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No Floaters - Release at Depth!
No Floaters: Release Rockfish at Depth!

Rockfish must be released when retention is prohibited or when an angler has reached the daily bag limit, but continues to fish for other species. However, releasing rockfish isn’t as simple as just dropping them back into the water. Some rockfish need help to get back down to deeper water to recover from a condition called barotrauma.    

Anglers can significantly improve the survival of rockfish by using a descending device when releasing a rockfish that can’t descend on its own, helping Oregon’s fish and fisheries.

What is barotrauma?

Rockfish have a swim bladder, a gas-filled organ that helps regulate buoyancy. The gas in the swim bladder expands when a fish is brought up to the surface, resulting in barotrauma—pressure-related injury. Signs of barotrauma include a swollen body, stomach and/or esophagus protruding into the mouth, and/or distended or bulging eyes (“pop-eye”). 

Because of the extra buoyancy from expanded gas, some rockfish with barotrauma may not be able to swim down from the surface on its own—it is like trying to push a basketball underwater.

Use descending devices to release rockfish

Yelloweye Rockfish with signs of barotrauma
Descending devices

A fish at the surface is highly vulnerable to further injury and predation. This is where you, the angler, can help – a variety of tools are available to return rockfish safely to depth. 

These descending devices, which range from a simple inverted barbless hook to a pressure-activated clamp that opens automatically at depth, give anglers the ability to return weak or buoyant rockfish to deeper waters, reversing many of the signs of barotrauma and increasing the likelihood of that fish’s survival. Descending devices (also called recompression devices or release devices) are available at many tackle shops or online, or you can make one from a Fish Grip™ (pdf). Use the device that works best for you and your vessel’s set-up.

Get an A in avoidance

What’s better than releasing at depth? Avoidance. When fishing for non-rockfish species (halibut, lingcod), avoid habitats such as rocky pinnacles and other complex structure. Some species, such as yelloweye rockfish, are highly associated with particular habitats. When you are encountering species you must release, move to another location. Halibut anglers:  two new maps show several soft-bottom areas recommended for halibut fishing with low rates of yelloweye rockfish bycatch.  See maps and coordinates.



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