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Return ‘Em Right Program for Gulf Reef Anglers

Return ‘Em Right Program for Gulf Reef Anglers

Whether you’re a frequent reef angler or only occasionally venture offshore to target deep-water species, knowing how to use descending devices or venting tools will help the fish you release survive and help keep you out of trouble. We have the latest scoop on a new program that is helping Gulf of Mexico reef anglers meet DESCEND Act requirements through education and free fishing gear!

What is the DESCEND Act 

The DESCEND Act made it unlawful to fish for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico without a device to safely return discarded fish to the water at a depth sufficient for the fish to recover from barotrauma. The law went into effect on January 13, 2022, and requires anglers on commercial, for-hire, and private recreational vessels to have a venting tool or descending device rigged and ready to use when fishing for reef fish species in the Gulf of Mexico federal waters.

What Is Barotrauma?

Fish that are caught in deep water often experience barotrauma from being reeled up from depth. Barotrauma occurs when gases expand in a fish’s tissues and organs causing internal damage and bloating. When released, these fish can struggle to return to depth and consequently die. The effects of barotrauma and release often lead to a high number of fish dying unless fish are released properly.

Barotrauma Symptoms

  • Bulging eyes
  • Protruding stomach
  • Protruding intestines
  • Bloated belly
  • Bubbling scales
  • Fish floating on the surface

What is a Descending Device?

  • An instrument capable of releasing a fish at the depth from which the fish was caught.
  • It must be rigged and ready for use when fishing.
  • It is a weighted hook, lip clamp, or box that will hold the fish while it is lowered to depth.
  • The rule sets a minimum of a 16-ounce weight and a minimum length of 60 feet of line attached to the descending device.

What is a Venting tool?

  • Must be capable of penetrating the abdomen of a fish to release the excess gases accumulated in the body cavity when a fish is retrieved from depth.
  • Must be a sharpened, hollow instrument that allows air to escape, such as a hypodermic syringe with the plunger removed.
  • The rule sets as a minimum a 16–gauge needle, which has an outside diameter of 0.065 inches, as the minimum diameter hollow tube that must be used.
  • Gulf of Mexico reef fish fishermen may also choose to use a larger diameter hollow needle because it will allow air to escape from a fish faster.
  • A tool that is not hollow, such as a knife or an ice pick, does not meet the requirements of a venting tool, and must not be used to vent a fish.

Return ‘Em Right Program

Return ‘Em Right is a new program that aims to increase the survival of reef fish by equipping anglers with the knowledge and tools to successfully release fish suffering from barotrauma. In addition to education, the program will provide free release gear to Gulf of Mexico anglers that are committed to using best release practices and helping the future of the fishery.

Register for the Program to Do Your Part & Earn Free Gear

descending device for fishing

Gulf of Mexico anglers can register for a 15-minute online review of best practices. After completing the online training, anglers will receive a free kit that includes two descending devices, lead, and all the tools needed to safely return fish to the bottom. In addition to sharpening your fishing skills and scoring free gear, joining the Return ‘Em Right movement means every time you fish for reef species you’re doing your part to “Earn Another Fight.” Equipping yourself with knowledge and tools to release fish responsibly will benefit today’s anglers, the next generation of anglers, and the overall health of our fisheries. It’s our responsibility to do our best to ensure the fish we release survive to grow, spawn, and be caught again!



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