TNC debuted a new initiative to maintain robust snapper and grouper fisheries in Florida and the surrounding areas. To promote correct release procedures and improved data gathering, the new Deck to Depth program will foster collaboration with recreational anglers, captains, and other stakeholders throughout the Sunshine State.
Florida is the nation’s center for recreational fishing, with more activity than any other state. Its waters connect the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, and the well-being of the local fish populations affects the regional seas, leisure, and businesses. Popular fish species need to be well-managed to support healthy ocean ecosystems.
The 55 species of snapper and grouper that are essential to Florida’s coastal ecosystems and recreational anglers are supported by TNC’s Deck to Depth program.
When a fish is dragged up to the surface from the bottom or close to the bottom of the ocean, the compressed gases in its body rapidly expand, causing barotrauma, which is analogous to the bends in human divers. If the fish is not swiftly returned to the ocean’s depths after being released by the fisherman, this could be lethal. Descending devices are used to bring caught fish back to safe depths to lessen or even reverses barotrauma’s effects.
The employment of descending devices is a practical, easy, and efficient approach for anglers to positively affect fish populations by dramatically increasing the likelihood that released fish will survive, reproduce, and support a healthy population.
According to Temperance Morgan, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida, “the sustainability of our fisheries is critical not just to our marine ecosystems, but it is crucial to assuring long-term food supply and the recreational and economic well-being of Florida.” “A healthier ocean and fish populations strong enough to support both recreational and commercial fishing can ultimately result from helping the snapper and grouper species recover.”
As deep-water fish, snapper and grouper are particularly susceptible to barotrauma. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council have all emphasized the urgent need to address the problem of barotrauma, which can cause mortality rates of up to 70% of all fish caught and improperly released for some species.
According to David Moss, fisheries manager for The Nature Conservancy in Florida, “the use of descending devices is vital to maintaining our popular snapper and grouper fisheries, and by extension, the biodiversity of our seas.” “Because I have been an ardent angler my whole life, I can think of no better group to work with to spread the word about the advantages of descending devices than the fishing community. Every fish that is successfully returned to the ocean’s depths from the deck of your boat is an additional fish that may survive to fight another day and spawn to contribute to population growth, supporting a sustainable fishery.
To promote descending devices and their use, TNC will do outreach to various industry and community partners involved in recreational fishing. This includes interacting with marine influencers who can increase the program’s reach.
TNC is asking anglers in Florida and South Carolina to participate in surveys that provide information to help steward the species, including catch-and-release practices and the current use of descending devices, the survival rates of snapper and grouper species in the discarded catch, and other elements that affect the long-term sustainability of these fisheries, in addition to providing technical guidance and encouraging the use of descending devices.