March 16, 2020

DESCEND Act Passes House Natural Resources Committee

Last week, H.R. 5126, the Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act of 2019, better known as the DESCEND Act, unanimously passed out of the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources. 

The DESCEND Act will require commercial and recreational fishermen to possess a descending device or venting tool rigged and ready for use when fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf). This legislation will improve post-release survival of reef fish in the Gulf. The DESCEND Act was introduced last November by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) members Rep. Garret Graves (LA.), and Rep. Jared Huffman (CA). 

Descending devices are important for fisheries because most fish have swim bladders, and when a fish swims up or down, the amount of gas in the swim bladder decreases or increases to maintain neutral buoyancy. Reef fish like red snapper, gray trigger fish, vermillion snapper, gag grouper, etc., are often caught near the bottom. When a fish is brought up to the surface rapidly, the decreasing external pressure of the water as they get shallower allows the gases in their body to expand more rapidly than the swim bladder can compensate, putting pressure on internal organs and increasing their buoyancy. When released, the increased internal pressure of the gases makes it difficult, if not impossible, to swim back down to their originating depth where their internal gases would return to equilibrium with the pressure of the surrounding water. 

Descending devices are non-invasive mechanisms that can quickly return fish to a depth using a weight and some sort of release. Venting tools actually puncture the abdomen wall (and swim bladder if not already ruptured) and allow gases to escape. While descending devices are preferred, especially for anglers not experienced with venting techniques, research has shown that using a venting tool does increase a fish’s chance of survival when caught from depth (typically great than 100 feet), especially for larger fish. 

By decreasing the number of reef fish that die after release, the use of these devices should lead to more fish to catch and healthier fisheries down the road. 

The DESCEND Act has also been introduced in the Senate by CSC members Sen. Bill Cassidy (LA) and Sen. Doug Jones (AL) where it currently awaits consideration by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. 

H.R. 5126 awaits further action in the House. 

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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