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New South Atlantic Fishing Rule Now In Effect

Recreational fishing community applauds South Atlantic descending device designed to decrease species mortality.

Big catch

Beginning July 15, 2020, descending devices are required to be rigged and ready for use on board all vessels fishing for or possessing snapper-grouper species in South Atlantic federal waters. The effects all commercial, for-hire, and private recreational vessels.

Here's the science behind the ruling: When deep-water fish are brought rapidly to the surface, they can experience barotrauma — a condition where a buildup of gas pressure in their bodies makes it difficult or impossible to swim back down. If an angler releases the fish (sometimes necessary due to size, season, or bag limit restrictions) and the fish does not survive, this is a dead discard or wasted fish. A descending device is a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that holds the fish while it is lowered to a sufficient depth where pressure of the surrounding water returns internal gas to equilibrium, which allows the fish to be released with a much higher likelihood of survival.

"The recreational fishing community spearheaded and for years has advocated for the use of descending devices and other best fishing practices to benefit America's marine resources," said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy.

"It is encouraging that so many anglers were already taking it upon themselves to find ways to properly release fish to increase survival and better conserve these resources," said Pat Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). "This requirement will not only enhance those efforts to eliminate all sources of discard and bycatch mortality but should motivate federal fisheries managers to assess those gains and translate them into longer seasons for anglers."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has a series of videos on its YouTube channel FWC Saltwater Fishing demonstrating how to use descending devices to treat barotrauma.

Various descending devices have been manufactured for years and are available for retail sale. Thanks to the aforementioned educational efforts, thousands of anglers and guides already have been provided with descending devices at no charge.

This final rule also contains other best fishing practices including the use of non-offset and non-stainless steel circle hooks when fishing for snapper-grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits north of 28° N latitude (approximately 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral), which is where most of this fishery occurs. Click here to read the official announcement in the Federal Register.


Rich Armstrong

Senior Editor, BoatUS Magazine

A journalist by training, BoatUS Magazine Senior Editor Rich Armstrong has worked in TV news, and at several newspapers, then spent 18 years as a top editor at other boating publications. He’s built a stellar reputation in the marine industry as one of the most thorough reporters in our business. At BoatUS Magazine, Rich handles everything from boat and product innovation and late-breaking news, to compelling feature stories, boat reviews, and features on people and places. The New Jersey shore and lakes of lower New York defined Rich's childhood. But when he bought a 21-foot Four Winns deck boat and introduced his young family to the Connecticut River, his love for the world of boats flourished from there.