The Use of Descending Devices in Fisheries Management to Reduce Discard Mortality: Regional Experiences and Considerations

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The South Atlantic red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) stock is overfished and experiencing overfishing without an open recreational fishing season. Red snapper are caught incidentally when anglers target other species in the snapper grouper complex. While red snapper cannot legally be harvested, many of them do not survive after capture and release. Ascending a red snapper to the surface from depth can cause barotrauma, a pressure-induced depth dependent condition, which often results in mortality and high discard mortality rates. The high amount of red snapper discards continues to exceed the acceptable biological catch resulting in a prolonged closure of the fishery. This problem becomes further complicated as the red snapper fishery has shown signs of recovery and an increase in population, leading to more recreational encounters. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is currently exploring ideas to reduce the amount of red snapper discards and to increase survivability of red snapper. Descending or recompression devices could potentially be a solution to increase the survival of discarded red snapper and reduce discard mortality rates. Descending devices reduce symptoms of barotrauma and increase survivability by returning fish to or near their original capture depth. By lowering discard mortality rates this practice can potentially prevent overfishing.

This study identified and analyzed the challenges and opportunities of using descending devices in the South Atlantic red snapper fishery by investigating the process of successful descending device utilization in the Pacific groundfish fishery for three species of rockfish. Through interviews and document analysis this study identified several contributors to successful use of descending devices in the Pacific, including outreach with use of GoPro videos, cohesion, and coordination between the Pacific Fishery Management Council and state management agencies to incentivize and facilitate utilization of descending devices in the recreational fishing community. Pacific interviewees indicated descending devices were effective as a means for flexibility in management, allowed for more accurate data collection, and created more opportunities for recreational anglers. While incentives for use of descending devices are similar between regions, study participants in the South Atlantic raise concern with the use of descending devices due to the multispecies complex, lack of scientific research and limited survey data. Respondents in both regions agreed descending devices should be used and promoted as a best practice by anglers.





Dick, Kelsey (2017). The Use of Descending Devices in Fisheries Management to Reduce Discard Mortality: Regional Experiences and Considerations. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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