nfortunately, while I would hope most fishers obey the law and release undersized fish, from my experience many of them release fish in such poor condition they are unlikely to survive. These fish are wasted – lost to the system.
Out of ignorance, or sometimes pure frustration, undersized fish – and non-target species too – are often roughly handled, or kept out of the water for too long. Many don’t survive the experience, dying immediately or hours, days and weeks later.
The problem is worse when fishing in deeper water, and not only for undersized fish. I’ve written about this before, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that snapper (and many other species) pulled to the surface from deep water suffer the ill effects of decompression.
The associated physiological damage, called barotrauma, includes distended swim bladders that can push the stomach out through the mouth, ruptured swim bladders and damage to the fish’s internal organs. In severe cases, the eyes bulge
air-freighted to Japan. The majority of those fish taken from deeper than 20 metres, most of which had been vented using a hypodermic needle, died in the tanks, he said.
However, there is evidence from several scientific studies, including work in Australia examining snapper, that fish survive barotrauma after venting. According to various studies, the most important thing seems to be to get fish back into the water fast and down to a depth of at least 10 metres, something my commercial fisher with his holding tanks was not able to do. See panel previous page.
Whenever catches of undersized fish becomes a problem and/or catch and release is not feasible, or at least not ethical because fish are going to die anyway, anglers should take action. Stop fishing immediately or move somewhere else, preferably to shallower water.