has been working.

"We're interested in ways that you could try to increase the survival of those releases,” says Buckel. “And these descender devices are a tool that was developed to do that."

Buckel says expert anglers can also use venting tools, which pierce the abdomen of a fish to release expanded air without killing it. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council "strongly encourages" anglers to use descending devices.

The proposed rule would only require fishermen to have them available for use on their vessels.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL

May 3, 2019

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