By Trimmel Gomes/Florida News Connection

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Fisheries of the deep will now have a better chance of surviving the hooks of fishermen thanks to a new rule requiring descending devices on boats.

The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council approved a new rule requiring fishermen to have ready-to-use weighted tools to keep deep-water fish from dying of the bends during catch-and-release.

Jessica McCawley is with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and chairs the Fisheries Council. She says they’ve been working on this rule for a couple of years with Gulf states and other organizations, to test devices and educate the public about how useful they could be.

“This is for snapper, grouper species in order to reverse the effects of barotrauma,” says McCawley, “which is what happens when you bring a fish up from depths and their internal organs are distended or sometimes sticking out of their mouths.”

A recent South Atlantic stock assessment found that 28.5% or 460,000 red snapper died after catch and release. Most fishermen appear to be on board with the new rule, which still needs federal approval before going into effect.

Education efforts have been underway to increase awareness of barotrauma. The devices could cost as much as 50 dollars or people can simply make their own.

Leda Cunningham is a marine life manager at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“This new measure addresses a serious problem that frustrates fisherman and is harming some of our most important fish populations,” says Cunningham. “Millions of fish die needlessly during catch-and-release, and saving many of them by using an inexpensive, easy-to-use device means we’re helping ocean ecosystems while also boosting future fishing opportunities.”

McCawley says Florida’s and other state agencies will continue to encourage anglers to use the devices until they become mandatory. Some marine supply manufacturers have also formed partnerships with state and federal agencies to promote best fishing practices through the FishSmart Conservation Project.

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

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