Pew urges reef anglers to increase usage of descenders

Published on
January 30, 2019

The Pew Charitable Trusts is coming out in support of a program that would allow recreational fishermen to help reduce the mortality rates of some of the most popular stocks in the southeastern United States.

In an article posted on its website, Pew’s Holly Binns and Leda Cunningham said fishermen seeking to catch and release reef fish, such as black sea bass and red snapper, inadvertently kill more than 10 percent of the stocks. That’s because fish that live in deeper waters cannot adequately handle the pressure changes as they’re pulled up from the sea. The difference in pressure can lead to fatal organ damage. 

That’s why they’re encouraging anglers to use descenders, a reusable device that anglers can attach to a fish that will regulate its internal organs until it gets back in its habitual waters. Proponents say the devices are easily affordable, starting out at around USD 50 (EUR 43.74).

“Descending devices show strong promise in offering anglers a chance to help the fish populations they rely upon,” Binns and Cunningham wrote.

The Pew column comes as members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council are considering creating a policy on their use. Members are expected to discuss the project at their March meeting in Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Kim Iverson, the council’s public information officer, told SeafoodSource the SAFMC will review a draft amendment document and determine whether it is ready for a public hearing in the spring. However, Iverson noted that work on the document was delayed because of the five-week government shutdown and council members may opt to request more analysis before a hearing is set.

The council will accept online comments from the general public before the meeting, she added.

Last summer, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council implemented a new policy that highly encouraged recreational fishermen to use them on their trips. Emily Muehlstein, the Gulf council’s public information officer, said the council does not have any statistics yet on their use.

“We are in the midst of developing a website to promote best fishing practices, and we’re planning to host a discard mortality workshop of scientists, managers, and anglers to (among other things) identify the data gaps and research priorities necessary to gauge the use and success of barotrauma mitigation behaviors in hopes of eventually informing stock assessments,” Muehlstein told SeafoodSource.

Iverson said the South Atlantic FMC is aware of the Gulf council’s work. Currently, the South Atlantic’s plan is to create a formal regulation, but public comments will help guide the FMC toward its final action.

“The council’s intent is to address fishermen’s concerns about fish that are released and do not survive,” Iverson said.

The American Sportfishing Association also backs the increased usage of descenders. Mike Leonard, the association’s vice president, cited the success west coast fisheries have had with the devices, which has helped avoid closures and opened new areas for fishing. 

“Research has shown they are extremely effective at improving the survival of fish caught in deep depths,” Leonard told SeafoodSource. “Not only is it the right thing to do but increasing fish survival will lead to greater fishing opportunities in the future.”

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