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Protecting our reef fish

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On: Tue, Oct 21, 2008 at 9:36AM | By: Merry Beth Ryan

As of June 1st of this year, there are new state and federal regulations requirements in place that all recreational and commercial fisherman need to obey when fishing for reef species in the Gulf of Mexico. Many anglers are probably not even aware of the new regulations, but need to be. Anglers need to carry and use circle hooks when using cut or live bait to target these reef fish. They also now are required to have dehooking device, as well as a venting tool, onboard. These new regulations were put into place to help reduce bycatch while helping to eliminate mortality of reef fish when they are caught but not kept. Anglers need to be sure they have this new gear requirement on their boats at all times. If this new gear is used properly it will increase the survival rate of the reef fish that are caught and then released. Just having the equipment onboard is not enough; we, as responsible anglers, need to kow how to use each device as well.

Fishery management have certain regulations in place such as minimum size restrictions and daily bag limits to help protect the resource and ensure fishing will be enjoyed for many years to come. If anglers choose to ignore these new regulations, it defeats the purpose of all the current regulations in place here in Florida, as well as around the world. Circle hooks are being used more and more by anglers. They have been used many decades by the commercial fisherman, due to their ability to catch fish more efficiently. No question about it—circle hooks reduce fish mortality. Dehookers are used to dislodge the hook from a fish’s mouth without having to remove the fish from the water, and it helps anglers from having to touch the fish, which helps to keep their protective slime untouched as well (always handle fish with wet hands). There are many different shapes and sizes available depending on what size fish you will be targeting. The quicker you can get the hook out of a caught fish, the quicker that fish can be released unharmed to swim away, to spawn, and perhaps be caught again by others who enjoy fishing as much as we do.

Reef fish have swimbladders that control buoyancy and allows the fish to swim at certain depths in the water column. Venting tools need to be used on reef fish whose swimbladders have over-expanded, or even burst, while bringing the fish up to the surface too quickly. After reeling in your reef fish, take a moment to observe the fish, making sure it is in good condition before releasing it. You will be able to determine rather quickly if the fish needs to be vented or not. If the fish appears bloated, and floats and appears to be unable to control its buoyancy, that fish needs to be vented before you release it. Venting the fish as quickly as possible will give the greatest chance for survival upon its release. Lay the fish you are venting on its side and insert the venting tool at a 45-degree angle one to two inches back from the pectoral fin. Insert the tool only deep enough to release the gases. You will be able to hear the sound as the gases escape. The deflation will be immediately noticeable. Make sure you keep a good grip on the venting tool during the process, in case the fish suddenly jerks, which could cause the sharp venting tool to dislodge. This could harm not only the fish, you, or anyone else around the fish.

We all need to work together to protect reef fish we are not going to keep. It takes only a few extra minutes to properly release the fish you catch. If you are not going to keep a caught fish you owe that fish the extra time and the extra care to help reduce fish mortality. Fishing is a favorite pastime of Florida residents as well as visitors to our state. Practice and share these techniques with your family and fishing friends to help keep the fishing populations abundant for our current and future fishing enthusiasts. The more we as anglers do to limit fish kills, the longer we will have fish to catch and share with others.


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