Summer is in full swing and so is the busy fishing season in Florida, the Fishing Capital of the World! If you plan on targeting reef fish from a vessel on one of your upcoming fishing trips, make sure you have a descending device and/or venting tool rigged and ready in case some of your fish show signs of barotrauma and will need a little help to get back down to depth. Barotrauma is a pressure-related injury that occurs in fish when they are brought from deep water up to the surface. To help you identify the signs of barotrauma remember B.I.P.S.: Bloated belly, Intestines extruding, Popeye and Stomach protruding out of the mouth. If your fish displays one or more of these symptoms, it is suffering from barotrauma and needs assistance to get back down to proper depth to survive another day.
Florida requires a descending device and/or venting tool be rigged and ready for use when fishing for reef fish from a vessel in state waters (within 3 nautical miles on the Atlantic and 9 nautical miles on the Gulf). The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages anglers to choose the device they are most comfortable with and that complies with the regulations where they are fishing when releasing a fish that is suffering from barotrauma.
Descending devices are tools with weights that attach to a fish and help take the fish back to the appropriate depth. There are various types of descending devices but the most common are lip clamps, inverted hooks and weighted containers. It is important to find the device that works best for your situation.
For short video tutorials on different types of descending devices and how to make your own, watch FWC’s Descending Devices playlist on YouTube.
Venting tools are sharp, hollow instruments that treat barotrauma by releasing expanded gas from the swim bladder, which enables the fish to swim back down to depth.
Items such as fillet knives, ice picks, screwdrivers and gaffs prevent gas from escaping correctly because they are not hollow. These do not comply with venting tool requirements and should never be used to vent a fish. Incorrectly venting a fish can cause additional damage to the fish, causing more harm than good.
Learn how to vent properly by visiting Youtube.com/watch?v=jhkzv1_2Bpc.
Reminder: When fishing for reef fish, in Gulf federal waters, a descending device and/or venting tool is required to be rigged and ready for use. However, in Atlantic federal waters, only a descending device is required to be on board and ready for use. Stay up to date with what is required in federal and state waters by visiting MyFWC.com/ReefFishGear and downloading the Fish Rules Fishing app for iOS or Android.
Remember, if you plan to fish for or harvest certain reef fish species in Gulf or Atlantic waters from a private recreational vessel (includes anglers over 65 years of age), you must sign up for the FREE State Reef Fish Angler designation and renew it annually. Learn more at MyFWC.com/SRFS and sign up today at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or anywhere you can purchase a Florida fishing license.
If you’re fishing in Gulf federal waters, you can receive FREE release gear to help fish survive – check out ReturnEmRight.org and review the best practices for releasing reef fish before hitting the water this summer!