Florida Removes Venting Tool Requirement for Reef Fishes

Soon Florida anglers will no longer be required to have and use a venting tool when fishing for reef fish in Gulf of Mexico state waters. During its Nov. 21 meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) removed the requirement in Gulf state waters, making state regulations consistent with rules in federal waters. By removing this rule, anglers will now have the freedom to determine how to best maximize survival of released reef fish using devices they feel are appropriate, depending on the circumstances. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council removed the requirement to have and use a venting tool in Gulf federal waters earlier this year. These changes will take effect as soon as possible. Another notice will be issued to let the public know when these changes take effect. When fish are brought quickly to the surface from deep water, the change in pressure can cause gases within the fish’s swim bladder to expand. This condition is called barotrauma and can cause damage to internal organs and reduce the likelihood a fish will survive when returned to the water. Typically, fish suffering from barotrauma must be treated if they are to survive and swim back down to deep water. Venting tools are used to treat barotrauma by allowing gases to escape from a fish’s body cavity. Descending devices, which bring fish back down to deeper waters, are another, more recently developed option that can now also be used to increase survival rates among fish with barotrauma. Maximizing post-release survival of fish is important in marine fisheries management because it means more fish survive to potentially reproduce and be harvested in the future. While venting tools can still be a useful way to increase chances of survival after being released, fish do not always need to be vented. Venting tools were required in Gulf state and federal waters since 2008. This requirement was intended to increase survival rates of released red snapper, but applied to all species of Gulf reef fish. These tools are not required in Atlantic state or federal waters. The use of non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks and dehooking devices will still be required in state and federal Gulf waters when fishing for reef fish. These tools minimize handling times for reef fish, which aids in survival of the fish upon release. To learn more about recognizing barotrauma, and what to do, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Catch and Release.” Information about reef fish gear rules is available under “Recreational Regulations.”

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