Marine and Coastal Fisheries, 7:434-449, Taylor and Francis Inc., 2015. Paper abstract bibtex
Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus is the most economically important reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico, and despite being intensively managed, the stock remains overfished. These fish are susceptible to pressure-related injuries (i.e., barotrauma) during fishing that compromise survival after catch and release. Barotrauma-afflicted fish may not only experience immediate mortality but also delayed mortality after returning to depth. This variability and unknown fate leads to uncertainty in stock assessment models and rebuilding plans. To generate better estimates of immediate and delayed mortality and postrelease behavior, Red Snapper were tagged with ultrasonic acoustic transmitters fitted with acceleration and depth sensors. Unique behavior profiles were generated for each fish using these sensor data that allowed the classification of survival and delayed mortality events. Using this information, we compared the survival of Red Snapper released using venting, nonventing, and descending treatments over three seasons and two depths. Red Snapper survival was highest at cooler temperatures and shallower depths. Fish released using venting and descender tools had similar survival, and both these groups of fish had higher survival than nonvented surface-released fish. Overall, Red Snapper had 72% survival, 15% immediate mortality, and 13% delayed mortality, and all fish suffering from delayed mortality perished within a 72-h period after release. Results from these field studies enhance the understanding of the delayed mortality and postrelease fate of Red Snapper regulatory discards. Moreover, these data support the practice of using venting or descender devices to increase the survival of discarded Red Snapper in the recreational fishery and show that acoustic telemetry can be a valuable tool in estimating delayed mortality.