How To Vent Grouper

Daniel Brown
• Saturday, 24 October, 2020
• 10 min read

In today’s highly regulated climate in the offshore waters off of Florida, many anglers will be faced with releasing unintentional catches of Grouper, Snapper and Sea Bass. Unfortunately, due to the deep nature of their environment, ensuring the safe release of these fish requires some know-how and careful measures.

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If this pressure is not relieved quickly it will prevent the fish from returning to the depths from which it came, and increase the probability of death on the surface. The most obvious sign is the stomach protruding out of the mouth, resembling a pink or red tongue.

In most cases, using the proper venting tool and procedures to return the fish to their natural environment will yield a high survival rate. (Image for Space Coast Daily)Most tackle stores carry the proper venting tools, which consist of a hollow, large gauge needle and a small handle.

Place the venting tool at a 45-degree angle towards the tail (point facing towards the head) approximately 1-2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin. STEP 2: Gently force the tool into the fish’s cavity until the sound of air escaping and deflation is noticeable.

In today’s highly regulated climate in the offshore waters off of Florida, many anglers will be faced with releasing unintentional catches of Grouper, Snapper and Sea Bass. The gas in the swim bladder can over-expand when fish are brought quickly to the surface by hook and line.

This defeats the purpose of fishery management laws such as minimum size restrictions and daily bag limits. Many reef fish have a closed swim bladder, an internal organ filled with gases, mostly oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen.

fish vent bottom hubbard dylan saltstrong venting common stand
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This organ is located in the peritoneal cavity attached to the fish’s backbone beneath the dorsal fin. The pressure exerted by these gases is sufficient to push the stomach out the mouth and the intestines out of the anus.

Venting releases these gases from the body cavity, thus eliminating the pressure on the internal organs. Venting also will allow the fish to overcome buoyancy problems and swim down to habitat depth, enhancing its immediate survival.

Scientific studies have shown that species with large swim bladders such as red grouper, black sea bass, and gag derive immediate benefit from venting. If the fish appears normal, not bloated, and is able to swim down to habitat depth on its own, venting is not necessary.

Expelling the swim bladder gases will allow the stomach to return to its normal position within a few hours. Hold the fish gently but firmly on its side and insert the venting tool at a 45-degree angle approximately one to two inches back from the base of the pectoral fin.

This practice is not as efficient in releasing gas from the body cavity and results in additional injury. Ice picks and knives are not suitable because simply puncturing the fish is undesirable and can result in a mortal injury.

vent fish snapper descend grouper bottom fishing capt dylan hubbard offshore saltstrong
(Source: www.saltstrong.com)

The Novak Venting Tool, designed and developed by Florida Sea Grant in cooperation with Mote Marine Laboratory researchers, can be purchased from Aquatic Release Conservation, Inc., (www.dehooker4ARC.com), or by calling its toll free number, 1-877-411-4272. The modified hypodermic needle pictured is an excellent choice for a fish venting tool.

Be sure to cap or place a cork on the tip of the tool after used to prevent personal injury. Compliance with fishing laws is essential for sustaining U.S. sport and commercial fisheries.

This research, conducted by scientists in the Fisheries Biology Program at the Center for Fisheries Enhancement, Mote Marine Laboratory, was sponsored by NOAA, Office of Sea Grant, Department of Commerce, under Grant Number NA36RG-0070. Although the authors realize the need for further study of the influence of venting on long term reef fish survival, sufficient information exists to warrant providing guidelines to assist anglers in successful release practices.

Appetizers, Beverages, Breads, Cakes, Candies, Casseroles, Cookies, Desserts, Eggs, Fish, Favorites, Holidays, International, Italian, Main Dishes, Meats, Mexican, Outdoor, Pies, Poultry, Pastas, Potatoes, Salads, Sauces, Soups, Vegetables It comes from pressure changes during the hooked fish’s ascent, which lead to an expansion of gases in the swim bladder.

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 can be fatal unless sportsmen take appropriate steps to save the affected fish.

fish vent stomach snapper bottom hubbard capt dylan grouper
(Source: www.saltstrong.com)

Venting tools should be inserted 1-2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin, under a scale, at a 45-degree angle, just deep enough to release trapped gases. You should only use descending devices and venting tools when fish show one or more signs of barotrauma and cannot swim back down on their own.

Instead of swimming back down to its home, the bloated fish flounders helplessly on the surface for hours. A few years ago, a process called venting was promoted to help deflate the fish and allow it to swim back to the reef.

Venting involves using a pointed hollow needle to puncture the fish's body without damaging other organs and allowing the gas to escape. Some argue that, even though the fish appears to swim off in good shape, infections from the venting will soon cause its death.

The idea is to see whether minimum-size laws work or whether some other type of fishery management is needed to protect reef fish. Marine scientist Karen Burns began the study last February, funded by the Florida Sea Grant program.

Earlier work indicates that some fish with relatively small swim bladders, such as the red snapper, don't need venting. Another study seems to indicate that even venting won't save some fish that are caught in waters deeper than 140 feet.

venting warsaw grouper bryan flickr
(Source: www.flickr.com)

Add the tomatoes and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, for 3 minutes more. Add the heavy cream, Worcestershire, and hot sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cream thickens and reduces by one third, 6 to 8 minutes.

Releasing a fish safely with minimal harm is key to helping it survive. Adopt just a few simple habits using proper handling techniques to help increase the survival rate of fish you release.

How-to Videos Handle and release sharks in a way that increases their chance of survival. Large species such as sharks, billfish and tarpon should be brought alongside the boat within 20 minutes of being hooked.

If you are consistently landing exhausted fish that require extensive efforts to resuscitate, consider using heavier tackle. Never hold on to or tow a fish not allowed to be harvested to a different location to weigh or measure it.

This minimizes handling time when determining whether you can keep the fish you caught. Use tackles heavy enough to bring the fish in quickly and avoid using multi-hook rigs or lures.

grouper catch
(Source: www.youtube.com)

Capturing a catch on camera is a great way to share your experience with others and to create lasting memorabilia. It is okay to take a picture of a fish that is not allowed to be harvested while it’s in the process of being released, but it still must be let go immediately after.

A fish should not be held out of the water for long periods of time just for the purpose of taking a picture. Remember, when taking a picture of your catch, hold the fish horizontally and support its weight with both hands.

Fish that struggle intensely during capture are usually exhausted and stressed from the accumulation of excessive amounts of lactic acid in their muscles and blood. Circle hooks are designed so the point is turned perpendicular to the shank to form a circular or oval shape.

They are best used with natural bait (live or dead) and are 90% more likely to hook fish in the mouth instead of in the esophagus or stomach. And the less time you spend handling a fish and keeping it out of the water, the greater its chances of survival.

A pair of pliers or small hand crimped should work to flatten a hook’s barb. You’ll provide the greatest conservation benefit when you use barbless circle hooks that are non-offset and non-stainless steel.

fish vent dylan hubbard capt offshore properly
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Also cutting off one of the three points from the remaining sets of trebles makes it easier to recover the lure from the fish. Hooking tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit the need of the angler.

Remember, even a pair of needle nose pliers is considered a hooking tool. If an angler is fishing from a boat with a high gunwale, the hooking tool may need to have a longer “shaft”.

If targeting fish with large teeth, spines or sharp barbs, use a long hooking tool to keep hands and fingers out of harm’s way. If the fish doesn't immediately swim away or it is lethargic or erratic, some “resuscitation” may be needed.

If the vessel is anchored, point the fish head-first into the current to gently force water through the mouth and over the gills. If the vessel is not anchored or there isn’t a current, hold the fish in the water alongside the boat and gently nudge the boat into gear, forcing water through the gills of the fish.

Fish that are caught in deep water and released may face additional challenges to survival. When fish are pulled up from deep water (typically depths greater than 50 feet), the change in pressure can cause the gas in the swim bladder to expand and in some cases burst.

venting grouper tool gulf snapper mexico changes
(Source: collierseagrant.blogspot.com)

Damage to the swim bladder or other internal organs that is caused by such change in pressure is called barotrauma. When a fish suffering from barotrauma is released, it is unable to swim back down to capture depth making it difficult to survive the elements and avoid predators.

Knives or an ice-pick are not venting tools because they do not allow the expanded gases to escape from inside the body. Gently hold the fish on its side and insert the needle into the body cavity at a 45-degree angle under a scale.

The area to insert the venting tool is approximately 1 to 2 inches behind the base of the pectoral fin. Venting helps release gases that may over-expand in the body cavity when fish are brought to the surface from deep water.

Remember to only use a venting tool or descending device when one or all of the signs of barotrauma are present. Although more research is being conducted, there are indications that use of descending devices can increase survival of released fish.

If you are unable to locate the device you want from a local store, you can also find various models for sale online or by clicking the following links: Roles,, These links are provided to help anglers find a descending device and do not constitute an endorsement of any product.

releasing grouper vent success
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Mouth clamps are attached to a rod and reel and use a pressure sensor (releases fish automatically at a predetermined depth selected by the angler) or a weighted spring release mechanism (lets go of fish after the angler gives a sharp tug on the line). A fish elevator, such as an inverted milk crate with a rope attached to the top and weights at each corner, creates a bottomless cage which allows the gases to recompress while the fish is brought down to capture depth.

Learn about the tools available to treat barotrauma, a condition that occurs when fish are brought up from deep waters. Knowing how to and using venting tools and descending devices can help fish survive after being released.

Watch VideoExpand All | Collapse All Many of our most popular recreationally targeted species are regulated and sometimes must be returned to the water. Most anglers would agree that anything we can do to minimize harm to fish being released will benefit the resource in the long term.

They have helped to restore or sustain several valuable fisheries, including shook, red drum and spotted sea trout. As the number of anglers continues to grow, it becomes more important than ever to release those fish that cannot be harvested in as good a condition as possible.

Can identify most of the species commonly caught in their area and knows the current regulations for each. Protects habitat and wildlife by following safe boating practices such as knowing the waterways, keeping a slow wake when necessary, and poling through seagrass beds.

grouper strawberry bass sea which venting debatable works know
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Keeps trash out of the water, disposing of monofilament fishing line, napkins, food containers and other waste in a proper receptacle ashore. Teach your children and inexperienced anglers these few simple procedures to help ensure abundant fish populations for the future.

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1 www.theledger.com - https://www.theledger.com/story/sports/outdoors/fishing/2020/12/10/saltwater-gag-grouper-phenomenal-around-tampa-bay-right-now/3875251001/
2 www.theledger.com - https://www.theledger.com/story/sports/2020/12/24/saltwater-gag-grouper-biting-offshore-and-around-inshore-structures/4024564001/
3 www.bradenton.com - https://www.bradenton.com/sports/outdoors/fishing-boating/article248093150.html
4 www.floridasportsman.com - http://www.floridasportsman.com/2021/01/01/west-central-weekend-fishing-4cast/