Anglers can test fish-release gear as part of state study

Devices that quickly return a reef fish to depth will be tested in a volunteer state study beginning July 1.
Devices that quickly return a reef fish to depth will be tested in a volunteer state study beginning July 1.

A reef fish improperly released could quickly wind up as a dead reef fish.

A state study beginning July 1 seeks charter captains and recreational anglers “to test a ‘descending device’ and help identify the benefits and drawbacks of using this tool when fishing in deeper waters,” says the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“We all know reef fish are among our most popular species, so being able to make a safe release helps ensure the fish can survive to reproduce or be caught another day,” FWC information officer Amanda Nalley said Friday.

Fish raised from deep waters could suffer from barotrauma, which causes grim symptoms including bloated stomachs or bulging eyes.

The longtime practice of venting — using a knife to release expanded air in the fish — “can be effective, if you’re experienced and good at it,” Nalley said. “A lot of people aren’t.”

Many of the 650 or so volunteers selected for the study, running July 1 to Sept. 30, will receive one of three types of descending tools. Those could include a “fish elevator,” or a jaw clamp or inverted hook, all of which are designed to quickly return the fish to depth and release it automatically or with a quick tug on the line.

People who already own one of the devices or are willing to purchase one can volunteer for the effort taking place in the Florida Keys and other coastal communities.

“People have been very innovative,” Nalley said. “Some of these you can make yourself pretty easily.”

Focus of the study is not survival rates, which have been researched, but to find out whether one descending device is easier to use for most anglers.

“We want to know: What are the barriers to using these devices?” said Nalley. Participants will be expected to fill out a questionaire on the devices by mid-October.

Interested anglers should go online for the FWC survey about their fishing experience and frequency. The survey can be found at For more information about barotrauma, go to

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206