Red snapper underwater with seaqualizer
Photo: Adrian Gray

Project Summary

Reef fish are economically, ecologically and culturally important to the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and support major recreational and commercial fisheries. Due to their importance and popularity among anglers, these fisheries are regulated leading to a large number of fish that are released both by choice and by law. Most reef fish in the GOM are caught in deep water and may experience barotrauma from quickly reeling them up to the surface. Barotrauma is a pressure-related injury that occurs when gases expand in fishes tissues and organs causing internal damage and often preventing them from swimming back to depth. Effects from barotrauma can lead to a high percentage of reef fish dying after release. Anglers practicing best handling and release techniques can help improve the survival of discarded fish. Descending devices are one tool that help fish recover from barotrauma. These weighted devices help fish overcome buoyancy by releasing them at depth, reducing the number of reef fish that die from catch and release.

“The goal of this project is to reduce catch and release mortality in GOM reef fishes by increasing the knowledge, awareness and use of best release practices with a focus on fish descending devices. This goal will be accomplished through research, education, outreach and distribution of release gear to empower anglers to use and adopt best fishing practices. The results of this work will support the overarching goal of increasing the health of reef fisheries and improving angler experiences.”

The NOAA-led project was selected and funded by the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group to benefit Gulf of Mexico reef fish fisheries impacted by the 2010 oil spill. The project is anticipated to span seven to eight years and award $30,011,000 in funds to support Gulf reef fisheries.


Project Components

Click on the tabs below for a description of each component.

Florida Sea Grant is leading the education, outreach and communications component of the project. The goal is to increase angler’s knowledge and use of descender devices as a best release practice. This will be accomplished through the development of education and outreach tools, direct engagement with the recreational fishing community and distribution of descending devices and other release gear.

“The project anticipates distributing free release gear to tens of thousands of qualified anglers.”

Florida Sea Grant will work with Gulf-wide Sea Grant programs and partners to spread outreach efforts around the Gulf. 

Education & Outreach Partners

Mississippi Alabama Sea Grant logo Louisiana Sea Grant logo Texas Sea Grant logo
UF IFAS logo UF College of Journalism and Communications

The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission is funding and managing several projects including a survey of angler’s attitudes and perceptions of fish descending devices, research on the extent of release mortality in reef fishes and a study assessing depredation of fish released using these devices. This research is designed to validate mortality estimates and help inform best handling practices. The Commission will also work with existing state and federal survey programs to better understand and measure prevalence of use of descending devices within the recreational reef fishery. Better understanding how commercially available descending devices improve survivorship of released fish, and assessing predator-prey interactions upon release, will provide important data to improve fisheries management efforts and inform best release practices in recreational reef fisheries.

Research Partners

Mississippi State logo Auburn University logo Southwick Associates logo

The project team is working with state and federal fisheries management agencies to measure the extent anglers adopt descending devices as a part of their routine fishing practices. This will be done by collecting data from the angling community on the use of tools to reduce catch and release mortality associated with barotrauma. Data collection will occur through established angler reporting programs for both private recreational and for-hire anglers.

Understanding the proportion of anglers that utilize best release practices may allow scientists to accurately measure restoration benefits to Gulf reef fisheries.


2020-2021: Program planning, and pilot testing with charter boat captains.

2021-2025: Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission to fund and oversee 4-5 research studies to estimate catch and release mortality rates and assess anglers perceptions of release gear.

2021-2025: Distribution of descending devices to eligible Gulf of Mexico reef anglers. Distribution will extend until 2027 if funds are available.

2021-2027: Expansion of the outreach and communications efforts Gulf-wide through Florida Sea Grant and partners.

2022-2026: Monitoring the use of fish descending devices through outreach and angling reporting programs.




Nick Haddad
Fisheries Communications Manager, Florida Sea Grant

Charlie Robertson
Fisheries Restoration Program Coordinator, Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission

Julia Goss
Marine Habitat Resource Specialist, NOAA RC