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West Coast Rockfish Guidelines from California Sea Grant


Overview of release guidance from Guy Harvey Magazine


General Guidelines for Releasing Marine Recreational Fish

Note: These guidelines are generally acceptable practices available on state, federal, and nonprofit websites. They will be refined in the future and links provided to sources of additional information. 


1.  Plan Ahead – expect to release fish on any given trip and prepare the equipment necessary to do so.

2.  Avoid encountering fish that you are required to release. if catching fish that you cannot, or do not want to keep, changing the depth that you are fishing, moving to a different area, or using different bait are just a few techniques for avoiding unwanted catch.

3.  Use gear suited to the size of fish that you are trying to catch. Consider using sizes of hooks that allow you to catch fish of the size that you want but not other sizes.  Use circle hooks where recommended and be aware that circle hook fishing techniques are different from normal “J” style hook techniques. 

4.  When landing fish, don’t play them to exhaustion; use line strength to minimize playing time.

5.  Land the fish as quickly as possible. If possible, leave them in the water rather than bringing them on board.  If you must handle them, use knotless rubberized landing nets and rubberized gloves, to avoid removing the slime layer from their body. Support the body when lifting large fish.

6.  DON’T DROP THE FISH! This causes great harm.


7.  When releasing fish, determine whether you need a release tool (dehookers, venting tools, recompression tools) to successfully release your catch.

8.  Time is of the essence! – release fish as soon as practical and do not keep them out of the water longer than necessary.

Guidelines Specific for Saltwater Fish Caught in Deep Water

Some saltwater fish that are caught in deep water may be suffering from “barotrauma,” a build up of swim bladder gases that makes it difficult or impossible for them to go back down. Generally, fish caught deeper than 30 feet will suffer some effects. Additional guidance  will be available in the future at and Until then, follow these tips:


IMPORTANT: The use of venting tools and dehooking devices is required when participating in the recreational reef fish fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.


1.  When anglers are not required by law to use venting tools, rapidly returning them to depth (sometimes called “recompression”) is a good choice for returning fish to the depth from which they are caught.  A variety of recompression tools are on the market, including descender devices, release weights, release baskets, and others. A complete inventory of such devices will be available at a later date from and

2.  Return fish to the depth of capture. If catching fish at very deep depths, returning them as deep as possible will dramatically improve survival.

3.  If rapid descent is not possible, venting is another option (use established guidelines for venting such as found at  Note that the fish’s stomach may protrude from its mouth. Do NOT puncture the stomach.


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