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Descending Devices Required in South Atlantic to Help Snapper & Grouper

A new vote from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council at its quarterly meeting in Charleston, S.C., requires snapper and grouper fishermen to have descending devices to help the fish survive pressure changes.
Fish that ascend too fast to the surface can suffer from a condition known as barotrauma. This condition can cause enlarged or extruding eyeballs, it’s swim bladder may extend out from its mouth, or there may be internal organs extruding from its anus. Millions of fish are killed each year from this, and it is affecting the snapper and grouper populations to the point that a change had to be made.
“The intent is to encourage fishermen to use descending devices when necessary to help increase the likelihood that a fish pulled up rapidly from deep water survives,” said Council Vice Chair Mel Bel, representing the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Division of Marine Fisheries.
According to Leda Cunningham of Conserving Marine Life, U.S. East Coast, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the descending device is a weighted, reusable tool that clips to a fish’s jaw and helps it quickly return to the depths. This improves chances that the fish’s internal organs, which would have expanded from harmful gases built up during a rapid ascent, will return to their standard size before they are irreparably damaged.

A SEDAR stock assessment in the South Atlantic found that 28.5 percent of recreationally-caught red snapper die after release, which means that more than 460,000 red snappers perished after being thrown back in 2017. For commercially-caught red snapper, the number is 38 percent, and some other species’ mortality rates are even higher. Another stock assessment reported that nearly all snowy grouper die after release, mainly because they are hauled up from very deep water.

Descending devices are inexpensive and cost around $50. As ethical anglers, we must work together to increase the survivability rate of the catch-and-release fish in our oceans. This not only helps the fish but can also help improve catch limits and provide for more opportunities in the future. 

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