Guy Harvey Magazine

WIN 2012

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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Page 49 of 83

Left: Handling fish with a tool like the BogaGrip prevents removing its slimy, protective coating, a defense against infections. Photo: Dave Lear. Right: Venting fish swollen from barotrauma is required by law in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Dr. Karen Burns. Andrew Loftus, a natural resources consultant based in Maryland, and organizer of the 2011 FishSmart workshop, which focused on catch and release issues. "Some of these fish survive; others do not. If there is a 10% average release mortality, 21.1 million fish die; if there is an average 20% mortality, 42.2 million die. So, increasing the survival of these fish by even a small percentage through better release practices and techniques will save millions of fish each year." Loftus also points out that the more highly regulated a species becomes, i.e., red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, the more fish are released, and the greater impact release mortality can have on fish stocks and future management decisions. The clear implication is that if fishermen can help keep released fish alive, we help increase the odds of improving fish stocks in the future. The issue of release mortality continues to gain traction among both the regulatory and research communities. Gulf fishermen know that in 2008, federal law began to mandate the use of dehooking devices and also required that any fish recognized as suffering from barotrauma (like the Lazarus fish) must have its swim bladder vented so it can more easily swim back to depth. And, while there hasn't been time to find out how effective the new law has been in the Gulf, researchers have continued to study the issue and are finding out that several key factors play into how likely a released fish is to survive. In March of last year, the first ever FishSmart workshop was held in Atlanta, sponsored by NOAA Fisheries. It brought together a who's-who list of fishery management experts with the recreational fishing community and focused their considerable cranial capacity on the issue of lowering release mortality rates. The goal was to gather what information existed on the topic, identify where the gaps are, and then help further develop a set of best practices to recommend to recreational fishermen (check out a full rundown on the proceedings at This year, the work is continuing with regional workshops. "The regional workshops are going to be a great thing," says Dr. Karen Burns, ecosystem management specialist for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, and widely regarded as an expert on fish barotrauma. "Each region of the country has unique challenges. Not all environments are the same, and not all species are the same." As an example, Burns notes that the effects of barotrauma can vary widely by species and water depth. Venting, or using a hypodermic needle or other appropriate tool to pierce a fish's body cavity behind the pectoral fin and release highly expanded gasses, is currently one of the most widely accepted procedures for dealing with barotrauma. But, it's not foolproof. "Not all swim bladders are created equal," she says, "Some are thick, others thin, some have lots of blood vessels, others are large or small. Swim bladders are part of a fish's adaptation to its life history or how it makes its living. Since some fish live in the water column and others on the bottom, their swim bladders reflect their lifestyle. The bottom line is we need to know more." And, there's more to the story than just dealing with barotrauma. Burns says that other factors can be even more critical for a fish than being blown up like a blimp. For instance, predation by dolphins is a significant issue in the northern Gulf of Mexico. On two research trips off Panama City, Florida, Burns' team confirmed 3 to 7 percent of released fish were eaten by opportunistic dolphins, with another 20% chased below the surface and likely to have been eaten. Another critical issue for released fish, especially reef fish, can be thermal shock. Burns and others have documented that pulling fish up above the thermocline (think bottom fishing in the Gulf during the summer) can be quite traumatic, especially if a fish spends a significant amount of time at the surface or on deck. In fact, many researchers agree that one of the most effective things fishermen can do to help a released fish survive is simply to reduce its deck time. Some studies have even documented that past a given point, each additional minute a fish spends out of the water correlates to an exponential rise in mortality. The recommendation to fishermen is to have a plan in place before the fish gets to the surface and then do what needs to be done quickly, especially if that involves taking measurements or posing for photos.

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