It has been a number of years since I've spent any appreciable time bottom fishing. But I enjoy it and jumped at the chance to accompany my son and his friend to a special offshore spot in 90 feet of water last weekend.
During the course of the trip, my son hooked and brought up a monster American red snapper. Unfortunately, the season is currently closed and the fish had to be released. But as anyone who has done a lot of bottom fishing knows, fish brought quickly up from great depth may need assistance to return to the depths. They suffer from a condition known as barotrauma. Without getting too scientific, it means the stomach ends up protruding from the mouth. Instead of swimming back to the bottom on their own, they end up floating on the surface and a predator will come along for an easy meal.
For the longest time the accepted method of getting that fish back down to its natural habitat was a method called venting - sticking a sharp object into the fish to relieve the pressure. Think of poking a hole in an inflated balloon. Another method that is growing in popularity is to use a release mechanism attached to a heavy weight to carry the fish back down to the bottom.
Robert Wiggers, a fisheries biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said "obviously, poking a hole in a fish is a last resort, but that was the accepted method for a long time."
"You have to do what you have to do to keep the fish from floating back off, whether that's sending it back down with a weight and some type of release mechanism or venting it," Wiggers said. "Venting will work ... it's just not a good thing for a fish. But if that's all you can do, chances are the fish will survive."
Wiggers, who heads DNR's tagging program, said he has had recaptures of tagged red snapper that had to be vented. The angler noted on the tag cards that he vented the fish to release them.
Anglers fishing for species in the snapper-grouper complex are not required to carry a venting tool or a deep-water release mechanism, only a de-hooking device. But if you enjoy bottom fishing, it's probably not a bad idea to investigate your options to help ensure the future of these highly pressured fisheries.
Recreational fishermen who would like to keep an American red snapper will have that opportunity during a very brief upcoming season. There is a bag limit of one fish per person per day and no minimum size limit. The recreational catch limit has been set at 22,576 fish.
There are a total of eight fishing days over three weekends next month July 11-July 14; July 18-July 21; and July 25-July 27. Fishing hours open at 12:01 a.m. and close at 12:01 a.m.
State biologists will be collecting data from carcasses donated by anglers and through an online survey.
Charleston-area anglers may donate their red snapper carcasses (dnr.sc.gov/marine/carcassdropoff) at the SCDNR Marine Resource Division (accessible by boat only), 217 Fort Johnson Road, Charleston, SC 29412 (located under the Administration Building adjacent to the boat slip).
Other locations include Georgetown Landing Marina; Fish On Outfitters in North Myrtle Beach; Harrelson's Seafood Market in Murrells Inlet; and The Boathouse Restaurant on Hilton Head Island.
Freezers with the DNR logo have been placed at these locations and can be accessed 24 hours a day (with the exception of Georgetown Landing). Anglers need to complete catch cards for fish carcasses, which will supplied along with plastic bags at each freezer location. Additionally, carcasses can be dropped off at the Marine Resource Division on Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. at the second floor of the Administration Building.