WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced legislation this week to improve the health of reef fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico.
Reef fish, such as red snapper, caught and rapidly brought to the surface from deep water can suffer from barotrauma, a condition that kills fish because they cannot readjust to deep water upon release. Venting tools and descending devices reduce barotrauma and save fish harvested for both recreational and commercial uses.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council are preparing to launch an eight-year, $30 million project to further reduce barotrauma. However, current regulations prevent the Council from both requiring fishermen to use venting tools or descending devices to return fish to the ocean and also federal dollars to study the issue.
The Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices (DESCEND) Act would require commercial and recreational fishermen to keep descending devices onboard their boats. It also would allow the study to remain in place even after new regulations are implemented to comply with the DESCEND Act were it to become law.
“Louisiana loves to fish. We’re at risk of there not being enough red snapper for recreational and commercial fishing to continue. This increases the number of red snapper for now and for future generations,” said Dr. Cassidy.
“I’ve been fishing all my life, so I know how important it is to protect Gulf species like red snapper. The use of descending devices and venting tools is one way we can help maintain healthy populations of reef fish, which is crucial for the economy of Alabama and for ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy red snapper season,” said Jones.
“While Gulf of Mexico red snapper has historically been a highly contentious policy issue, it’s heartening to see such strong support for this effort to reduce mortality rates of discarded reef fish,” said Mike Leonard, American Sportfishing Association’s Vice President of Government Affairs. “Thanks to the bipartisan work of U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy and Doug Jones, the DESCEND Act of 2019 will make meaningful progress in improving fish survival by requiring proper gear be used to release fish caught in the Gulf federal waters. The more fish that survive the healthier their populations will be in the future, therefore providing better fishing opportunities.”