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South Atlantic Fishery Council Requires Catch-and-Release Devices

Each year, hundreds of thousands of bycatch fish die after being released back into the South Atlantic Ocean. (Adobe Stock)
Each year, hundreds of thousands of bycatch fish die after being released back into the South Atlantic Ocean. (Adobe Stock)
September 30, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. – Fishermen from North Carolina down to Eastern Florida will soon be required to equip their boats with a portable device to help deep water fish survive when they're caught and then released back into the ocean.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently voted to require that boats fishing for snapper and grouper carry what are called descending devices.

Jack Cox, a commercial fishing boat captain, says the measure will help keep fish populations healthy.

"I think it's a great idea, I'm very supportive of it,” he states. “We have all these size limits, and we have open and closed seasons, and I think this is something that we should have done a long time ago."

The new rule, which applies to both recreational and commercial fishing, must next be approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The rapid change in pressure as fish are pulled from the ocean causes gas and swelling, known as barotrauma. And when the bycatch – unwanted fish – are released, they often don't survive.

Leda Cunningham, manager of the Conserving Marine Life programs for The Pew Charitable Trusts, says the weighted, reusable devices can help ensure fish aren't dying unnecessarily.

"This new measure addresses a serious problem that frustrates fishermen and is harming some of our most important fish populations,” she points out.

“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."

Cox maintains now is the time to begin training fishermen on how to use the devices, which clip to a fish's jaw.

"I think it going to take a little time for that to set in,” he says. “It's going to take some education, but the first step is to require them to have it. So, if they have it on the boat, hopefully they'll start to use it."

According to a recent stock assessment, 28.5% of recreationally caught and 38% of commercially caught red snapper in the South Atlantic die after release.


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

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC