With summer in full swing, so too is the peak of fishing season in Florida. If you plan on targeting reef fish from a vessel in the Fishing Capital of the World, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wants to make sure you know the rules surrounding reef fishing.
Firstly, the FWC reminds would-be fishers to have a descending device and/or venting tool rigged and ready in case some of their fish show signs of barotrauma and will need a little help finding their way back into the depths. Barotrauma is a pressure-related injury that occurs in fish when they're brought from deep water up to the surface.
To help you identify the signs of barotrauma, remember the acronym B.I.P.S. — Bloated belly, Intestines extruding, Popeye, and Stomach protruding out of the mouth. The FWC says that if your fish displays one or more of these symptoms, it is suffering from barotrauma and needs assistance getting back down to the proper depths in order to survive.
The state of Florida requires a descending device and/or venting tool to be rigged and ready for use when fishing for reef fish from a vessel in state waters — defined as being within 3 nautical miles on the Atlantic and 9 nautical miles on the Gulf.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages anglers to choose the device they are most comfortable with and that complies with the regulations where they are fishing when releasing a fish that is suffering from barotrauma.
Descending devices are tools with weights that attach to a fish and help take the fish back to the appropriate depth. There are various types of descending devices out there, but the most common are lip clamps, inverted hooks, and weighted containers. It is important to find the device that works best for your situation.
For short video tutorials on different types of descending devices and how to make your own, watch FWC’s Descending Devices playlist on YouTube.
Venting tools are sharp, hollow instruments that treat barotrauma by releasing expanded gas from the swim bladder, which enables the fish to swim back down to depth.
Items such as fillet knives, ice picks, screwdrivers, and gaffs prevent gas from escaping correctly because they are not hollow. According to the FWC, these do not comply with venting tool requirements and should never be used to vent a fish. Incorrectly venting a fish can cause additional damage, ultimately causing more harm than good.
The FWC offers advice on how to properly vent a fish in this Youtube Video here.
While a descending device and/or venting tool is in Gulf federal waters, only a descending device is required to be on board and use ready in Atlantic federal waters. To stay up to date with what is required in federal and state waters, visit MyFWC.com/ReefFishGear and download the Fish Rules Fishing App for iOS or Android.
Those who plan to fish for or harvest certain reef fish species in Gulf or Atlantic waters from a private recreational vessel, including anglers over 65 years of age, must sign up for the free State Reef Fish Angler designation and renew it annually.
Learn more at MyFWC.com/SRFS and sign up today at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or anywhere you can purchase a Florida fishing license.
Visit FWC’s YouTube channel at MyFWC.com/SaltwaterFishing for more saltwater fishing how-to videos. For answers to questions, contact by phone at 850-487-0554 or by email at Marine@MyFWC.com.
Did you know that if you’re fishing in Gulf federal waters, you can receive FREE release gear to help fish survive? Check out ReturnEmRight.org to submit for free gear and review the best practices for releasing reef fish before hitting the water this summer!
Article by Rachael Volpe