Deep sea fish brought to surface
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In today’s highly regulated climate in the offshore waters off of Florida, many anglers will be faced with releasing unintentional catches of Grouper, Snapper, and Sea Bass. Unfortunately, due to the deep nature of their environment, ensuring the safe release of these fish requires some know-how and careful measures.
Most bottom fish contain a swim bladder that regulates their buoyancy for different depths of water. When hooked and brought to the surface at a high rate of ascent, the swim bladder expands too fast for the fish to regulate, causing pressure within the fish’s body cavity. This is known as barotrauma. If this pressure is not relieved quickly it will prevent the fish from returning to the depths from which it came, and increase the probability of death on the surface.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Bottom fish suffering from this phenomenon will present several warning signs. The most obvious sign is the stomach protruding out of the mouth, resembling a pink or red tongue. A common misconception among anglers is that the appropriate way to decompress the air is to puncture the protruding stomach to release the air. Yes, this will release the pressure, however, it will increase the chances of mortality.
On some occasions, another sign that a fish needs to be vented is when the intestines are protruding from the anus. Again, do not attempt to push them back in the fish or perforate them.
Other symptoms are lethargy or bloating of the fish’s abdominal region, or floating on the surface.
In most cases, using the proper venting tool and procedures to return the fish to their natural environment will yield a high survival rate.
HOW TO VENT A FISH
Most tackle stores carry the proper venting tools, which consist of a hollow, large gauge needle and a small handle.
STEP 1: Hold the fish gently on one side (best if kept in the water). Place the venting tool at a 45-degree angle towards the tail (point facing towards the head) approximately 1-2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin.
STEP 2: Gently force the tool into the fish’s cavity until the sound of air escaping and deflation is noticeable. To avoid puncturing internal organs, do not poke the tool too deep.
STEP 3: Do not release the fish until it can swim on its own. If the fish is slow to respond, hold it by the tail and move back and forth in the water to restore circulation of water over the gills. Once the fish shows signs of strength it can be released.
Deep-Sea Demersal Fish and Fisheries (Fish & Fisheries Series)
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