House Passes Bill to Protect Reef Fish

The House of Representatives announced that it passed the DESCEND Act, which will require recreational, charter and commercial fishermen to have a venting tool or descending device on board when reef fishing in federal Gulf of Mexico waters.

The devices help reef fish, such as red snapper, survive when they are released. Reef fish are vulnerable to barotrauma — a buildup of gas resulting from the rapid change in pressure from the reef to the surface, making it difficult for the fish to return to the bottom. The struggling fish die at the surface or become targets for predators, which the Center for Sportfishing Policy called a “conservation and economic travesty.”

“Giving reef fish a better chance at survival by properly using a descending device or venting tool to return them to the deep is a simple, inexpensive step for fishermen to take that will pay dividends for conservation and our economy,” CSP president Jeff Angers said in a statement. “It is beyond time for Congress to step in.”

The DESCEND Act, or the Direct Enhancement of Snapper Conservation and the Economy through Novel Devices Act of 2020 (H.R. 5126), requires:

• commercial and recreational fishermen to possess a venting tool or descending device that is rigged and ready for use when fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico Exclusive Economic Zone

• the Department of Commerce to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study and produce a report on discard mortality in the Gulf reef fish fisheries

• Commerce and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to develop guidance for reporting discards and associated mortality and develop a plan to assess the effectiveness and usage of barotrauma-reducing devices

A coalition of 12 recreational fishing, boating and marine conservation organizations on Sept. 29 sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader of the House Kevin McCarthy urging passage of the DESCEND Act.