Posted by: socalsalty | April 22, 2013

The Importance Of Descending Devices

At the end of October last year, I wrote about how the Dept. of Fish and Game raised the maximum depth that we are allowed to fish from 60 fathoms to 50 fathoms.  The regulation was changed in response to the maximum allowable bycatch limit of cowcod being reached for the year.  It was hoped at the time that the change was a temporary response and that it would change back with the start of the new season.  Well March 1st rolled around, rockfish season opened and the 50 Fathom rule is still in effect.

I personally think that sportsmen (or women), be they hunters or anglers, are the best stewards of our natural resources.  Typically, we are the first ones to observe changes in the environment and have a good sense for what might be behind those changes (good or bad).  We have a vested interest in the long term viability of the resource because we depend on it for food and enjoyment.  For many, the resource is how they make their living. Yet often times we are portrayed as anything but good stewards of these resources.  Organizations like the Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) are around in order to tell our side of the story.

Rockfish being released with a Seaqualizer on the Cobra

Rockfish being released with a Seaqualizer on the Cobra

Earlier this month, the SAC testified on our behalf to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC).  The PFMC is the governing body that makes rules for waters 3 miles offshore from WA, OR and CA.  Generally, whatever the PFMC advocates, the state organizations (which govern inside of 3 miles) adopt.   The SAC was testifying to the PFMC to give us credit for the use of descending devices for releasing cowcod.  The idea being that if a cowcod was safely released back into their environment, then it shouldn’t count against us in the bycatch tally.

What you may ask is a descending device?  If you’ve been out rockfishing, you know that when they come to the surface, their eyes are often bugged out and their air bladder may be protruding out of their mouth.  The fish is suffering the effects of barotrauma from rising too fast from the depths in which they live.  If you release them without doing anything, you will see them struggle on the surface to right themselves…usually just before they become an easy meal for a pelican or other seabird.  You could puncture their air bladder, and often times they will swim back down, but doing so will often lead to an infection which would kill them anyway.  Because of this fact, a certain amount of bycatch is factored in whenever the PFMC and DFW (Dept. of Fish and Game is now Dept. of Fish and Wildlife) are making their decisions.

Back to the PFMC meeting…after much testimony by the SAC on our behalf, the PFMC voted to recommend to NOAA that release credits be given to those using descending devices.  Does this mean that the 50 Fathom rule will be rescinded?  Not immediately, but it is a step in the right direction.  Bottomline, use of these devices is important and it’s a practice we should all adopt…sportboats, private boaters, and even individual anglers out on the sportboats.

Channel Islands Sportfishing is a leader in the use of descending devices.  All their boats have been outfitted with the Seaqualizer, and all the captains and crews are trained in how to use them.  They also sell 2 types of descending devices in their tackle shop if you’d like to buy one.  Take a look at the video below to see one of them, the Seaqualizer, in action.

VIDEO: Cowcod Release Using The Seaqualizer



  1. The Sportfihsing Association of CA appreciates your educational Article. Get the word out Anglers!!

    • Thanks SAC! For stopping by and commenting, but mainly for the advocacy work you do on behalf of us anglers.

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