Marine and Coastal Fisheries, 11(6):506-518, John Wiley and Sons Inc., 12, 2019. Paper abstract bibtex
Reducing discard mortality in recreational fisheries remains an important component of stock rebuilding for many reef fish species. Discard mortality for these species can be high due in part to barotrauma injury sustained during capture coupled with high catch rates, but recent advances in fish descending devices can mitigate some of these declines. Despite high survival rates with rapid recompression strategies, recreational angler opinions and perceived effectiveness of the devices are relatively unknown. This study surveyed the perceptions, opinions, and attitudes of 538 recreational anglers regarding the use of descending devices in the reef fish fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. South Atlantic, with particular emphasis on Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus. In total, 1,074 descending devices were distributed to marine recreational anglers from North Carolina to Texas. After using the device for an average of 8 months and 15 fishing trips, recipients completed a questionnaire assessing their perceptions on the efficacy of the device. While 72% of respondents had little to no knowledge of descending devices prior to the study, 70% indicated that they preferred this release method over venting after the study. Survey respondents released over 7,000 Red Snapper and 4,000 other reef fish species with their descending devices, and 76% were likely to continue employing the device on their vessel. Eighty-nine percent of respondents believed descending Red Snapper would significantly reduce discard mortality in the recreational fishery. We discovered that recreational anglers perceive the devices to be highly useful in reducing discard mortality and are willing to employ them when releasing reef fish experiencing barotrauma. Other studies have demonstrated that these descending devices do reduce discard mortality of reef fishes, and this study indicates that recreational anglers are very willing to use them as a conservation tool.