New Fish-Saving Tool Nets Angler Real Green

By Ryck Lydecker

A retired Alaska charter fisherman-turned-inventor landed a cool $10,000 with an innovative tool designed to release alive any fish brought up from deep water with a case of something like "the bends." Ace Calloway's BlackTip Catch & Release Recompression Tool won the grand prize in West Marine's second annual Green Product of the Year contest, announced at the Miami International Boat Show last February. The device simply clamps firmly, but safely, onto the fish's jaw and the angler lowers it by hand, downrigger, or rod and reel. A weight pulls the fish down until the device hits bottom and automatically releases.

But wait, do fish get the bends? Well, yes, in the sense that if deep-water species come to the surface quickly — like on the end of a fishing line — their bodies become distended from an over-inflated swim bladder, the eyes may bug out, and the fish's innards can even pop out its mouth.

That's generally not a problem if the fish is headed for the dinner plate, but when it's one you want to release — say, undersized, wrong species, or the cooler is already full — that fish has to get back down to its proper depth fast to recover. Technically the condition is called barotrauma and an Oregon Fish and Wildlife Dept. study on the problem in deep-water game fish turned into a problem-solving quest for Calloway. With long experience as a charter captain, Calloway already knew that deep-water species had a high mortality rate due to the sudden change in pressure from their normal habitat to the water's surface. But the study showed that if anglers could get the fish back down to their natural depth quickly, fatalities could be nearly eliminated. After experimenting with different methods such as baskets, bent wires, and barbless fishhooks, Calloway found that either the fish swam away before reaching the appropriate depth or it sustained injury in the process. But he persevered with prototypes until he hit upon what became the BlackTip device.

A panel of judges, including BoatUS Vice President of Government Affairs Margaret Podlich, made its selection based on effectiveness, cost competitiveness, environmental impact, degree of innovation, verification of claims, and compliance with official rules.

"The BlackTip Catch & Release Recompression Tool addresses a real problem, in a way that is simple, effective, and affordable," said Dr. Randy Kochevar, a marine biologist at Stanford University and another contest judge. "Using this innovative tool, any fisherman can make sure that a fish returned to the wild has the best possible chance of survival."

"I have always wanted to leave this world a better place than I found it, and I feel this release will save thousands of fish," said Calloway. "Hopefully this device will be my legacy and will help to preserve what I have come to enjoy and love so much — fishing."