Fishing Orange Beach

Venting Reef Fish

The saltwater fishery in the Gulf of Mexico offers anglers a wonderful opportunity for anglers to enjoy deep sea fishing.  The act of deep sea fishing can cause problems such as barotrauma (expanded air bladder) and harm the reef fish if caught in deep water.  The problem occurs when fish are caught in deep water and reeled up to the surface faster than the fish can normally adust the air bladder to the atmosphere where the fish is.   Failure to properly relieve the air pressure in the fish's swim bladder causes the released fish to float and be unable to descend  through the water column after being released, to the depth where the fish was originally caught.  

Reef fish like Red Snapper, Grouper, Amberjack and Triggerfish almost always suffer from the effects of Barotrauma when caught in water depths greater than two atmospheres or 66 feet.  With this problem, comes a federally mandated solution.   There is a Federal Law that requires anglers to have on hand or available, while deep sea fishing,  a fish venting tool.  The venting tool is most often in the form of hypodermic needle, usually with a 16 guage opening.  It is inserted into the side of the fish at a prescribed scientific location where the expanded air bladder can be relieved of its air pressure.  Relieving the air pressure allows the fish to be released so it can descend down to the reef where it was caught.

With short federal and state fishing seasons in the Gulf of Mexico, there has been a problem with anglers catching fish and then releasing them without proper venting of the fish.  The problem lies within the way anglers fish for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.  Most of the people who fish offshore do so by trolling lures on or near the surface or stopping the fishing boat and dropping lines to the bottom of the sea.  Bottom fishing or deep sea fishing causes all of the problems with barotrauma.   Because anglers discard reef fish that suffer from an inflated air bladder, most of these fish die because they can't return to the depths that they were caught. 

The problem with using a fish venting tool is that the people using the tool are usually poorly trained and end up sticking a needle into the vital organs of the fish, thus causing more damage to the fish.  You really need to understand the fish's anatomy before you go sticking a needle into the side of the fish.  It is very important to get the fish back in the water quickly if you have no plans of harvesting the fish.  It is hard to stick a flopping fish with a needle and accuratly hit the swim bladder.  Usually when you stick the fish, he will flop and kick like a mule.  If you are not careful, you may end up having to stick the fish twice or multiple times.  All of these fish venting attempts end up hurting or causing more internal damage to the fish than the barotrauma did.

I encourage you to act responsibly when reef fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.  If you are fishing out of season for a reef fish species that you possibly can't keep, please fish high in the water column to keep from hurting the fish you are catching.  You are not required to actually vent the fish you catch.  You are required to have the tool on hand.  It is extremely important that each angler does his part to reduce the mortality rate of the reef fish.


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