Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’s bipartisan legislation to improve the health of reef fish populations, such as red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, passed the Senate. The legislation was co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, and a companion bill was recently introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Garrett Graves, R-Louisiana, and Jared Huffman, D-California.
“I’ve been fishing all my life, so I know how important it is to protect Gulf species like red snapper,” Jones said. “The use of descending devices and venting tools is one way we can help maintain healthy populations of reef fish, which is crucial for the economy of Alabama and for ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy red snapper season.”
“In 2016, we won the battle to wrestle control of flawed red snapper management from the federal government,” Graves said. “We now have better fish management, better access to fishing and improved economic activity. The Modern Fish Act, our bill to require the inclusion of recreational fisheries and better data in fish management practices, became law in 2018. Now, with the DESCEND Act, we are going to see more fish, more fishing opportunities in the Gulf, more tourism and better sustainability of our fisheries. This is a win-win for conservation and good eating. I appreciate all of the support and hard work of the Coastal Conservation Association, American Sportfish Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, TRCP and all the anglers out there that are the true conservationist that want to ensuring fishing opportunities for generations to come. We’ve created a foundation for successful state management of the species through our previous legislation and the unanimous approval in the Senate is reflective of the progress we have made. I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law and our anglers getting to spend more time on the water.”
Reef fish, such as red snapper, caught and rapidly brought to the surface from deep water can suffer from barotrauma, a condition that kills fish because they cannot readjust to deep water upon release. Venting tools and descending devices reduce barotrauma and save fish harvested for both recreational and commercial uses. The Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices (DESCEND) Act would require commercial and recreational fishermen to keep descending devices onboard their boats.
“For charter fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico, fishing is more than a pastime — it’s our way of life,” said Johnny Greene, the owner of Intimidator Charters in Orange Beach. “Charter fishermen such as myself have been using descending devices for some time, and we hope that this legislation will encourage the use of these devices among all sectors of the Gulf fishing community. I’m also pleased to see that this bill mandates further study into the role that descending devices and venting tools may play in reducing discard mortality and preserving the health of Gulf reef fish species.”
Greene is a former Gulf Council member.
“This legislation is greatly appreciated by recreational anglers in the Gulf of Mexico who understand first-hand the frustration associated with releasing a reef fish back into the water, only to watch as it fails to make it back to the bottom,” said Blakeley Ellis, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association Alabama. “The DESCEND Act will ensure that fisheries managers have every tool at their disposal to help return these fish to depth and minimize post-release mortality. Fewer wasted fish will result in increased access to fisheries like red snapper in the long run. We appreciate the leadership by Senators Jones and Cassidy to enhance marine resource conservation with this common-sense measure.”
“While Gulf of Mexico red snapper has historically been a highly contentious policy issue, it’s heartening to see such strong support for this effort to reduce mortality rates of discarded reef fish,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “Thanks to the bipartisan work of U.S. Senators Doug Jones and Bill Cassidy, the DESCEND Act of 2019 will make meaningful progress in improving fish survival by requiring proper gear be used to release fish caught in the Gulf federal waters. The more fish that survive, the healthier their populations will be in the future, therefore providing better fishing opportunities.”
Chris Blankenship is the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources participated in a descender device pilot program a couple of years ago with the American Sportfishing Association,” Blankenship said. “We provided hundreds of descender devices to Alabama anglers. The program showed that the use of descender devices was very effective in decreasing release mortality of reef fish. I am appreciative of this legislation that will increase use of descender devices that will contribute, along with other initiatives and sound management, to rebuilding our reef fish populations.”
The legislation has been endorsed by the American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, National Marine Manufacturers Association and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
This legislation has passed both chambers of Congress and is awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump. The 117th Congress begins on Jan. 3, at which time Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville will take over Jones’s seat.