Best Release Practices

Prepare for Trip

  • Have a plan:
    • What species are you targeting?
    • What depths are you fishing?
    • How do you plan on catching the fish?
    • The season, size, and bag limits for the species you’re targeting.
    • Incorporate releasing fish into your routine fishing plan – plan ahead for how you will release fish.
  • What to bring?
    • All necessary gear to release fish (dehooking devices, venting tools, descending devices, and enough weight to descend the fish you are targeting).
    • Gear that prevents further injury to fish, including heavy enough tackle, proper hooks and bait for your targeted catch.
  • On the water:
    • Know what to do before a fish gets to the surface in order to effectively release it.

Minimize Fight Time and Hook Injury

  • Why it matters?
    • The longer a fish fights, the more lactic acid builds up in a fish, which can lead to death.
    • Lighter gear will lengthen fight time and increase predation encounters leading to unnecessary death of fish. 
    • Light gear is likely to lead to more breakoffs and excessive gear left either in a fish or in the ocean.
  • What to do?
    • Use heavy enough rod, reel and terminal tackle to quickly get fish to the surface. 
    • Use non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks to prevent gut hooking fish. 
    • Cut the line if a fish is gut hooked; trying to pull the hook out will lead to further injury. Non-stainless steel hooks will rust or fall out over time.
Minimize Air Exposure

Minimize Air Exposure and Handling Time

  • Why it matters?
    • Fish use a lot of energy and oxygen during the fight, which needs to be replenished in order to fully recover. 
    • Fish are unable to breathe out of the water and need oxygenated water running over their gills in order to breathe.
  • What to do?
    • Only hold a fish out of water for as long as you can hold your breath.
    • If a fish is not showing signs of barotrauma, use a dehooking device to quickly release the fish over the water. 
    • If you plan to take a picture, have a camera ready prior to pulling the fish out of the water.
    • If a fish is gut hooked, cut the line and get the fish back in the water quickly.

Presence of Predators

  • Why it matters?
    • Although it is often unavoidable, predators such as sharks, dolphins, barracuda, goliath groupers and others may take your catch from your line. 
    • Interactions with predators lead to fewer fish available both to anglers and in the ecosystem to grow and spawn.
    • Predators may interact with fish being descended leading to a loss of gear.
    • Predators consuming hooked fish results in frustration when angling.
  • What to do?
    • Move or rotate spots frequently. Although predators are quick to appear to boats, it is often possible to get a few good fish in the boat before they arrive. 
    • Use heavy tackle to reel fish up quickly before predators get to them. 
    • If you are worried about losing gear while descending fish, try rigging your descending device and weight with steel leader.
Handling Fish

Photography and Handling

  • Why it matters?
    • Fish are often injured if improperly handled. 
    • Improper handling can cause you to drop the fish, leading to physical injury/harm.
    • Fish have a protective coat of slime over their scales. Removing this slime makes fish more susceptible to disease.
  • What to do?
    • If you plan on releasing fish and want a picture, have a designated camera ready before you pull the fish out of the water.
    • Hold the fish horizontally to support the body weight of the fish.
    • Try to avoid putting your hands in the gills of the fish.
    • Use wet gloves or a wet rag to improve grip, minimize slime loss and avoid injury to hands.

Supporting Science

Best release practices are based on scientific findings.
Below are some recent publications informing release recommendations.

Discard Mortality of Red Snapper Released with Descender Devices in the U.S. South Atlantic – Runde et al. 2021

Runde et al. 2021


  • 44 red snapper were tagged with electronic transmitters in 120ft of water off of North Carolina.
  • Red snapper were released near the seafloor with SeaQualizer, a descender device.
  • The tags reported depth and location within a 0.2 mi^2 area.
  • Movements of released-alive red snapper were compared to movements of known-dead and recaptured (known-alive) red snapper to determine survival.
  • Statistical simulations accounting for hook type (circle vs J) and associated hooking injury found that ~87 percent of all red snapper would survive if released with descender devices.

Effectiveness of descending devices to mitigate the effects of barotrauma among rockfishes (Sebastes spp.) in California recreational fisheries – Bellquist et al. 2019 

Sebastes spp.


  • Conducted 24 commercial passenger fishing vessel charters at 11 sites and allowed recreational anglers to use 5 different types of descending devices.
  • All fish were released to 46m (150’) or to bottom, whichever was shallower.
  • Initial post-release mortality was low at 7.5 percent for depths up to 100m and 16.4 percent for capture depths from 100-130m.
  • Results suggest rockfishes should be released at least halfway or all the way to the bottom.
  • Angler preference for SeaQualizers which had the lowest error rate.

2017 FWC Citizen Science Descending Device Study Final Report

FWC 2017 Citizen Science Descending Device Study Final Report


  • Screening surveys were sent out in June of 2017 and most anglers indicated they did not own a descending device.
  • 634 descending devices were mailed out in early July of 2017.
  • The SeaQualizer descending device was the most used and the highest rated in terms of satisfaction followed by the Fish Saver, RokLees, and Shelton Fish Descender.
  • Most anglers believed devices were successful at descending fish “nearly 100 percent of the time” and “very effective” at increasing survival rates of reef fish suffering from barotrauma.
  • Most anglers thought descending devices were easy to use, were likely to continue to use them, and would recommend other anglers to purchase them.

Venting or Rapid Recompression Increase Survival and Improve Recovery of Red Snapper with Barotrauma – Drumhiller et al. 2014



  • Red snapper survival was assessed in the lab using hyperbaric chambers.
  • Capture events were simulated from pressures corresponding to 30m (~100ft.) and 60m (~200 ft.).
  • Fish in vented-surface released and rapid recompression treatment groups had the highest survival.
  • Both venting and rapid recompression have the potential to increase red snapper survival.

Effectiveness of Venting and Descender Devices at Increasing Rates of Post Release Survival of Black Sea Bass – Rudershausen et al. 2019

Rudershausen et al-2019-North American Journal of Fisheries Management


  • 1,748 black sea bass were tagged with t-bar tags off North Carolina.
  • Fish were released with one of four methods, in rotation: 1) no treatment; 2) venting with 11-ga cannula; 3) venting with 16-ga needle; and 4) descending to the seafloor with a Blacktip descender device.
  • The average increase in survival as compared to fish that were not treated was 48 percent, 51 percent, and 51 percent for the cannula, needle, and descender respectively.
  • It is possible to injure a fish with venting, though when applied correctly it can be as effective as descending.
  • Barotrauma mitigation via venting or descending results in greatly improved survival of black sea bass.

Recreational Angler Attitudes and Perceptions Regarding the Use of Descending Devices in Southeast Reef Fish Fisheries – Curtis et al. 2019

Curtis et al. 2019


  • Surveyed 538 recreational anglers (84 percent private, 15 percent charter, 1 percent headboat) regarding use of fish descending devices in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic.
  • 72 percent of respondents had little to no knowledge of descending devices prior to the study.
  • 70 percent indicated a preference for descending over venting after provided SeaQualizers.
  • 76 percent were likely to continue employing the device.

Quantifying Delayed Mortality from Barotrauma Impairment in Discarded Red Snapper Using Acoustic Telemetry – Curtis et al. 2015

Curtis et al 2015 Quantifying Delayed Mortality from Barotrauma Impairment in Discarded Red Snapper Using Acoustic Telemetry


  • 111 red snapper were tagged with acoustic transmitters over three seasonal trials to assess delayed mortality after release.
  • Fish were released with three treatments: non-vented, vented and descended.
  • Survival was highest in cooler months and shallower depths.
  • Overall survival across all treatments was 72 percent with 15 percent immediate mortality and 13 percent delayed mortality.
  • Descended fish were 3 times more likely to survive than non-vented fish and 1.5 times more likely to survive than vented fish.

Venting and Reef Fish Survival: Perceptions and Participation Rates among Recreational Anglers in the Northern Gulf of Mexico – Scyphers et al. 2013

Venting and Reef Fish Survival: Perceptions and Participation Rates among Recreational Anglers in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (Scyphers et al. 2013)


  • 604 recreational and tournament anglers were surveyed to understand the popularity and perceived effectiveness of venting fish.
  • Approximately 2/3 of anglers vent the fish they release offshore and most perceive it to be effective for improving survival.
  • Fishing experience did not influence knowledge of proper venting techniques.
  • Misinformation on how to properly vent was common among anglers of all experiences.
  • Education and outreach programs are necessary to alter or improve venting practices.
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