May 4, 2020

Descending Device Final Rule on Deck in the South Atlantic

On April 27, CSF joined a coalition letter in support of NOAA Fisheries’ proposed rule to implement Amendment 29 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan in the South Atlantic. Amendment 29 seeks to improve post-release survival of snapper and grouper species when caught outside of an open season by requiring the use of non-offset circle hooks and having descending devices on board and ready to use.

While catch rates of red snapper in the South Atlantic have steadily increased in recent years as the population rebuilds, we continue to see fewer days in the South Atlantic red snapper harvest season. NOAA’s preliminary estimate earlier this spring indicated the 2020 red snapper season could be as short as 3 days. The reason for the increasingly shorter seasons is the significant number of discards that ultimately die in the red snapper fishery. Anglers and commercial fishermen frequently catch red snapper while fishing for other species outside of the relatively short red snapper seasons. Though they are released, a significant portion of the released fish die due to barotrauma, a condition that results from increased pressure of internal gasses in fish caught near the bottom and rapidly brought to the surface. Fish suffering barotrauma often cannot swim back down without assistance and die on the surface. The estimated number of dead discards is very high in the South Atlantic region, and few fish are available for harvest each year as a result.

Requiring all anglers and commercial fishermen who target snapper and grouper species to have available, and hopefully use, descending devices should result in better post-release survival, more fish available for harvest and longer seasons in the future. However, implementation of this rule will not necessarily translate into additional red snapper season days in 2020.  NOAA Fisheries will need to work with South Atlantic Council staff to monitor descending device usage and work with the Council’s Scientific & Statistical Committee to determine how the use of these devices, and the resulting reduction in discard mortality, can be incorporated in future stock assessments.

Ultimately, the success of descending devices, and any increases in fishing opportunities for red snapper and other species in the future, will be dependent on the willingness of anglers and commercial fishermen to use the devices. 

James Hall, a friend of the author,

with a Red Snapper.

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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