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Study of Injuries Suffered During Catch & Release of Red Snapper Boosted by Fisheries Innovation Grant

May 22, 2015

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation (CSSC) at the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has been awarded a federal Fisheries Innovation Grant totaling $209,326 to study pressure-related injuries often suffered by Red Snapper during catch and release fishing.

The funding also will continue research to examine devices that could help ensure a better survival rate for released fish.

“This research funding will allow us to refine our understanding of the fate of released fish in the Red Snapper fishery, and help improve the chances of survival for these fish,” said Dr. Greg Stunz, HRI Endowed Chair for Fisheries and Ocean Health and CSSC Director.

Red Snapper is one of the most valuable fish in the Gulf of Mexico, highly sought after by commercial fishermen and sport fishermen alike. Considered overfished in recent decades, the species has been subject to drastic reductions in the length of the fishing season and bag limits. The 2015 Red Snapper season, beginning in June, will last 44 days for charter captains and just 10 days for recreational fishermen.

“Red Snapper are typically found on reefs and near the sea floor,” said Dr. Judd Curtis, a CSSC Post-Doctoral Research Associate who is leading the project. “Because of the depth at which they’re caught, as the angler reels the fish in, the rapid ascent to the surface causes gas to expand in its swim bladder and other body parts. This causes injuries known as ‘barotrauma.’ These injured fish may exhibit symptoms like an expanded abdomen, stomach protruding through the mouth and bulging eyes.”

Though many hooked Red Snapper are released back into the Gulf to aid in conservation efforts, they may not survive these pressure-related injuries. In addition to causing injury, barotrauma may make it difficult for the fish to return to deeper waters due to increased buoyancy, making the fish an easy meal for dolphins or other predators.

Getting fish back under water quickly can help mitigate barotrauma injuries. In addition to studying these pressure-related injuries, this yearlong project will assess tools known as descender devices that attach to fishing gear

“These descender devices operate by quickly returning fish to depth and reversing the debilitating effects of barotrauma, greatly increases the chance of survival after catch-and-release,” Curtis said.

The study will assess the effectiveness of these devices and evaluate their compatibility with charter fishing operations.

Ensuring the survival of released Red Snapper is one of many steps scientists can take to ensure the recovery and better management of this important and iconic Gulf fishery, Stunz said.

 “A high discard rate can greatly reduce that amount of fish that are available to catch or days in the season. Improved survival mean faster recovery of this overfished fishery, and will ultimately improve access and secure more days on the water for all anglers,” Stunz said.

The grant was one of 15 awards totaling $1.6 million made by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through its Fisheries Innovation Fund. The grants help NOAA Fisheries meet its mission of sustainable fisheries by supporting new ideas in fisheries management.

The Fisheries Innovation Fund is a public-private partnership launched in 2010 with funding from NOAA Fisheries, the Walton Family Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Over the past five years, the Fisheries Innovation Fund has provided approximately $8 million to fund 77 projects throughout the country.