Free Gear Available for Gulf Reef Fish Anglers to Help Reef Fish Survive Release

Descending devices are weighted devices that help fish recover from barotrauma by releasing them at depth. Credit: Return 'Em Right.

Return 'Em Right, a coalition of organizations committed to increasing the survival of reef fish that are caught and released in the Gulf of Mexico, is now making training and gear available to interested recreational fish anglers in the Gulf. Anglers can visit to be one of the first to get free gear. 

The project is providing interested anglers with an opportunity to learn best release practices. Participating anglers will receive release gear that will help reduce fish mortality from barotrauma. Improving survival of reef fish that are released immediately benefits both anglers and the ecosystem. 

Barotrauma: What Makes Fish Float 

Many anglers have experienced the unpleasant sight of reef fish, such as snappers and groupers, floating away on the surface after release. Floaters occur due to barotrauma, a pressure-related injury that fish experience when reeled up from depth. The change in pressure causes gas within the body cavities and tissues of fish to expand, displacing organs and leaving fish bloated and unable to return to depth.  

Historically, venting fish with a hollow tube or needle was the most common method to release gas in the body of fish and help them return to the bottom. Although proper venting can save fish, some anglers might incorrectly vent fish or use inappropriate tools, both of which cause additional harm.  

Today, research supports the use of descending devices as the preferred way to help fish suffering from barotrauma survive release. Descending devices are weighted devices that help fish overcome buoyancy and barotrauma by releasing them at depth. As a fish is lowered, the gas within its body recompresses, and the fish returns to a normal state and can swim off on its own.  

What Can You Do? Say No to Floaters  

Anglers play a critical role in helping reef fish survive by using best release practices and by taking action when fish need additional help returning to depth. Return ‘Em Right focuses on emphasizing practices that will give each fish a greater chance of surviving release. The project offers an online training of best practices that assists anglers in recognizing the signs of barotrauma, the solutions for treating it, and how to be prepared to release fish. Upon completion of the training and while supplies last, Gulf of Mexico reef fish anglers will be shipped a package of descending devices to use out on the water.  

Release gear is now required to be on board by the DESCEND Act, which went into effect on January 13, 2022. The Act requires anglers to have a venting tool or descending device onboard while reef fishing in Gulf of Mexico federal waters. Knowing how and when to use the gear will provide the greatest benefit to the fishery. The Return ‘Em Right project provides anglers with best practices to properly use release gear so they can make successfully releasing fish a positive part of their fishing experience.  

Project Funding and Partners 

This $30 million project was selected and funded by the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group as part of the 2019 Open Ocean Restoration Plan. Project partners include NOAA, Florida Sea Grant, University of Florida, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, working in collaboration with a coalition of anglers, small businesses, industry groups, state agencies, universities, government and non-government organizations committed to maintaining healthy fish stocks and fishing access in the Gulf of Mexico.