Carry a Venting Tool
Carry a venting tool – the law requires it in some areas. Regulations require anglers pursuing any species of reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico to possess and use a venting tool (the regulations also require the use of use non-stainless-steel circle hooks when fishing with natural baits and a dehooking device).
Many marine reef fish, including red grouper, black sea bass, and gag, have a gas-filled organ, called a swim bladder, which controls buoyancy and allows the fish to maintain a certain depth in the water column. The gas in the swim bladder can over-expand when a fish is brought quickly to the surface. An over-expanded swim bladder can rupture causing gasses to escape and continue to expand in the fish’s body cavity.
A venting tool should only be used if a fish has a bloated belly, bulging eyes, protrusion of the stomach from its mouth, or protrusion of intestines from the anus. A venting tool should not be used if a fish appears normal, not bloated, and appears able to swim down to habitat depth on its own.
Deflation of a bloated fish is done by holding the fish, using wet hands, gently but firmly on its side. Insert the venting tool needle under a scale into the body cavity at a 45° angle in an area approximately 1 to 2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin. Insert the needle just deep enough to release the trapped gas.
Venting is not a complicated procedure. However, if you plan to fish in the Gulf, it is important to to be familiar with the procedure and be prepared to use it. The Florida Sea Grant’s website provides more information regarding venting and other catch and release techniques.
A fish that exhibits signs of barotrauma is less likely to swim back to a safe habitat depth. If the fish is released in this condition, the fish may float away and die from exposure to the elements or become an easy target for predators. By releasing the trapped gasses using a venting tool prior to releasing a fish, we help to reduce mortality.
Venting is procedure that is part of our catch and release toolbox. When we use these tools, we increase the probability that a released fish will survive to fight another day.