DESCEND Act Heads to President’s Desk

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DESCEND Act Heads to President’s Desk

Saltwater anglers applaud lawmakers for promoting better catch-and-release of red snapper.

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 5126, Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act of 2020 (DESCEND Act). The bipartisan bill requires recreational and commercial fishing boats to have on board a venting tool or descending device that is rigged and ready for use while fishing for reef fish in Gulf of Mexico federal waters.

Sportsmen and women strongly supported the DESCEND Act, which was coauthored in the Senate by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.). The bill passed the House on October 1, and was led by Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

“The TRCP thanks the bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives and staffers who worked to pass this important bill. The DESCEND Act affirms that recreational anglers and the groups that support them are truly leading the way in conservation of our marine resources,” said Chris Macaluso, director of marine fisheries for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This bill will work with other important reforms passed in the Modern Fish Act two years ago and other measures to ensure the reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico are well-managed and that conservation is given the highest priority.”

Reef fish, like snapper and grouper, caught from depths of 50 feet or more are vulnerable to barotrauma, a phenomenon which causes the swim bladder and eye sockets to expand after a rapid rise to the surface. When this happens, the fish’s stomach can protrude from its mouth and acts as a balloon, making the fish float. The result is a high mortality rate for fish that are released.

Unless that pressure is relieved, the fish cannot return to the reef. Anglers can prevent this by using a venting tool to puncture the air bladder or a descending device—a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that will hold the fish while it is lowered to a sufficient depth to recover from the effects of barotrauma. This device can be anything as simple as a weighted milk crate on a rope to something more sophisticated, like the SeaQualizer, which has pressure-release clips that allow fish to swim away upon reaching the desired depth.

“We thank Senators Bill Cassidy, Doug Jones and John Cornyn for their leadership and commitment to passing the DESCEND Act before the end of this Congress,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “Congressman Garret Graves got the ball rolling in the House, and these Senators got it across the finish line in the nick of time. What a great Christmas present to America’s anglers!”

There are 2.6 million saltwater anglers who fish the Gulf of Mexico every year and contribute $13.5 billion to the economy while supporting 138,817 jobs. These anglers and the businesses they support understand the value of healthy marine resources and are committed to doing their part in conservation.

“Senate passage of the DESCEND Act caps off a remarkably productive Congress for the recreational fishing community,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “We are grateful to have champions in Congress that are willing to put in the time and energy to support fisheries conservation. The DESCEND Act will improve fishing opportunities and support Gulf of Mexico reef fish conservation for many years to come.”

“Anglers have long recognized their responsibility to practice successful catch-and-release to ensure our fisheries are healthy and sustainable for future generations,” said Pat Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “Descending devices are an available, effective tool for properly conserving our marine resources and we look forward to the positive impacts of this legislation on recreational fisheries going forward.”

“With the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval of the DESCEND Act, the 116th Congress has proved once again that critical conservation measures like expanding the use of descending devices enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support in an era of political gridlock,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of prized reef fish like snapper and grouper has and always will be a top priority of the recreational boating and fishing community and we applaud Congress for approving this commonsense policy.”

“Using descending devices is the right thing to do to ensure the health and abundance of our reef fish fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Chris Horton, fisheries policy director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “We thank Senator Cassidy and Senator Jones for shepherding this angler-supported bill through the Senate and once again demonstrating that recreational anglers are leaders and champions for the conservation of our fisheries resources.”