While there are many things you can do to increase fish survival after release, there is a wide scientific consensus that these basic steps are a good starting point for any fish.
Prepare to release fish on any trip and have the equipment to do so
Learn to target particular species
Use gear suited to size and species you are trying to catch
Wet your hands prior to touching fish
Dry hands can damage the slime coat, which helps protect the fish’s skin and makes it easier for the fish to move underwater. Believe it or not, removing some of a fish’s slime coat can be fatal.
Minimize fight time when possible
Decreasing fight time decreases the amount of time the fish needs to recover and will also mitigate oxygen deficiency.
Remove hooks gently with pliers
Using a dehooking tool minimizes the chance of damaging the jaws during hook removal and also speeds up the dehooking process helping you get the fish back in the water quickly.
Support abdomen when lifting
Water normally supports a fish’s abdomen, be sure to support the abdomen when you lift fish out of the water to avoid organ damage.
Hold fish horizontally
Holding a fish vertically usually places all of the fish’s weight on their lip which can cause physical damage. In addition, fish rarely turn completely vertical on their own, as doing so can damage internal organs.
Return the fish to the water quickly
Fish exert a lot of energy and oxygen during a fight. Getting them back into the water quickly is key to their recovery.
Deep-water sportfish often sustain pressure-related injuries during capture that are collectively known as “barotrauma.” Visible barotrauma symptoms commonly include stomach protrusion from the mouth, intestinal protrusion, bulging eyes, gas bubbles under the scales, and hard swim bladders. Such injuries are associated with bringing the fish to the surface rapidly from depth causing an overexpansion of the swim bladder and displacement of other vital organs. The effects of these injuries are highly variable and depth dependent. Fish exhibiting barotrauma symptoms may not be able to return to depth because of increased buoyancy associated with an overinflated swim bladder, making them easy targets for dolphins, sharks, and other large predators. As such, it is important to properly vent or use weighted descender tools to safely release fish and increase their chances of survival.
Fish Descending Devices:
Many deep-water fish, such as Red Snapper, are highly sought after sportfish that support large recreational fisheries. Although Red Snapper populations are steadily increasing, there are several obstacles facing anglers who wish to release non-legal snapper. Snapper have an organ called an air bladder which is used to control buoyancy. When snapper are brought up from depth this air expands and can lead to a series of complications collectively known as “barotrauma”. Any fish suffering from barotrauma is unlikely to survive release unless it returned to depth and recompressed. Research shows that simple descending devices like the Seaqualizer and the Shelton Fish Descender, can have a profound impact on the number of deep-water fish that survive release.
Land fish quickly to minimize exhaustion and never remove them from the water.
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Every angler will eventually catch a species that they are not targeting. These fish are known as bycatch and are often viewed as undesirable. Although these species are usually not prized, they do play an important role in the ecosystem and should be released with the same considerations as any sportfish.
The now endangered Smalltooth Sawfish was once found from Texas to North Carolina. Habitat loss and historical bycatch mortality have reduced this species’ range to isolated portions of Florida.
These amazing fish can live 30 years and do not mature until 10 years of age. This slow reproductive strategy makes it very difficult for this species to recover.
Many agencies are working hard to understand if Sawfish still occur in other portions of their historic range. If you accidentally catch one, please follow the steps listed to ensure its safe release, and call 1-844-4SAWFISH .