Reef fish return to the Deep! Tracking gag grouper after catch and release.
Reef fisheries are economically important to commercial and recreational industries in the state of Florida. Most species are carefully managed through quotas, size limits and seasonal closures; however, these regulations are effective only if released fish survive.
Gag grouper are a favorite target for many marine anglers in the Gulf of Mexico. Seasonal and size restrictions contribute to recreational discard, and the associated release mortality is an important consideration during stock assessments. There is uncertainty regarding current discard mortality estimates, and the effectiveness of different barotrauma mitigation techniques is unclear.
Scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC/FWRI) and Florida Sea Grant/UF IFAS Extension are working with stakeholders to collect data regarding gag grouper survival after catch and release. To date, scientists have collaborated with a group of recreational anglers to fit over 70 gag grouper with acoustic tags and monitor their survival in the waters offshore of Tampa Bay.
After tagging, fish are vented or descended to the bottom using a weighted release device, and are continuously monitored post-release using acoustic data recorders.
Research is ongoing, but to date, individuals have been tracked for periods up to 293 days!
This work is providing data regarding the effectiveness of barotrauma mitigation techniques and lends insight to the survival and behavior of gag grouper after typical recreational catch and release activities in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.