FWC: When releasing deep-water fish, the right tools mean everything

Special to Gannett
Signs of barotrauma include the stomach coming out of the mouth, bloated belly, distended intestines and bulging eyes.

Will you be fishing for snapper or grouper on your next fishing trip? Continue your role as a conservationist by paying close attention to signs of barotrauma and being prepared to respond.

Barotrauma is a condition seen in many fish caught at depths greater than 50 feet and is caused by pressure changes leading to an expansion of gases in the swim bladder. It is important to treat barotrauma in fish you do not intend to keep. Signs of barotrauma include the stomach coming out of the mouth, bloated belly, distended intestines and bulging eyes.

Barotrauma can cause damage to internal organs and be fatal unless appropriate steps are taken to mitigate its effects. It is important to know in advance what tools are available and how to use them to help fish return to the bottom and increase their chances of survival.

Descending devices take fish back down to a depth where increased pressure from the water will recompress swim bladder gases. They fall into three categories: mouth clamps, inverted hooks and fish elevators. With proper set-up and practice, descending devices can be easy to use and make a big impact on the survival of released fish.

Learn more about descending devices and how to use them at by clicking on the “Descending Devices” playlist.

Descending devices return fish to a depth where gases in the swim bladder can recompress.

Venting tools are sharpened, hollow instruments that treat barotrauma by releasing expanded gas from the swim bladder, enabling fish to swim back down to depth.

REMINDER: items such as fillet knives, ice picks, screwdrivers and gaffs are not venting tools and should never be used to vent a fish. Venting a fish incorrectly can cause more harm than good.

Non-stainless steel inline circle hooks with the barb crimped down (top photos) and dehooking tools (bottom-right photo) should be used to help quickly release fish and increase their chances of survival. Crimp the barb down on any hook to make the hook barbless (bottom-left photos).

To learn more about proper fish handling techniques, visit Check out our descending devices playlist to learn more about barotrauma, descending devices and venting tools. Visit our YouTube channel at for more saltwater fishing how-to videos. For answers to questions, contact 850-487-0554 or