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Sustainable Fisheries: Saving Snapper Grouper from the ‘Bends’

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Robert Crimian, Coast & Ocean Partnership Coordinator, The Nature Conservancy

Author: Robert Crimian, Coast & Ocean Partnership Coordinator, The Nature Conservancy

Almost daily in South Atlantic waters, fishing lines pull deep-dwelling fish to the surface. Not all these fish can be kept. Those that are too small, are out of season, or exceed a catch limit are released back into the water.

However, there internal organs expand from the rapid press change they experience while being reeled to the surface. This condition (barotrauma — like “the bends,” which scuba divers can experience when ascending too quickly) prevents them from swimming back to depth or causes organ rupture. Many deep-sea fish do not survive being caught and released. The problem is so severe that it is harming the overall health of some fish populations, particularly snapper and grouper species that use deep-water reef habitats.

Many snapper and grouper species can survive catch-and-release if they are promptly and humanely returned to depth to equalize their internal pressure. Tools to do this exist and can increase their chance of survival, but only if fishers know about the tools and how to use them. Fishery managers and other organizations are expanding education on the devices to increase their use.

The snapper-grouper fishery is a regional priority in the South Atlantic Ocean. For the past several years, we have engaged fishermen and managers to understand the challenges within the fishery. Working with commercial fisheries to collect accurate data is vitally important. Any assessment of fish populations is only as good as the data collected.

Now, The Nature Conservancy is partnering with Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary to engage recreational fishers in Georgia. We will provide descending devices and training to charter captains and anglers, following up with surveys to track their use. The project is designed to build collaboration between fishermen and managers, using citizen science to help fill gaps in data needed for improved management decisions.

Learn more about the places we protect and how you can get involved.

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