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Discard Mortality of Hogfish

A man on a boat holds a hogfish in his hand while attaching a two-inch black tube to the lip of the fish. The tube is attached to a fishing line that also has a weight attached.

Hogfish landings in Florida waters have historically been dominated by spear-fishers, however, the number of recreational anglers who target hogfish using hook and line has recently been increasing. Biologists realized there was a lack of data on how hogfish respond to being caught on hook and line, especially concerning undersized hogfish that must be released. Data like this, which is known as discard mortality, is important for accurately determining the health of a fishery as it is used in the stock assessment process that informs management decisions such as quotas. Dr. Bob Ellis, an Associate Research Scientist at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St Petersburg, is currently examining the effects of hogfish caught by hook and line and released at locations offshore of Tampa Bay.

To accomplish this, Dr. Ellis and his team of researchers with the Marine Fisheries Biology group use acoustic telemetry to examine the behavior of hogfish that are released after being caught. Each hogfish caught is measured, photographed, examined for any signs of barotrauma, and then quickly tagged with an acoustic tag that will “ping” the identity and depth of the fish about once per minute for up to 9 months. Each tagged fish is then released using a descending device (pictured). FWC biologists are particularly interested in examining any differences in fish survival due to the depth of capture and if water temperature plays a role in how many released hogfish survive capture and release. To do this, the survival of each fish is assessed after 48 hours following release and again at 2 weeks after release, in order to determine both the short and long-term impacts of hook and line fishing on hogfish. The tags continue to ping for months, so as a bonus, the hogfish that survive are giving researchers a new and intimate glimpse into the lives of hogfish in the Gulf of Mexico!