UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant Help Prepare Anglers for New Regulations

  • By:
    Stu Hutson – (352) 273-3569
  • Sources:
    Chuck Adams – cmadams@ufl.edu, (352) 392-1826 x223
    Bryan Fluech – fluech@ufl.edu, (239) 247-3946

fish venting
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Some saltwater anglers are purists – they would fish with the simplest rod and reel. Others won’t leave dock without gear sophisticated enough for military operations.

No matter what their inclination, as of June 1st many anglers will have to add three tools to their tackle boxes. New state and federal regulations will require fishermen angling for reef species in the Gulf of Mexico to carry circle hooks when fishing with natural bait, a dehooking device and a venting tool.

With the rule change fast approaching, Florida Sea Grant, in affiliation with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, aims to quickly help bring fishermen up to speed.

Along with developing Web sites and brochures, Sea Grant will host workshops across the state along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Florida is the number one fishing destination in America,” said Chuck Adams, IFAS marine economics specialist for Sea Grant. “But history has shown us that we have to work to keep it that way.”

Saltwater angling is an $8 billion industry for the Sunshine State, but the millions who cast lines can contribute to overfishing. As a result, the types, sizes and numbers of fish that can be caught have become tightly regulated, leading to a rise in popularity of catch-and-release practices.

“It’s worked – to a degree,” Adams said. “It’s not a stopping point, though. There are more anglers every year, and the fish don’t get any better at not biting.”

The three new tools are designed to improve a fish’s chance of surviving once released. The most tried and true are circle hooks, used with live or cut bait.

Shaped like a capital “G” instead of the conventional “j” shape, the rounded hook with its inwardly angled point is designed to slip out of a fish’s throat or stomach, but easily catch on the fish’s lip.

The benefits to the fish are obvious, but the circle hooks have their own pluses for anglers.

J-hooks must be “set” by a perfectly timed jerk of the line that imbeds the hook just as the fish takes the bait. A proper set can be frustratingly elusive. In contrast, circle hooks rely on a smooth motion that allows the hook to set on its own.

Once the fish is reeled in, the next tool comes into play.

A dehooker is a straight piece of wire with a curve or loop at the end. It’s used to dislodge the hook from the fish’s mouth without removing the fish from the water.

“The less you handle the fish out of the water, the better its chances are going to be,” says Bryan Fluech, Collier County Sea Grant marine agent. Keeping the fish out of water deprives it of oxygen, and handling its skin or scales removes a protective layer of mucous.

But taking the fish out of water can sometimes be the best way to save it. Often, when fish are caught in deep water, the pressure change while being rapidly drawn to the surface can cause an interior organ called a swim bladder to expand or rupture.

When that happens, the escaped gas gets trapped in the fish’s body cavity and exerts pressure on its internal organs. Releasing a fish in this condition renders it unable to return to its home depth and exposes it to predators.

However, a properly trained angler can help the fish survive using a venting tool.

A preferred variety of the tool, developed by IFAS and the Mote Marine Laboratory, is much like a hypodermic syringe with the plunger pulled out. The angler lays the fish on its side, sticks the needle in behind the pectoral fin at a 45-degree angle, and waits for the deflating-balloon sound to stop.

After venting, the fish can hide from predators and make a speedy recovery.

“Individually, fish are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for,” Adams said. “This is a good thing – because, collectively, people can be a lot more damaging than we like to think.”

State wildlife officials say they will give anglers time to adjust to the new rules before aggressively enforcing them.

For more information about catch and release techniques and changes to Gulf reef fishing regulations, please visit:

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