January 25, 2021

A Bipartisan Win for Gulf Reef Fish Conservation

Washington, D.C. – January 25, 2021 – The Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act of 2020 (DESCEND Act) was signed into law on January 13. The bipartisan law requires recreational (including charter boats) and commercial fishermen to have on board a venting tool or descending device that is rigged and ready for use while fishing for reef fish in Gulf of Mexico federal waters.

The recreational fishing and boating community strongly supports the DESCEND Act, which was led in the House by Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.), and in the Senate by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas). As anglers use these devices to return more fish to the deep, we will see conservation gains for Gulf of Mexico reef fish for many years to come.

“Reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico are economically and culturally important to the region, and we are thrilled that the DESCEND Act has been signed into law to tackle wanton waste of these prized fish,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “The future of recreational fishing and America’s blue economy depends on an abundance of fish and the opportunity to catch them. The DESCEND Act supports both of these goals.”

Red snapper and other reef fish are often returned to the water for a variety of reasons (e.g., being caught out of season, under the size limit, or over the bag limit). Due to the rapid change in pressure from being brought to the surface from depth, many of these fish experience barotrauma – a condition where a buildup of gas pressure in their bodies makes it difficult or impossible to swim back down. Consequently, countless fish returned to the water can die at the surface or fall victim to opportunistic predators.

A descending device is a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that will hold the fish while it is lowered to a sufficient depth to recover from the effects of barotrauma and release the fish. A venting tool is a sharpened, hollow device capable of penetrating the abdomen of a fish to release the excess gas pressure in the body cavity when a fish is retrieved from depth.

“Requiring descending devices for both commercial fishermen and recreational anglers fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico is an important first step,” said Chris Horton, senior director of fisheries policy for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “We look forward to working with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council on the implementation of the requirement, as well as encouraging their use, so that we can realize the full benefit for reef fish conservation.”

“The signing of the DESCEND Act is a culmination of a multi-year effort by the recreational fishing community and our champions in Congress to further demonstrate our commitment to marine resource conservation,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “This effort will result in saving hundreds of thousands of red snapper annually, promoting a healthier resource and improving fishing opportunities in the future.”

“Considering that a significant percentage of recreational fish are caught and released alive, the use of descending gear will increase the number of fish that survive to be caught again at a larger size or later when in-season,” said Ted Venker, conservation director for Coastal Conservation Association. “This conservation-minded law is an important piece of our overall efforts to reduce all sources of discard and bycatch mortality, and ensure marine resources are healthy now and in the future.”

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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